Starting November 1st writers across the globe will be hunkering down at their laptops, desktops, paper, what-have-you, and crafting a brand-new story for National Novel Writing Month. We get 30 days to write 50,000 words. It will be a writing frenzy that will require loads of caffeine, creativity, and perseverence.
I participated two years ago for the first time. I actually stumbled upon NaNoWriMo five days into November. I had never heard of it before until I was messing around in the blogging world and reading posts by writers already deeply immersed in their NaNoWriMo novels. I was immediately intrigued. That very day I began writing off of two words that had been bouncing around my head for a while.
NaNoWriMo has no constraints, no structure, no rules (other than writing 50,000 words from scratch). In my experience, the writing emerges organically and sails off in an unchartered direction. Stories like this become their own masquerade party. Characters come out of the woodwork. They behave unexpectedly. Setting changes abruptly. Secrets that weren’t part of the plot on page 11 are suddenly unveiled by page 64. The plot veers into a different direction without warning. The author likely has no idea how things will turn out once the clock strikes twelve.
Of course, organic writing is only one way to get through NaNoWriMo. There are some writers who actually prepare for this event, where they know how things are going to end first. They follow a structured path. It can still be a twisty path with bumps and storm damage and predators along the way, but where the finish line is clear and definite. Where they know how to proceed from one moment to the next.
Because I didn’t know about NaNoWriMo until 5 days into the event, I had to write on the fly. “Pantsing” is the term many people use for this writing style. And for me it’s great fun because writing freely meant that I wrote from the gut. Anything could happen, and it would be okay. Imagine that. Writing without structure and under a deadline also meant I couldn’t revise as I went along. At one point I was feeling that the story was hurtling into orbit and if I had a prayer of getting it back in my rational, organized world then I had better do some editing. Then I remembered the objective was to get down words. Any words. 50,000 words. In under 30 days.
I stopped editing. And I just wrote.
It is a freeing experience, to write without censoring yourself. Without worrying if your scenes transition well. Without worrying if the dialogue is snappy or witty. And, gasp! without fussing over punctuation or grammar. In fact, such organic writing helped me overcome one of my biggest storytelling flaws–I protect my characters too much. I let them dance dirty for a while, but I tend to pull them off the stage when they start behaving dangerously. I practically had to shut my eyes to their erratic, shameful behavior because, well, I needed 50,000 words. By the end of the month I wrote a daring story that any other time I never would have imagined writing.
So. Are you in?
My NaNoWriMo username is madrye. Feel free to buddy me, and we can brave the whirlwind together.