Forget Flat Abs in Seven Days, Can You Write a Novel in a Month?

NaNoWriMo commences bright and early on Nov. 1, giving us ink-stained wretches about two weeks to clear our schedules and say goodbye to loved ones.

For the uninitiated, November is National Novel Writing Month – a theme month whose acronym can make you feel like Mork from Ork when trying to explain to skeptical friends what’s caused you to shun sunshine, shopping and TV while holed up in your apartment for 30 days and nights.

There’s plenty of debate about what it’s possible to create in a month – and what of that might be salvageable for a later draft – but, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, to keep your hand moving across the keyboard or page with nary a backward glance for editing or second guessing. “To write,” as the NaNoWriMo website puts it, “without having to obsess over quality.”

The endeavor encourages participants to start from scratch (rather than waste time agonizing over a partially developed outline or manuscript) and accept that almost every writer on the planet produces, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, crummy first drafts.

The NaNoWriMo website offers plenty of support, resources, advice and meet-ups in your area. It’s completely honest about expectations and the fact that you shouldn’t set yourself up to unleash the next Pride and Prejudice on the world come Nov. 30.

They understand how difficult it is for writers to shed the burdens of the workaday world and dedicate their schedules to creating – even if it is only a month. They’re realistic that at the end of 30 days, your spouse, partner, parents, children and/or boss are going to expect you to reappear and spend more time in their lives. But, they also believe that, if you’re a writer, one month isn’t too much to ask for.

The discipline it takes to write every day forms good habits and strengthens muscles we sometimes don’t even realize we have.

NaNoWriMo is kind of like the room of one’s own that writers need in order to imagine and create.

I’ve had good intentions in past years about doing NaNoWriMo, going so far as to make pacts with writer friends who planned to do it, too. One thing I’ve discovered about those previous (all unsuccessful) attempts was that the moment we let Day One slip by without churning out our 1,667 words (50,000 words divided by 30 days), we’d lost the game before it ever really got started.

I’ve also thought long and hard about whether it would be more helpful to bang out a novel in 30 days or to nail down one, fully realized short story. Perhaps NaShoStoWriMo is more my style. Because once you get in the habit of writing your own stuff, just for you, it’s a lot easier to keep going. And, after all, you can always designate any month of the year your personal NaNoWriMo, NaShoStoWriMo, NaPoWriMo (for poets), NaScreWriMo (screenwriters), NaBloWriMo (bloggers), etc., if November, with that pesky Tryptophan-laden, out-of-town-relative-packed holiday at the end of the month, doesn’t work for you.

So, NaShoStoWriMo is what I’ll be doing with my November evenings and weekends, when I’m not focused on clients.

How about you? Have you tried NaNoWriMo before? Are you tempted to join in this year? Have you ever given yourself a month (or six, or 12) to achieve something that really mattered to you? Share your thoughts in the Comments.