John Updike once said in an interview that he wrote every day because “the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again.”

In the spirit of diving into creative output (and not indulging the pleasures of procrastination), over 100,00 people will spend November pounding out nearly 2,000 words a day in order to complete their own 50,000-word (175-page) novels.

no plot no problemChris Baty, a freelance writer from San Francisco, named November  National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 1999. There were 21 participants. Since then, NaNoWriMo has exploded. Last year, over 119,000 people signed up, and 21,720 writers completed 50,000 words by 11:59:59 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2008.

In 2004, Baty published a book called No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. The first chapter explains the reasoning behind marathon writing:

What you need to write a novel, of course, is a deadline. . . Deadlines bring focus, forcing us to make time for the achievement we would otherwise postpone, encouraging us to reach beyond our conservative estimates of what we think possible, helping us to wrench victory from the jaws of sleep.

NaNoWriMo is now run by nonprofit The Office of Letters and Light. Their excellent website allows participants to post excerpts of their novels-in progress, contribute to online forums, organize local writing sessions and read pep talks from big-name writers like Meg Cabot and Neil Gaimon.

nanowrimo_logoSince Nov. 1, I have enjoyed reading Twitter updates from hundreds of frenzied writers (search #NaNo for by-the-second tweets). As you might expect, some of them are flying (one woman posted that she’s finished 6,672 out of 50,000 words). Others are suffering from pesky distractions (one participant tweeted: “I have to stop getting distracted by facebook and twitter! If you see me, tell me to get back to writing!”). In the Stanford Department of English, students are writing for a grade; this school year, National Novel Writing Month is an official seminar.

Are any of you in the midst of writing a novel for NaNoWriMo? If so, will you share plot details? To play devil's advocate: Anyone wary of the month’s mission, which emphasizes quantity of prose over quality?


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