Thursday, 12 November 2009

Dare You Take The Brownie Challenge? Karen Ball

There’s something in the air. Actually, not just in the air. It’s printed on mugs, emblazoned on T-shirts, celebrated in blogs and adding to a certain nervous energy on the streets of my city. It’s NANOWRIMO month. Dark rings appear below eyes, colleagues stagger into work grasping lattes, questions are called across desks. Everyone asking the same thing: what’s your word count? Once a year, anyone from around the world can sign up to a challenge to write against the clock, finishing a 50,000-word novel in a month. ‘Thirty days and nights of literary abandon.’ No room for self-editing or navel-gazing, careful plotting or redrafting. The aim is pure – to get to the end of a first draft by midnight, November 30th.
Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed the joy, energy, excitement, fear and fatigue of friends and colleagues as they scurry out of the office on winter evenings to retire to cafes or bars in a collective effort to create. I’ve seen the photos; people crowded around laptops, peering intently at screens or nervously smiling at each other over the top of their monitors.
NANOWRIMO’s basic principle of clocking up a word count, quality be damned, is transparently liberating. It’s enabled a whole community of new writers to just have a go. And that word – community – seems crucial to this collective effort. I’ve heard so many stories of writers who spend years isolated from others striving towards the same goals. Then, through organisations like the Scattered Authors Society, they find soul mates. Oh, I’m not the only one juggling a day job and a novel? You struggle with the middle acts too? Hurrah – someone else eats chocolate at their desk! Now, NANOWRIMO has enabled many writers to connect and enjoy the support of others, cutting out those lonely first years. This can only be a good thing; writers no longer have to learn alone.
But do I think I’ll ever attempt 50,000 words in the space of a month? Are you kidding! I’m too old, too tired, too grumpy. If I write 4000 words in a stretch, I’m pleased with myself. 12,000 words in a week? No way! I know myself well enough to understand that I’d crumble under that pressure. I need the thinking time. I work best when left alone, to mull quietly, to stare into space. I’d be a total NANOWRIMO loser. So I’m really pleased that others are finding the motivation to write their first, second or third novels – but for myself? I’m thinking of setting up a National Brownie Eating Month (NABREAMO): ‘Thirty days and nights of calorific abandon.’ All I need is a sofa to loll on and a hotline to a supermarket. And after that? A girdle*.
* When DID women stop wearing girdles?
Photo courtesy of Albert Cahalan.
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Book Maven said...

I'm full of admiration for anyone who writes 50,000 words in a month, many of them doing it alongside another demanding full-time job.

But I've never been tempted to do it. There's no novel I want to write as short as 50,000 words.

Nick Green said...

NANOWRIMO sounds great fun but it's always puzzled me. I know it's about getting the word count out, but really, people, it's not the size of the novel that's the difficult thing. People just think that. It's writing something that's actually any good, and doing it day after day, not for one month, but for many months - even years in some cases.

No doubt it might encourage some to write regularly after attempting it, though, so I suppose it's a useful game in that respect.

Katherine Roberts said...

A novel in a month? Easy-peasy! I once took part in a competition called the "One Day Novel Cup" where we all had to write a novel in 24 hours under exam conditions over a single weekend.

This intensive scribbling event took place at the Groucho Club in London, and we did two 12 hour shifts of actual writing (we were allowed to return to the hotel to sleep in between). Refreshments were provided to keep us all alive, but we were not allowed to eat or drink at the computers so taking a break meant less words - although useful thinking time.

The result? I wrote 24,000 words in total, a complete story (you could hardly call it a book) of the usual first draft rubbish. It didn't win, thank God... the winner got published! How embarrassing would that have been?

Gillian Philip said...

I'm a two-time NaNo loser - once last year and now this year. I got 3,000 words down in the first two days and then ground to a halt - BUT I did an awful lot of thinking in that first week and scribbled down rough notes for a whole new novel. I don't think anybody expects a good book out of the month, but as someone who agonises over every sentence, I do find the concept quite liberating! What I've learnt, I think, is that I really have to write fairly slowly - at least at the beginning. But that was a useful thing to learn. And I've got those notes. And it was fun while it lasted.

I'm so up for National Brownie Month... girdles didn't go away, though, they just evolved into M&S Magic Pants. Bless those designers. It's what science was invented for.

Stroppy Author said...

Katherine, I once wrote a (short) novel in a weekend, too. Or in 24 hours. Sadly, not in the groucho but in my upstairs office. Luckily, it is not published under my own name - but it is published!

Anonymous said...

Sadly I missed the beginning of NANOWRIMO this year and would have loved to have enjoyed the opportunity. Whether you win or not, the taking part is key, and you get 50,000 words to work on for future possibilties.

I will deffinately take part next year and I will be one of those people hunched over my laptop at lunch and after work with numerous mugs of starbucks surrounding me.
Good luck to those who entered.

Nicky said...

I've never done it officially but I have ofen used the fact that people I know were doing it to kickstart my own stuff. I'm still waiting to discover if my three week novel will sell.

silkyblue said...

I feel that brownies are the path of least resistance in this scenario. James Martin has a damn fine and very seriously grown up brownie recipe. The course is set for delicious and pleasurable failure on the word count front.