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Monday, October 11, 2010

Detoxing With NaNoWriMo, the Writer's Flush

At a party last night, several people asked me, "What's next for you?" I gave a different answer each time. After completing a three-month book tour, I'm a little, howyousay, unfocused at the moment. So this afternoon, I was participating in #writechat on Twitter, and someone was extolling the virtues of NaNoWriMo.

Huh? I thought.

So I looked it up.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing." Maybe you know this month-long writing marathon has been around for ten years, but it's new to me, and I'm intrigued. So I signed up. Here's what I'm in for:

"Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. The ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.
Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight."

The first thing I'm going to do is throw away the ideas I've been carrying around for "my next novel." In order to pump out 10 pages a day for 20 days (I figure a 5-day work week is reasonable), I'll have to write about something that doesn't require research. So I'm going to write a comedy about a naive writer who kidnaps and tortures her agent by reading aloud from his slush pile.

My goal is to help other writers (and readers!) understand what is involved in the post-publication process. I used to think writing the book was the hard part. Writing the book is cake compared to what comes next. Cake, I tell you.

I've been told that I should never write anything on my blog that I wouldn't want printed in the New York Times, so I haven't talked much about the darker side of my publishing experience. People don't like it when you complain, particularly when you've accomplished something they perceive as prestigious. You risk sounding ungrateful, when in fact, you're just hacked off because nobody told you that here, there be dragons.

So I'm looking forward to vomiting my little Roman a Clef during NaNoWriMo. I intend to write it fast, keep it light, and make it fun. At month's end, I hope to feel purged of the toxins that have me temporarily unfocused and remember why I'm a writer in the first place. And if that doesn't work, I'll just shell out the money for a partial lobotomy or another arts degree, whichever is cheaper.

Let the games begin.


  1. I'm writing about some catholic school kids who kidnap the mother superior and tie her to a chair and make her diagram "The Illiad". Too dark?

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