Gearing up for NaNoWriMo 2011

(Dear reader: No, you haven’t missed anything.  Posts were lost during the migration of this website, some deliberately so.  There were also several genuine lapses in posting, some lasting as long as six months. )

Yes, I know, I KNOW!  Here I am still working away at last year’s project and I’m talking about starting something new.

Since my last post, I’ve made what I consider good progress on my Steampunkish opus. Work has sped up a bit now that I’m past the period of adjustment to my new job and once again have the energy to write at night, but I’ve still got at least four months of work before I can put a full stop on the last page.  So why make the decision to put this book on hold for November to do National Novel Writing Month?  Not only do I give up precious time, but I’ll lose the momentum I’ve only just gotten back.

Thing is, NaNo is not to be missed.  If you’ve always wanted to write and never been able to get down to it, NoNo provides a framework and deadlines that can be the difference between “I kinda wanna write” and “I write.”  That’s pretty much the way NaNo is marketed.  What doesn’t seem to get as much play is what this month can mean to congenital writers like me who are compelled to write despite a life’s history of being that fabled tree that falls unheard in the forest.

I was awed by what I accomplished last November.  I churned out more in that one month than I would otherwise have produced in ten, and nearly all of it was worth hanging onto.  I still had the same constraints on my time as I did the rest of the year, so how was this possible?  Obviously, the daily goals and overall deadline made a big difference.  When you simply have to hand something in, you brush off the distractions and get down to work.  Because you have to.  You find hidden minutes in your day (writing on the morning subway was my untapped vein) and you stop being so finicky.  The goal during NaNo is to get it out, not to get it out perfectly.  There’ll be plenty of time afterwards for dredging up the ideal word and tidying up those plot points.

The inconceivable productivity can’t be credited to deadlines alone. What kept me meeting those daily targets was the rare feeling that those deadlines mattered.  it’s a cliché to say that writing is a lonely art, but it’s one of those clichés that are true.  Unless you’re George S. Kaufman* or in the writer’s room of a television comedy, you write alone.  And if you don’t have an audience for your work, there’s no break in the solitude — no readings at bookstores, no interviews, no emails from excited (or enraged) readers.  When you do NaNo, you get a sense of community that most writers rarely know.  There are thousands and thousands of other insane people doing the same thing you are  Okay, there always are, but only during NaNo do you grasp this.  Even if you never make it to any of the regional face-to-face events, you feel a sense of community and it’s invigorating.  There are email and twitter blasts from the team at HQ, some really wonderful e-letters from writers who actually make a living at it, and connection to others like yourself through blogs and forum posts.  Your spirits are simply not allowed to flag!

What inspired me most of all was the support of friends.  NaNo’s website advises that, as part of your commitment, you tell as many people as possible that you’re doing it.  You may wonder why I needed NaNo for this.  I can’t speak for other writers but I have two main reasons for reticence about my work.  The good reason, the reason that holds up to scrutiny, is that if I talk too much about what I’m working on, I lose the sense of urgency to write it.  This becomes a big issue when I’m squeezing out something along the lines of 5-6 pages a week, which is more or less my usual average outside NaNo. If I talk about it too much, I’ll wear it out before I get to the end.  The other reason to keep quiet is embarrassment.  It’s the same reason why, in my acting years, I rarely mentioned the auditions I went on: if no one knows what you’re trying for, then when nothing comes of it, there’s no shame in your failure.  It was really hard for me to follow NaNo advice and broadcast my intentions, but having done so I understand why they recommend it. It’s incredibly moving to have your friends and family and co-workers checking in with you and cheering you on.  I even had friends a work who brought me treats to keep me going.  I confess I feel that I’ve let my posse down by not having finished last year’s book (yet).  I’ve already put up my Facebook and G+ announcements of this year’s NaNo and I’m hoping they’ll forgive the lapse and back me up again.

For this year’s project, instead of taking on the Everest of a story that required research, timelines and other such fiddles, I’m sticking to the here and now and launching a jolly little workplace comedy.  At least I hope it’ll be comedy!  There was a time when comedy was my stock in trade, but over the years I seem to have mislaid my funny. Maybe a side benefit of NaNo this year will be getting it back!

I’ll be checking in again here when it’s all over.  See you in December.


* for those to whom theatre history is as opaque as that of the Peloponnesian War, Kaufman was a famous and well-respected (unlike today, celebrity back then was usually paired with some degree of achievement) playwright who frequently wrote with a partner.

About Lori Berhon

Lori Berhon is a New-York based novelist and playwright. Her work is distinguished for its intelligence and for the vivid humanity of even her most impossible characters. She is actually taller, slimmer and far more elegant than she appears to be.
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