Proving once again that I have less sense than the average person I’ve persuaded myself that it would be fun to get involved with the National Novel Writing Month. Yep I’m going to try and crank out 50,000 words in the span of a month. That works out to be around 1400 per day, or about 60 words per hour, or 1 word per minute. Wow one whole minute to think up a new word: how hard can this be?
Yeah I know that’s not how it’s going to work, no matter how hard I try to look at it that way. Although, since the only person who’s actually got to read the thing is me, there’s nothing preventing it from being gibberish. Or one could simply do a hell of a lot of cutting and pasting, and quote from a million different stories you like and… might as well just type the letter “x” 50,000 times if you’re going to do that and call it an experiment in existential minimalism: or a really long algebraic equation.
NaNoWriMo, which is how they refer to themselves, was the brainchild of one Chris Baty a few years back. He thought it would be a hoot to see if he could use the Internet to get a few people across the U.S. involved in something as outlandish as attempting to plunk down 50,000 words on paper in the span of thirty days. Little did he know how many nut jobs like myself actually would want to do this psychosis-causing exercise.
Now, of course, the National in the title has been rendered obsolete—heck, how else could a beady-eyed Canadian like myself be taking part otherwise?—with participants from around the world. They’ve even managed to turn it into a fundraising project whereby they solicit donations from which they build libraries, this year in Laos. Last year, they successfully built three libraries in rural Cambodia, bringing books to people who would most likely not have had access otherwise. (You don’t have to participate in the insanity to contribute, and you don’t have to contribute to participate.)
So why would anyone do this form of masochistic torture willingly? It’s not just a few loonies either, we’re talking projected numbers of 55,000 participants for this year’s event/marathon. I can’t speak for anyone else, so I’ll try to speak for myself. Perhaps getting a peak under my hood will help explain this form of mass hysteria.
This is good, I can’t think of one sane reason for doing the contest. It does not bode well for my success that I just sat here staring at the screen for two minutes, completely blank. Good lord, what have I gotten myself into? OK, I can back out, not complete the required 50,000 and nobody will know, except me and the other 54,999 participants who see my name up on the tally board stuck at zero words on November 30th.
So there’s part of it. Testing myself against meeting a deadline. That’s something I haven’t done in years, not since I worked in theatre and you just had to have the show ready when the audience walked in. Even if the actors couldn’t touch certain set pieces because the paint was still fresh, it didn’t matter; as long as the audience couldn’t tell, you’d met your deadline.
It won’t matter if I write my last word at 23:59 on the 30th of November. As long as the damn manuscript is into their word counter software by midnight I win. Win, yeah, OK, so a nice lefty like me still has a competitive bone in my body. Shit, yeah! You can’t be a damn writer and not be competitive. Unfortunately you’re usually competing against all your own self-doubts and inferiority complexes, but that’s still competition.
So I want to challenge myself to go where no me has gone before, to visit uncharted vistas of my imagination and meet strange small fuzzy creatures. Or whatever characters I happen to create, to populate my bizarre worlds.
That’s the other thing intriguing about this. What will pop out of my fevered brain? Have you ever done something called automatic writing? It’s where you sit down, stare at a blank piece of paper, and write down whatever pops into your head. They use it as a type of psychotherapy to help people get by emotional blocks and problems communicating.
This will be sort of like controlled automatic writing. It will have a plot and a story with characters doing things by themselves and to each other. It will be all the stuff they do, and how they get from one end of the story to the other, that will be the automatic-writing bit.
There used to be an improvisational theatre game I would teach and play. Two actors would work together; they would be each given a character and a situation, then they would be given conflicting motivations. Simple example of this would be a husband and wife at breakfast one day, husband wants to take day off work to spend time with wife; wife wants husband out of the house to meet her lover.
That’s pretty much how I see this whole thing going, writing-wise. At the beginning of each chapter I’ll take volunteers from the characters and see who wants to be in it, and tell them what they have to do. After that, I’ll let the automatic writing take over and see what happens.
Did you notice the neat way I digressed from the topic of why I’m doing this? It was so neatly done that I didn’t even notice until now…Oh dear, that’s not good. I could have a real good time killing somebody off and realize I need him three chapters down the road… Ah well, I’ll deal with that when the time comes.
Anyway, automatic writing: It’s supposed to free up your subconscious and make you more spontaneous and creative. So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to achieve that state of mind. I mean, there isn’t exactly time to be meticulous in your word selection, is there? A minute a word may sound like a lot, but that second-hand sure can sweep by pretty quickly when you’re trying to decide if that word sounds just right.
If I were a sensitive, new-age type of guy, which thankfully only happens on special occasions, I would say that it would be learning to trust your instincts. You can also call it gut reactions or a feeling. But that always reminds me of that real cheesy Wayne Newton number…I’ll probably never have a “feeling” about anything ever again.
One reason I’m definately not doing this is for fame and fortune. Goodness me, the chances of this novel being anything aside from unmitigated crap are pretty low. Beside the fact that 50,000 words aren’t enough for a novel these days, quality control is going to be a low priority. I’m sure after I’ve written the thing, if I ever have the nerve to go back and read it, I’ll come across glaring snafus of continuity. (See the above dead guy who’s needed three chapters later; most publishers usually pick up on a character reappearing after you bumped them off. Of course you could make like the whole J. R. Ewing thing, and say it was all a nightmare.)
What it really comes down to is that I think it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun. Yeah you heard me right, fun. I love to write. Think of how many words I churn out a day posting to places like Blogcritics and my own weblog. That’s got to be close to my 1400-a-day rate right there. So all I’ve got to do is turn that into the equivalent of fiction each day. (Probably according to a lot of you out there, that won’t be too much of a stretch for me.)
In fact, you lucky folk you, if you play your cards right, you may just find yourselves the lucky recipients of my peerless prose on a daily basis. Wouldn’t that be a treat for all of us? I’d enjoy the luxury of on-the-fly critique and commentary and you would… well let’s leave that alone for now and see how the critiquing works out.
But I don’t want to keep all this fun to myself. There must be oodles of budding novelists out there waiting for their big break. If you ever thought you had a novel in you waiting to be written, what better opportunity do you have than the National Novel Writing Month to give it a go? At the very least you’ll be able to cross one more thing off that list of stuff that you wanted to try before you died. You may even find out that you’re a writer.
The truth is you’ll never know until you try. So why not try?