Thursday, December 1, 2011

    I WON! I won I won I won!

    NaNoWriMo, of course.

    If you've never heard of NaNoWriMo, that tells me two things about you:
    1) You are not one of my students. (If this is the case, thank you for stopping by!) I imagine my students are very happy to see December 1st, as it means I will finally shut about this month-long noveling thing.
    2) You're missing out in life, big time.

    For those out of the loop, NaNoWriMo is a month-long writing frenzy in which participants write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It's a quick and dirty approach to writing. Just the way I like it.

    I write for the same reasons that I eat, sleep, and use the restroom: because I have to. If I skip any of these activities, I get cranky, and irritable, and eventually, very desperate. Sometimes, people start refusing to spend time with me, and then I get lonely.

    I NaNo because I'm one of those people who needs a deadline to get anything done. Chris Baty (creator of NaNoWriMo) knew what he was doing when he issued his first crazy writing challenge back in 1999, because that is exactly the kind of thing slackers like me need to get our rears in gear. It took me two years to finish the first draft of my first novel, and that was only 76,000 words. If I had participated in a stream of continuous NaNoWriMos during those two years, I would have had 1,200,000 words written during that time. I'm not a mathematician or anything, but that is more than a million.*

    I also NaNo because I teach writing and I've found that crazy ridiculous challenges like NaNoWriMo are often exactly what students need to get inspired to write. And it works! This year, my students wrote over 650,000 words. I am so proud. I want a bumper sticker that says "My developmental students can out-write your honor roll student".

    So two months ago I got together with some of my school's amazing librarians and we drafted a plan for recruiting writers. We reserved classrooms, made handouts, advertised like crazy, and I even made a handy dandy logo because we aren't allowed to use the official NaNo logo on our own college flyers. And you know what happened? The writers emerged. A community was born. And we called ourselves RaiderWriMos.

    We descended on the library with our laptops and funny hats. We drank copious amounts of caffeine and ate bagels and snacks off of little round paper plates. We gave out prizes of questionable desirability. We word sprinted and progress charted and shared particularly crappy lines with each other. But mostly, we wrote. A steady stream of tip-tap-typing flowed from that little library classroom, and everyone nearby knew it, it was undeniable: There was writing going on.

    I woke up on the morning of November 29th with only 28,000 words written. I had only 56% of my novel written (how do you like that math? Eh?) with only two days left to go. Did I despair? Nope. Not even a little bit. Well, okay, maybe I had a couple moments of sheer terror, but they didn't last long. Because I knew. I knew I could do it, and I knew I had a community of equally crazy writers to back me up. And they did. And finally, at 10:20 PM on November 30th, I submitted my novel for validation on the NaNo website, and I won my first NaNoWriMo with 50,161 words. (Please, stop, your applause is sweet but really, I'm blushing.)

    And you know what? It felt great. It still feels great, actually. I came to work today and saw a few of my students who also won, and mini celebrations were had by all. Despite the fact that my Final Days Writing Sprint severely cut into the nine hours of sleep that I typically require, I've been bouncing around all day, just as happy as can be.

    I'm familiar with the anti-NaNo sentiments that exist out there, and while I agree that there is a lot more to being a writer than pounding out a massive word count in a month, I do believe NaNoWriMo is a good thing for the writing community, in general. Here's why:

    First, it's a wake up call for all those would-be writers out there who walk around saying they plan to write a novel one day, but never actually sit down to write. You know the type I'm talking about, they're the same people who attend art fairs, point lazily at finished pieces, and say "I could easily make that." When would-be writers accept the NaNoWriMo challenge and then hit day four and realize they're not cut out for this writing thing, it serves us all by shutting them up for good.

    Second, it gives people who really are interested in writing an instant community of supportive writerly friends. Such a thing is getting increasingly more difficult to come by, especially as people become less interested in pursuing actual passions and more interested in spending their time following what reality stars like the Kardashians are doing. Let's face it, the people you choose to surround yourself with have an influence on you. NaNoWriMo gives writers a vehicle for finding other writers, and it does so with the added bonus of an in-the-trenches immersion experience that helps people connect in a way that otherwise doesn't happen.

    Finally, writing is discovery. It's easy to lament the fact that our television- and media-obsessed culture is creating a mind-numbingly boring population of passionless people, and trust me, I indulge in this lament every now and then. NaNoWriMo is one way to fight this. The process of writing is a process of discovery--through writing, we discover ideas and beliefs we otherwise wouldn't have. We reach new levels of thought and experience. And even if you aren't a WriMo yourself, wouldn't you prefer to live in a world filled with people who actually think on a regular basis? I would.

    So that, my friends, is my day-after reflection of this year's NaNoWriMo experience. I'm looking forward to the two post-writing workshops we're offering in December, and let's be honest, I can't wait for November 2012. If you won this year, congratulations! If you missed the frenzy, let the countdown for 2012 begin. We'll see you next year.

    My stats page from NaNoWriMo 2011. I'm nothing if not last-minute.

    *Off topic, but worthwhile: Awesome book by David M. Schwartz, How Much Is a Million? Met him at last year's IRC conference, and he was so cool.)


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