I can do this. WE can do this. However far behind you are, take comfort in knowing that there is somebody else out there in the same boat, and look for that next fun scene. And then the next. And if that doesn’t work, set someone on fire. In your book, of course.” —Sara Gruen, from a Nanowrimo pep talk for participants, 2007
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to first listen to, and then meet one of my favorite authors. I went through the meet-and-greet line pretty quickly, satisfied with her signature in my copy of her book.
It only took me two weeks to think of what I should have asked.
Her name is Sara Gruen and she wrote “Water for Elephants,” an amazing story set around a fictitious traveling circus in the 1930s. She wrote a couple of other books before this one, but this was her break-through novel.
I could come up with a too-long list of things I love about this book, but one of biggest, and one I unfortunately didn’t remember in time to ask Gruen about, is that this story started out as a Nanowrimo novel.
I try to faithfully promote Nanowrimo at this time every year, because it’s one of my favorite things about November. The fact that Gruen drafted her best-seller during this program is a big deal. Hers is one of about 60 novels written during Nano that have eventually been published.
If you’re not familiar with it, here are the basics:
1. Nanowrimo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It runs every year (for the past 11 years) from midnight Nov. 1 to 11:59 p.m. Nov. 30.
2. The goal of Nanowrimo is to write a 50,000-page novel in 30 days. That’s equivalent to a 175-page book. (Intimidating, yes, but actually kind of a short one.) This breaks down to 1,667 words per day. In sleep terms, roughly one hour less per day.
3. The point, as I see it, is to start and then finish. Everything in between is a little blurry. For others, the point could be to justify additional caffeine intake, which counteracts the sleep loss. It could be to cross a line off a bucket list. Or possibly just to see if it can be done.
4. There are no prizes, beyond a pat on the back from yourself and bragging rights, if utilized.
5. Quantity is how you “win,” but quality plays no part in this project. Nobody reads it, therefore nobody judges it. After Nov. 30 you can take it or leave it.
(I have never re-read anything I’ve written in Nano because quite honestly, I’m afraid to discover the parts I remember as amazingly insightful are shallow, incomplete, or worse yet, plagiarized from a suppressed book I read a year earlier.)
Someday, I may designate December as NaReEdMo (National re-read and edit month).
I know the challenge won’t appeal to everyone, but I hope it does to someone. You’ll feel productive and creative. It’ll give you time to stretch out your right brain, do a little downward-facing-dog of the mind, and invent people you’ve always wanted to meet—or be.
Old high school rival? There’s your first victim. The one that got away? There’s your hero. An unfulfilled dream of touring South America? How ironic—that’s where the protagonist of your story fled after catching her boyfriend with her boss, who was at one time her college nemesis, resulting in the untimely loss of both her relationship and her career. Which, in turn, prompts a Bolivian adventure, a brief encounter with Anahi, a spiritual eco tour guide with a firm backside and uncanny knowledge of the endangered and elusive ‘wolf of the sky”, the Harpy Eagle, ultimate true love, and closure to the mysterious disappearance of her parents when she was but a child…. Or does it?
You tell us.
You should give it some thought. If you desire rewards, then I should mention the attractive winner’s certificate that will be issued when you log 50,000 words. You have to print it yourself, but who doesn’t like to see their name on a certificate?
If you desire “stuff,” there’s an online store full of that. Shirts, posters, pens, stickers, mugs and other things with a sweet logo.
If you desire camaraderie, it’s out there at nanowrimo.com. That is where you sign up. More than 200,000 people around the world will be writing alongside you. Many with comparable skills, whatever they may be.
If you desire free things, this is that. There is no cost unless you want to donate to The Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit that runs the show. They do good things, like providing free creative writing programs—and books—to towns, schools and libraries worldwide.
So, are you giving it some thought yet? Join us. We won’t hurt you. (Unless you find your way into our novels…no guarantees, as we follow the voices and go where the stories take us.)