Whether it’s swimming 500 lengths or climbing 5,000 metres, we all know about the athletic challenges that some people rise to. Fewer know about the creative challenge that over a quarter of a million aspiring authors take up each year: writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is now a worldwide phenomenon, encouraging people to put fingers to keyboard and hammer out over 1,500 words per day for a month. It’s not so much a marathon as a Himalayan expedition: the glory isn’t in coming first, or writing more than anyone else… it’s just in crossing that 50,000 word line.
While ‘quality over quantity’ is a fine motto for many things in life, it’s also what paralyses many would-be writers, who agonise over opening sentences and first chapters, deleting and re-writing until they give up, still far, far away from having a completed novel - a process which I’m sure is familiar to many of you.
The NaNoWriMo philosophy is to write without looking back: a rough novel can be edited, polished and perfected; there’s not much that can be done with a blank page. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is shit.” It’s creating this shitty first draft that NaNoWriMo is about: the ability to let go of perfectionism, ignore the thoughts telling you to give up and start again; to just let the words flow. Starting in 1999 with just 21 participants, the following year saw over 5,000 people taking part. The event quickly boomed in popularity. It is NaNoWriMo’s supportive community - and the chance of becoming a recognised winner - that make the event different from a solitary, self-motivated writing challenge. As well as real-life meet-ups, there are forums for discussion of the intricacies of plot and characterisation, competitive ‘word wars’ and other productivity games, as well as motivational advice. If, like me, you’ve always dreamed of being an author but always put it off until ‘one day’, NaNoWriMo is your chance. I’m taking part for the first time this year, joining hundreds of thousands of others, including regulars. One chemistry student, who has participated before, says, “I want to be a writer, and forcing yourself to write is a good way to start. I’d found it by reputation a dozen times on the internet over the years, but didn’t actually take part until I was 18. I got out of it two very poorly written books, and the promise of more to come.”
The event begins next Friday. If you have a writer’s itch that needs scratching, sign up, get planning, stock up on paper, pens, booze or whatever you need. It’s tough, but after thirty days you’ll be one of a special few: you’ll be able to look down upon your completed novel and say, “I wrote that.”