Saturday, October 30, 2010

Apres le Deluge: It’s NaNoWriMo time

Hi everyone,

Well, here's to a weekend of missing journalistic ethics at the Daily News.

I was told I couldn't write anything political this weekend, the weekend before the election, because it was too close and that people wouldn't have enough time to respond via letters... so I put together this bit of Halloween candy instead (still fun, but not what I wanted to say 2 days before we test the corporate effectiveness of the Citizens United case).

Disappointingly, the op-ed across from mine this morning was a piece of Hoover Institution flapdoodle "proving" that tax cuts for the rich are good for everyone... so, like... huh.

I guess we now know what the real editorial policy of the Daily News is.

In any case, this week's bit is on the upcoming NaNoWriMo, starting Monday. This may be the best cure for Tuesday's outcome, regardless of how things go! :^)

Political buckthorn or garlic mustard invading your lives this week? Plant grape vines to strangle them. It works.

They chopped some material out of my column this week, so, here's the original.

Apres le Deluge: It’s NaNoWriMo time

With Tuesday’s election only two days away, this weekend becomes a quarantined journalistic island on the op-ed page -- no politicking with regard to Tuesday’s elections allowed. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a prescription to help carry you through the rest of the month, regardless of your state of mind on Wednesday morning, after your worst fears have been realized -- or dodged. During November this year I’m making plans, along with nearly 200,000 other lunatics, to write the first draft of a novel. November is National Novel Writing Month.

If you ever thought you had a story to tell but could never muster the courage to start writing it, here’s a way to get started. Begin at the National Novel Writing Month website,, for all the details.

The basic idea is simple: 30 days, 50,000 words, rough draft, no editing. That’s right: no editing.

Why would anyone do something like this? Simple: to get ‘er done.

The enterprise got started in 1999 when Chris Baty and 20 other writers in the San Fransisco area decided that they needed a one month writing binge to get past their procrastination and to get a rough draft of something, anything, finished. It didn’t have to be great, it just had to be over 50,000 words. They assumed this would be a grueling, desperate, and over-caffeinated month long slog into misery, but that’s not what happened. Even though only six clambered across the 50k-word finish line to “win” the marathon -- and this was the important part -- they all had fun. As Chris describes the event, it turned out to be “half literary marathon and half block party.”

From there, things started to escalate. Participation climbed to 5000 (with 700 winners) by 2001. By 2005, 59,000 people participated (with 9,769 winners). Last year: 167,150 participants with 32,178 successfully clearing the 50k word-mark. In fact, 1295 K-12 schools participated last year and NaNoWriMo, now run by a 501(c)(3), Office of Letters and Light, has even established a Young Writers Program. I’ve been trying to remember to sign up for the last few years, but always missed the November 1st deadline. But not this year.

It’s been exhilarating to wander around the website’s forum and discussion areas, and watch the old timers meet up with each other. And I’ve felt a bit like a Martian anthropologist, trying to make sense of all the sort of tribal groupings and strange divisions inside the NaNo universe. The Mac vs PC war rages good naturedly throughout the place. There seems to be an ambient anti-Microsoft bias in favor of simple, non-distracting word processors, but a lot of participants are using novel-writing and idea-organizing specific software like Scrivener or OneNote. User forums are set up to handle questions about how surviving the week after week grind, to channel advice from old hands to the newbies (like me!), to answer questions related to researching your plot (what kinds of useful neurotoxins can you find in fish? What was the name of Amelia Earhart’s first airplane?) and on the proper use of semi-colons (linking two independent clauses). Different tribes have already set up their own electronic campsites: the hipster iPad users hang out together, as do those who will be writing throughout November using only their phones. And then there are the Old School Hard Core brigades who have pledged to complete this journey writing on (gasp) typewriters and, crazier still, by hand. I love writing with a fountain pen but this is prose, not poetry: I’ll be typing on a netbook and using DragonWare’s NaturallySpeaking dictation software.

The fun, however, lies in meeting, socializing, and writing with other local “WriMos.” Here in Washington County we fall under the heading of “Wisconsin::Elsewhere” and have already started a group on campus up at UW-Washington County. We’re experimenting, using NaNoWriMo, with a “campus write” (as opposed to a more common “campus read”) to try to engage as many of the students as possible in the experience of marathon writing. And here, officially, I wanted to invite anyone in the area who might be interested in this adventure to join us!

If you or anyone you know has always wanted to give this a whirl, the easiest route is to log in to the NaNo website, sign up, and meet up in the Wisconsin Elsewhere regional forum.

Whether your party does well or ill on Tuesday, this is a great way to let your creative seeds take root as winter falls.

That website is and here's the direct link to the Wisconsin:Elsewhere forum. Join us!



wbman said...

I'll give you a start: "It was a dark and stormy night".

Perfect Dis@ster said...

I've had trouble trying to understand what NaNoWriMo was... thank you for your concise description. I actually understand what it is now!