What the Heck Is a Nanowrimo?

When I was in the fifth grade, one of our regular assignments was to find an unusual word in the dictionary and turn it into a multiple-choice question for the class. We were to provide four possible definitions for the word: the actual one and three fabrications. I remember feeling an impish sense of satisfaction when a schoolmate would select one of my made-up meanings. So in the spirit of Miss Brown’s vocabulary-building exercise, I offer the following MCQ:

What does the word nanowrimo mean?

a. A punctuation mark, proposed by English printer Henry Denham in 1580 and used until the early 1600s, indicating a rhetorical question

b. Any of several large, thick-skinned, odd-toed mammals of Africa and India, having one or two upright horns on the snout

c. One billionth of a wrimo

d. Thirty days and nights of literary abandon

If you answered a, b, or c, I applaud you as a very decent human being who graciously took my inane quiz. (If you recognized b as a rhinoceros, extra credit!) The correct response is d. But I sort of tricked you. The proper presentation of the word is NaNoWriMo. The acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo describes itself as a “fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” The program began with 21 budding authors in 1999; in 2011, it tracked the progress of over a quarter million “WriMos.”

The Night CircusParticipants start writing on November 1, with the aim of completing a 50,000-word novel (equal to 175 printed pages) by November 30. And it works. National Novel Writing Month has yielded a long list of published novelists. Bestsellers penned during NaNoWriMo include Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen; and The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The former was released as a motion picture last year; the latter is in development.

I have considered participating in NaNoWriMo for several Novembers, going so far as to create an account (where years’ worth of unread NaNoMail is waiting for me). Because I finally have a concrete idea for a novel, this year’s event seems perfectly timed. However, there’s an NaNoWriMo logoissue. NaNoWriMo values quantity over quality, “enthusiasm over painstaking craft.” The goal is to produce a crappy first draft, “to forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.”

Maybe therapy could help, but I am inherently incapable of writing without editing. I have been writing and editing, editing and writing, for over 20 years. The two activities are hopelessly intertwined for me, and my projects rarely involve one without the other. To misquote Woody Allen in What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, if you know me at all, you know that writing is my bread and editing my butter. Oh no, editing’s my bread, and writing is my butter. No, no, wait . . . I’m sorry . . . writing and editing are my various breads, and various butters.

To compensate for my quirk, I am proposing a scaled-down version of NaNoWriMo. Specifically, a 1:10 scale. My reasoning is that for every ten steps my writing takes me forward, my editing takes me nine steps back. So instead of generating an average of 1,667 hastily chosen words per day, I would shoot for 167 somewhat polished ones. By the end of next month, I would have 5,000 words, the length of a respectable short story.

Does anyone want to do NaShStWriMo with me? The name is catchy, you have to admit.

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4 thoughts on “What the Heck Is a Nanowrimo?

  1. Lee Anne Dollison

    OK, I’ll bite. I haven’t worked on my novel in months. It’s probably time to take a stab at it again. Maybe having a timeline and a co-conspirator will help break my block.

    Like you, I obsess over the details. I write, write, write, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, write some more, edit a lot more. The problem occurs when I rewrite the entire 1st half of the book so it jives with the new chapters I’ve written. Then I rewrite them so they jive with all the new material I’ve added to the 1st half of the book. Then I get frustrated with the lack of real progress I’ve made and I take a break. A month. A year. Five. When I come back to it, it’s always with fresh eyes, and the whole process begins again.

    It’s been 10 years—no, take that back—12 years—uhmmm—OK, I confess: It’s been 20 years I’ve been writing this, this, this *opus*. I was working on it when we were working together at West.

    I’d like to think it’s all my computer’s fault. I can wipe out a whole chapter in a single swipe, insert two paragraphs that changes a whole relationship that now needs a new back story, and I can do it with one finger. With my eyes closed. Someone told me once that if James Joyce had had a word processor, he would have never finished Finnegan’s Wake. I’ve tried to read Finnegan’s Wake. Several times. I can see where that might have happened.

    Karen, please, I’m rewriting Finnegan’s Wake. Only everybody’s gay. Help.

    Reply
    1. karengreenfield Post author

      Ha! Lee Anne, I think November would be the perfect time to approach your novel again. Consider that hundreds of thousands of other aspiring novelists will be writing their hearts out at the same time. That’s a lot of creative energy flowing around! Would you consider (gasp) starting “from scratch” on November 1? And then letting fresh energy carry you through the plot and characters anew for the next 30 days? That sounds really inspiring to me.

      Reply

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