Ever since I can remember, I’ve needed someone to point an imaginary gun to my forehead to get me to sit down and write. And I’m not even talking about writing; I mean physically sitting in front of my computer with the intention of writing. Almost daily, I make plans to get down on my writing, but when the moment comes, that precious minute or two when I could pin a pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I manage to find some new excuse to postpone my original plan for some elusive “perfect” time. “I’m too tired to write right now; maybe I should nap and wake up early to write when I’m refreshed. If I’m already up early, perhaps I should get some work done instead? I can always write in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Oh, finally, they’re asleep. So, how did you call that show everyone’s watching right now? One episode, and I’ll start writing. Maybe two. Oh, I’m too tired to write now. I guess I’ll go to bed early and write later.”
Does this sound familiar?
To an outsider, it might seem like I hate writing. As if it’s a task I’m forced to undertake, and I use every means possible to procrastinate. From the perspective of an observer, this isn’t far from the truth—or not entirely. I do love writing. Truly, it’s one of the most important things in my life. It’s not its fault that it gets on my nerves so often. How do the youngsters put it? “It’s not you; it’s me.” I’m the one who despairs at the blank screen and the blinking cursor that seems to mock me, saying, “Well, how much longer are you going to keep me waiting?” with a mischievous grin. I’m the one who sometimes prefers not to write at all rather than getting stuck with a beginning and without an end, or an end with no beginning, or worse – having a middle without either a beginning or an end.
Like anything else, writing is a muscle that grows on practice. And yes, just like no matter how much we practice, not all of us can be Nadia Comăneci, rare are the authors that can release two thick novels a year like Stephen King, or once every five years, or ever. But every book, whether The Kindley Ones with its 992-page saga or the 126-page novella Animal Farm, has both started once as a blank page and a daunting task.
To be honest, the original reason I created this website was to challenge my writing after suffering from writer’s block. I’m not sure if it worked, perhaps in some way. In the past twelve years, I’ve written quite a bit. Or at least more than I wrote the decade before the site’s idea burst into my mind. But I haven’t written new stories. Maybe one or two, but not ones I can objectively look at and say are the best I can hope for.
That’s precisely what NaNoWriMo is for. Or, to use its full name, National Novel Writing Month. The project was started by a writer named Chris Baty in 1999 when he gathered a group of 21 writers who committed to writing a 50,000-word novel during July of that year (each on their own, of course). The following year, the event was moved to November (to maximize the miserable weather of that month – this is the official reason, I kid you not). That year, 140 participants attempted to write a complete novel during November 2000. According to Baty’s data, 29 of them succeeded. Last year, 521,469 participants from around the world registered for the event.
The main idea behind NaNoWriMo is to get participants to write as much as possible every day, with a focus on quantity rather than quality. In other words, no one expects you to come out of this month with a finished novel, but rather a first, unedited draft that you can work on later. To achieve the participant’s goal, you need to write 1,666 words every day. These are a lot of words, even if you don’t look back and think about each word you wrote, trying to reach a final edit. To compare it to filmmaking, this month’s goal is to shoot all the raw footage (what professionals call “rushes”) before entering long and tedious months in the editing room.
I don’t remember how I first heard about this project, but I tried to participate a couple of times with no significant success. I joined just a few days before November started and wasn’t mentally or physically prepared for such an intensive month. This year, I’ll try to learn from past mistakes and commit to the challenge. If you’re a writer, do yourself a favor and register for the event. You might not finish, but you’ll write more than on a regular day.