Thursday, November 6, 2014

Company and a Deadline

The book club I belong to just finished reading NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. It's a beautifully written novel about a circus that appears out of nowhere in the middle of the night. The visual and fantasy elements are just breathtaking. I don't want to give anything away, so let's just say that this is Morgenstern's first novel and it is so highly accomplished for a young writer that I can't wait to see what she'll do next.

During the course of the book club's discussion, one of the members mentioned that NIGHT CIRCUS had been a NaNoWriMo project. For those of you who are unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month--which just so happens to be November. Writers who are up for the challenge pledge to write 50,000 words during the course of the month. For accountability and commiseration, you can register your project at the NaNoWriMo website and discuss your work on the message boards.

When it was revealed that NIGHT CIRCUS was a NaNoWriMo project, the reaction among the book club members was interesting. "She wrote all this in a month?" one woman said, waving the thick novel in the air. The members were astounded by such a feat but fully believed it was possible. The two writers in the group (I, being one of them) shook our heads. "No, she didn't," we assured them. "You can't write something like that in a month."

But how could I be so sure? Just because I couldn't pull it off doesn't mean someone else wasn't capable of it. I mean, anything is possible, right? Literary history is peppered with stories of writers hitting a vein just right and having the story pour out in one quick burst. Still, it was highly unlikely. If the book club believed it was possible to complete a novel in a month, then I started thinking that many NaNoWriMo writers must believe the same thing. It begs the question, "Just how much did Erin Morgenstern manage to write in a month?

Apparently, I'm not the only reader who's wondered the same thing, because Morgenstern's website has a FAQ page that addresses the NaNoWriMo question. Basically, she participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge over the course of three Novembers and then took the writing she produced and spent the next two years discovering the story. During that time, the manuscript went through countless changes. In fact, Morgenstern says that she wrote over 100,000 words that don't even contain the main character of the finished novel.

I'm not going to say "Told you so"...but....

Morgenstern writes on her website: "I think NaNoWriMo is a brilliant idea and gives you two magical things: company and a deadline."

Well put. All this, fellow writers, is a roundabout way of saying that while the NaNoWriMo challenge is a valuable exercise, it's important to keep it in a proper perspective. If you are expecting to produce a finished manuscript by the end of the month, you will most likely be disappointed. Doing so would verge on the superhuman. The one goal to keep in mind is to produce a lot of words and to push forward without listening to the inner perfectionist that loves to keep you paralyzed with self-doubt. If you work hard, at the end of the month you will end up a wonderful jumping off point. And that's when the real work begins. Who knows? Maybe you'll write something as wonderful as NIGHT CIRCUS.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you had success with it? What is the value of it for you?

1 comment:

Barb said...

I think NaNoWriMo is a great motivator. I participated two years ago and was excited at the end of each day to post my word count and watch the line on the graph go up. I didn't make it to 50K but did do about 40K, some of which appears in the book I've finished (or am finishing!). I am using NaNoWriMo to get me started on a new project this month.