For anyone who doesn’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month. During this time, writers across the planet cancel all of their plans and neglect both their loved ones and their gym memberships for 30 days while they crank out a mind-blowing 50,000 word novel (mind-blowing because it’s 50,000 effing words, regardless of the fact that most of them are crap). The idea is to temporarily silence your inner editor and just get something down on the page. Let your mind wander and see what springs up. Space aliens. Newspaper boys. Flatulent cows. It’s all fair game.
This year will be my fourth participating in NaNoWriMo. I am proud to say that I have successfully hit the 50,000 word count each time so far. In 2010, just days before the November 1st start date, I thought, “I suppose I should come up with a storyline or something”. I knew that writing about subject matter I was already familiar with – in this case, an 18-year-old girl leaving home for the first time to go to college – would make things decidedly easier. What I hadn’t anticipated were all of the sub-themes that popped up along the way. For example, I had no idea that I’d been ruminating over the subject of gay teenagers and homophobia, but there it was, manifested in the form of a 15-year-old kid named Andy. I was even more surprised to realize that, without my knowledge, I had written a young adult novel.
For my second round of NaNoWriMo, I got cocky. I thought, “Last year was a piece of cake. I’m going to really challenge myself this time!” And then proceeded to torture myself with an overly complicated plot structure in which the point of view alternates between three different characters whose overlapping story lines traverse the same one-month period of time. Is this doable? Sure. Is this doable in 30 days? No way. At least not by this writer. Twelve days in, I was on the verge of tossing my laptop out of the window and hiding in a quiet corner with a jug of gin. But once I accepted defeat and allowed myself to stray off the plot-line path, I was able to make a respectable comeback and still hit my 50,000 words.
I kicked off NaNoWriMo 3.0 immediately after a breakup. This was both good and bad. On one hand, it was a relief to delve into a fictitious world where I could focus on other peoples’ problems for a while. But on the other, my anxious state of mind drove me to create a dysfunctional family of wretched yet sympathetic characters who took up residence in my head and then barely slept for 30 days. Again, many curious sub-themes popped up along the way: women’s changing role in our culture, family secrets, the accuracy (or lack thereof) childhood memories, commitment issues (no duh), among others. It was a grim place to be at times, but I was proud of the end result. In fact, I have spent the last year revising this novel, and will set it aside only temporarily to participate in NaNoWriMo 2013.
So what will I write about this year? What kind of world do I want to live in for the 30 long days of November? I am presently undecided. And that’s the beauty of writing fiction: what you write about is completely up to you.