November is a strange time for writers. There’s this thing called NoNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It’s a contest where participating writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words of a new novel solely within the 30-day span labeled ‘November.’

Prize for winning? Personal pride and a sense of accomplishment. Penalty for losing? The confirmation and validation of all the relentless nagging fear inside your bottomless pit of a tortured soul that tells you you are no good, you’re an imposter, that they’ll all soon realize you’re no real writer, and that you are indeed the talentless hack you pretend not to be.

So, it’s all good, right?

I hear it began somewhere around the early 2000s, and has grown into quite the fasion among hobbyist writers and such. As Chuck Wendig describes it, professional authors sort of view NaNoWriMo contestants as tourists. The pros are there every single day year long, pounding their hearts into word-shaped things on a page, while these dilettantes saunter in, dip their wicks in the ink for a few weeks, and go away giggling and squealing a few weeks later saying, “Ooh, look honey, I’m an author!”

That said, 50,000 words in a 30 day period is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe cough politely behind a hand and make eyebrow raising gestures to the person next to you to the effect of, “Hey, look at what he was able to do!”

50,000 words in 30 days is over 2000 words a day if you’re only working weekdays, over 1600 a day if you’re going every day. That’s not exactly farting around. That’s good productivity. Especially for a month that includes a major American holiday renowned for it’s torpor-inducing qualities, as well as shopping for Chrisumerismas.

In the past, I have often daydreamed about joining, and winning, NaNoWriMo, but never gave it serious contemplation because of time constraints, both real and imagined.

Last year, though I presumably had the time, I chose not to because I wanted to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice and write only short stories for a year. One story a week. Turns out, I’m about 13 times less productive than he assumed, only getting about 4 short stories done in that time. In my defense, I’m a black-belt level procrastinator and navel gazer, with Kryptonian levels of skill at needing to put out multiple simultaneous fires out of nowhere.  The drama in this family can never be overstated.

This year, though.  This year I am trying out NaNoWriMo for the first time.

So, let’s set forth some expectations and goals, shall we? What do I want to accomplish, and what do I hope to learn?

1 – Volume:
50,000. I don’t realistically believe I’ll reach this level, but I can’t grow if I don’t challenge myself. I have had (very very few) days where I’ve written close to 8,000 words in an afternoon. Not often, but it’s happened. I’m far closer to a 1,000 word a day kind of pace as it stands, on the best of days, but I need to increase those numbers if I ever want to finish a first, let alone a seventh, novel.

2 – Persistence
I have several begun and abandoned novels and short stories. This is unacceptable. The first rule of writing is that you must write. But the second rule of writing is that you must finish what you write. You can’t just write a piece until you get stuck, and then abandon it. This is one of my three biggest hurdles. I don’t expect to finish a complete novel in 50,000 words. But I can expect to get through half of a decent first draft in that space. I know I’m going to hit hard parts, blocks and obstacles in the course of this month. I hope to learn how to either plow through them or go around without letting them trip up my momentum.

3 – Perserverence
I must write. Every day. For far too long, I have let extenuating circumstances of daily life get in the way of my career. Commuting, illness, parenting, etc. A lot of that is valid time commitment. But a lot of it is just an excuse—using the other areas of my life as a shield to cover my fear of failure. I know that this seems a lot like #2 above, but there’s a subtle difference here. That one is more about pushing through the hard parts, the big hurdles of the story. Thir is about getting past that daily hurdle of beginning. Once I make myself start, I can write all day in a blissful state of unseeing. This is perhaps the biggest of my three hurdles.  This month, I hope to make that daily starting easier.

4 – Let it suck
This goes hand in hand with both 2 and 3 above. A lot of what keeps me from writing is that I know my first draft isn’t what I want it to be, or what editors need it to be to buy it. But it isn’t that for any author. First drafts are universally just fountains of shit frothing forth from the fingers. And yet there’s thousands of authors out there every year who push on past the shit-frothing stage, and root around in that loose wet brown mush for the chunks of tarnished gold. And then they pull up the gold, wash it clean, and polish it to gleaming. But if you stopper the word-sphincter and keep the excrement from coming out, a) you can never reach the gold, and b) it just piles up inside you, and that can’t be healthy for anyone.

I’m not going to measure my success based on the 50,000 word cutoff.  It’s a great goal to aim for, but success, to me, this year, is going to be whether or not I write consistently, getting a decent word count more than 20 days of the month, and whether or not I push that 1,000 words a day up higher.

Is there more? Most definitely.

Can I think of it right now? Decidedly not.

Is anyone still reading this far down the page? Highly doubtful.

Anyway, I’m going to go get ready to write most of a novel. Wish me luck.

Until next time, Here I Go.



About Matthew Shean

Matthew Shean is the author of several forthcoming novels and myriad short stories. He received his Ph.D. from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY, and spent 20 years as a research scientist throughout the northeastern United States. He now lives in Long Island (against his will), with his loving family and disdainful cats.
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2 Responses to NaNoWriMo

  1. Pingback: What Have I Learned? | Here I Go…

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