If the words above are gibberish to you, let me explain. They stand for National Novel Writing Month. This has become a ritual of exquisite torture for me each November since I first discovered NaNoWriMo (in, I think, 2002).
The point is to rough out a novel of 50,000 words during the month of November. I always set a goal of 1,700 words per day, which is a little higher than the actual average needed to make 50,000 in 30 days. This is my cushion to make up for those days when I just don’t feel like writing that much (such as the past two days, when I skated), am sick, or have little commitments like, oh, Thanksgiving.
The first two years I participated in NaNoWriMo, I did actually try to write novels. The first year was a very serious attempt, with a plot (more or less — I kind of made it up as I went) that included a beginning, middle, and end. After NaNoWriMo was over, I actually fiddled with the novel and added to it over the coming year, but eventually I lost faith in it as a viable piece of literature. Someday I may return to it.
The next year I again attempted a novel, but this time it was actually a series of reminiscences from my childhood barely strung together by a narrative. I never thought about finishing it as an actual book, and I don’t think I’ve read any of it since that year’s NaNoWriMo ended. Somewhere along the line I took a year off; then I subjected myself to two more years of driving myself through November, including last year.
Yes, I wrote 50,000 words each of those Novembers as well, but I cheated. Instead of working on anything with a plot, I simply wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I caught up on all the things I should have been writing about all year, mostly long pieces about trips or important family events. (My stepfather died of Alzheimer’s three years ago; I’d watched him die, and I’d never gotten the experience down on paper).
Last year I also simply wrote. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was — because I’ve gotten into the habit of not writing very much throughout the year except for work. I started keeping a journal in 1966, the fall I was twelve, and wrote it in pretty faithfully for three decades. Then I began to slack off, and now I rarely pick up a pen and write in a notebook. A part of me gets detached and floats around like a panicky phantom searching for its misplaced head (or heart). To make myself sit down and spend a month writing, just writing anything, was a major accomplishment. And even though I didn’t have the satisfaction of writing a novel, I was able to reassure and restore myself by writing. Just writing.
So here I am back in NaNoWriMo again. No, still no novel this year. But my sister, Diamondqueen (who’s completed NaNoWriMo herself a couple of times now), is tapping away at her keyboard as well this month. Last year she mounted an enthusiastic start but got sick and had to bail. This year she’s determined to finish and “win.” (You’re considered to have “won” NaNoWriMo when the automatic word counter verifies your 50,000 words via uploaded manuscript.)
To give some shape and direction to our writing this year, we decided to focus on a memoir of The Hooligans’ late beagle, Bailey. She was quite a dog, and I don’t mean that in a 100% positive way. Oh, the stories we have to tell! Actually, my sister has more to tell than I do; as Bailey’s Mommy, she went through the best and the worst. But I was extremely close to Bailey and have a few stories of my own. I’m not sure I have 50,000 words worth of Bailey recollections, so I’ll be scratching at some other things as well. I plan to post a few Bailey stories as I complete them, just to add another objective to propel me on.
I don’t know whether we’ll ever try to put together an actual memoir of Bailey, i.e., one we’d try to have published. But Diamondqueen and I both need this. I’ve been much better about writing this year; blogging both at work and, more recently, here, plus writing a biweekly e-mail newsletter for my job has forced me to produce without dawdling. I probably could have skipped NaNoWriMo this November. But I’d miss the sense of shared ordeal, and Diamondqueen could probably use the moral support of knowing someone else is doing it, too. Not that she needs my help. She already hit 5,000 words yesterday. I’m still behind on today’s count.
But I’ve been through this before. I know what I’m capable of. I’ve even written through sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and a root canal. I’ve fallen waaaaay behind many times and still caught up. Barring disaster (and considering how much of this year has gone, I wouldn’t dare), I should be able to keep up with this.
If you’re interested in what thousands of other maniacs put themselves through during the month of November, visit the National Novel Writing Month site. Lots of fun there, even if you’re not a writer.