National (Novel) Writing Month 2011

I’m not sure who first came up with the concept of National ____ Month. We seem to have a lot of them – breast cancer awareness month, black history month, Oatmeal Month, Salsa Month…the list goes on (here’s a list). I wonder how exactly one can get a month assigned with some sort of idea or movement, as I seriously doubt the government has a department of holiday registry (and if they do, I’d like to meet an employee that works there and see how many vacation days they get). But this month, the month of November, is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). This month is when people from all over set the ambitious goal to write an entire 50,000 word novel over the course of 30 days. That requires writing 1,667 words a day for an entire month (equivalent to writing a two to three page essay every day). The event is hosted by The Office of Letters and Light , a nonprofit that encourages creative writing among all ages and peoples. NaNoWriMo is their most famous project, attracting around 200,000 creative writers each year (although only 30,000 made the deadline last year). The idea is simply to write, and keep writing, writing whatever comes out of your head in an unedited format. In this way, it encourages aspiring writers to keep going and not dwell on poor writing, but to continue writing to develop ideas and creativity, the editing comes later (during December –  the unofficial novel editing month).

I first discovered NaNoWriMo two years ago during my junior year of high school but I did not consider competing (or rather, participating). However, when senior year came around, I found myself slightly more relaxed and with a slightly less workload which allowed me to entertain the idea of participating, and finally, going through with it. I did in fact finish writing 50,000 words of a story idea by the end of the month, and it was a nice feeling. There were days that I was too busy to write the necessary 1,667 words to remain on track, but when I found myself with even 10 minutes of free time (especially before heading off to school), I found that I could put on page a decent amount of words that would inspire me to persevere for the rest of the day and get back on track. I didn’t finish my story, even after 50,000 words and a prepared outline before hand, probably because my story idea was a bit too ambitious for my poor quality writing, but producing 50,000 words of an idea, even 50,000 unorganized confusing words of an idea, was satisfying in that I accomplished a goal I had set out to do. I have a problem when writing creatively to begin a project and the moment I stop writing for the day, to forget about the project and never pick it up again. I find it hard to hang onto the same inspiration that started the project in order to fine the motivation to continue writing and I end up with many half-baked ideas and files of unfinished stories. It’s a horrible habit, I know, which is why I was quite happy to make the goal of 50,000, even if I didn’t make the goal of finishing a story.

Now why would someone want to subject themselves to this kind of torture – writing 50,000 words over 30 days? There is very little possibility that these 50,000 words will be any good, in fact, it’s probably quite likely the the story will be of utterly poor quality. But the point is to get the idea on paper (or on a word-processing file) so that you have something to work with later on. I like writing creatively, especially short stories because they take less attention span to write. Short stories come to me in all forms of inspiration, and there are certain ones that linger in my mind for long periods of time, forming a more definite shape until it is dying to be let out, and at that point I begin writing. Because the idea and plot have been so well-planned out in my head, I can already see the finished project in my mind which allows me to write purposefully and with increased motivation. Longer stories require far more preparation, research and planning, which I currently do not have the time to do. I am also somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes with stories, character development is quite important to me and if I feel like an idea I have is too generic or flat, I scrap it. But NaNoWriMo has shown me that sometimes, poor quality work is still work that can be used as a learning tool. It’s only wasted effort if you never learned anything from the experience. I find writing short stories enjoyable, especially those of the contemporary fantasy and science fiction genre (mixing the real world with elements of the supernatural) as it provides an outlet to define and share my thoughts on philosophical topics such as human nature in a creative and enjoyable medium. I am by no means a good writer (as you probably already noticed), just a person who likes to write.

Last year I began a story I entitled “Lyfe.” It was about a group of people from earth that had been mysteriously transported to a different world still stuck in a somewhat medieval time period. Unable to get back home, the group of Earthlings settled in the new world and made a new life for themselves, learning the culture, the language and starting families. However, 10 years after their assimilation they mysteriously returned back to Earth, leaving their live once again, strangers to their native world. The story’s idea was to explore how these characters react and deal with their return to Earth, featuring flashbacks to their time on the mysterious world. Already the plot seems quite ambitious, and even with a loose outline, I struggled with filling the story up with details and creating a smooth flow. The story required a manipulation of chronological events, something that requires intense planning and experience, both of which I lacked.

This year however, as it is my first year in university, I have decided to be less ambitious in that my main goal is to write without and plan as to how my characters are getting from point A to point B, or even what point A and B are. I have an idea of the characters I want to use and the very general overarching plot, but as to the details, I have none planned out, and I want it to stay that way. I want the writing to be fully organic, a full exercise of my creative juices. I will train myself to be satisfied in not knowing how things will end up or where they are going, and learn to adapt to whatever comes out of my mind at the time. But I’m already 3 days behind, university life leaves very little room for extracurriculars and hobbies (how people manage to do it, I don’t know, time management is probably a good reason). So I’m not expecting to finish writing 50,000 words this month, but in honor of the Novel-writing Month, I will spend what little free time I have writing. This may also mean that blog posts will be scarce this month, we will see.

And for those who don’t want to tackle 50,000 words (which is probably wise), Lulu – an online self-publishing company – has kicked off a short-story writing contest in honor of NaNoWriMo, which can be found here. It only requires a 600 word essay (in fact, that’s the max word count) and there are even monetary prizes involved! Lulu’s contest focuses on quality over quantity, unlike NaNoWriMo, but both encourage creative writing. I may throw in an entry in there as well, using a pre-existing story (with heavy editing) or fashioning an entirely new one if inspiration hits. And the best part? You can submit as many 600-word stories as you would like! The contest lasts for the entire month as well.

I encourage everyone to try creative writing at least once, even if you hate writing. Creative writing is far different from crytical and technical writing, there are no rules or expectations, it is what you make of it. The writing can be short stories, novels, poems, songs, even diary and journal entries, anything that reflects your thoughts and ideas through words. There is no good or bad creative writing, it is simply an exercise (but if you want others to enjoy it as well, editing should be considered). You can even write a hand-written letter to a friend, any writing that you aren’t assigned is creative writing. So take advantage of this month and really exercise those creative juices and push those mental boundaries, you won’t regret it.

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