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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