I heard about National Novel Writing Month in the waybackwhen, in a year that was mostly zeroes. I was in college, still vaguely an aspiring writer but mostly a composer in love with sound. As cool as it seemed, I promptly forgot about it. There was too much going on in my life. “I’ll get around to it after I get out of school, maybe.” Besides, I didn’t have any great ideas to turn into a novel.
By the time I did, graduate school was burying me. I made grand plans in November and in May to do a Personal Novel Writing Month in, say, July, when I was not taking classes. Invariably, these plans had disintegrated by December and June. I started a novel six years ago. That lasted one and a half chapters and a few notebook pages of brainstorming. For the last few years, I’ve technically had the time to write. Unfortunately, I was busy with a different book—or at least a book-like entity—titled “Presenting the New: Battles around New Music in New York in the Seventies.” That one has been read by about four people, who were kind enough to sign a paper saying I should be allowed to finally finish school.
Writing a novel shot up to the top of my to-do list once my dissertation was done. It seemed like the obvious thing to do while sitting on my hands waiting for the slow mill of the academic job hunt to finish grinding me down. I even got started on The Fairworth Chronicles. I churned out a prologue in a timely manner, and moved on to the first chapter. That was around the time my partner and I decided to move our family 1200 miles, and around the time my kids got out of school for the summer. That confluence of circumstance put most of my writing on hold.
…at least until we got here and I decided to try and make a serious go of writing. I have a day job now, so writing time is scarcer, but I am gradually figuring out the pacing. And I have missed my characters. I want to turn them loose in Sakurdrilen and see what happens. (In the meantime, I am brainstorming and outlining and pushing on with re-writes of my novella collection.)
I’ve read a number of posts now both encouraging and discouraging writers from participating in NaNoWriMo. Most of the latter point to the arbitrariness of word count goals and the delusions of having a finished project at the end of the month. Most of the encouraging posts remind me of friends talking up Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash. (Both pro- and anti- posts frequently make explicit marathon comparisons.) NaNoWriMo seems to have grown huge and club-ish while I was busy writing papers. It’s no longer just a project, it is a month-long event. In the Austin area, I could attend write-ins and other NaNo events three or four times a week, starting now and going all the way to the end of the month. It’s a Big Thing. Out of habit and training, I tend to be skeptical of Big Things.
So…why NaNoWriMo? And why now? I hold no illusions about brandishing a finished manuscript at month’s end. I am not sure whether I want to join “the club,” though many folks seem enthusiastic about it. (Several of the local events are at Austin’s big game/comic store, too, so…) I have fairly firm ideas about what I want to do with my writing, where I want to take my stories, how I want to present them to the public. Do I really need to make myself crazy chasing 1700 words/day for 30 days? Particularly when I am presenting at an academic conference early in the month? Wouldn’t it make more sense to ensure my rewrites get done and put that effort into better establishing my on-line presence in advance of my first serious bit of self-publishing?
Well, yes. Yes, it would make more sense. But on the other hand: why not just do it? I have never really had the opportunity to chase an arbitrary writing goal in a community of like-minded chasers. First drafts can be awful. (I am in the middle of rewrites, I know how awful they can be!) But the blank page is worse. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single cliche. And then you rewrite it so it sounds better. And then you rewrite it again so it makes more sense. And then you find somebody trustworthy and clever to read it and tell you all the things that are wrong with it, and you keep fixing it. That is all part of writing.
But the thing about NaNoWriMo is that you can let those other steps come later and just write. That holds tremendous appeal, and that is why I’m doing it this year. Because I can. Because I will. Because why not?