For many students, November is already one of the most stressful months of the year. This is due in large part to the looming horror that hangs over all college students, FINALS. There are also other stressors, such as family events, papers, jobs (especially in retail). But humans, as many of you may know, often like to bite off more than they can chew. We like to be busy, to drive ourselves mad with deadlines and that sort of thing. With our own masochism in mind, it comes as no shock that there are those of us who volunteer to make our month of November even more crazy by participating in the following event:
What is NaNoWriMo? Well, I’m glad you asked. NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is an event wherein thousands of authors all around the world band together and all take on the impossible task of writing 50,000 words in a month. That sounds crazy, right? Well, it’s not so bad once you break it down. 50,000 words in the month of November works out to about 1,666 words per day. That’s not so hard. It’s about… six pages double spaced in 12 pt. Times New Roman?
Okay. Fine. I’ll admit it, it’s insane. Taking on that responsibility on top of everything else that’s already going on in November is a ridiculous thing to do. And yet… people do it. I do it. I’ve done it for the past six years, and I’ve won every time. Sometimes it seems impossible, especially for a procrastinator like myself, but I’ve never once let myself lose. There was one year, one ridiculous year, wherein I let myself procrastinate for far too long. I wound up writing 30,000 of the 50,000 words in five days. I finished. My fingers were about to fall off, and some of what I wrote was utter gibberish, but I finished.
There are two types of NaNo authors, and I’ve been both at varying times in my career as a writer. The first kind is the Pantser. This is how I began my NaNo career. The Pantser is the person who goes in with nothing more than a story idea. No outlines, no prep work, no nothing. My very first year, I logged into NaNoWriMo to see what this writing contest was that all the authors I followed were talking about, and I got the message that I was now registered to participate. This was October 31st. I could have walked away, decided that I wasn’t ready, and there would have been no shame in that. Instead, I took a story idea that I’d been toying with and dove right in. That year, 2009, was my first NaNo win, and also my first time ever finishing a story. I’d been writing for over a decade at that point.
I have since become more of a Plotter. I have outlines for my stories, often ones that break down each scene in each chapter and what I need to happen. I do this for many reasons. One, it lessens my editing time. If I know where a story is going, then I can make certain that all scenes further the plot in one way or another. It means that I won’t need to cut things out later on. Two, it means that I can walk away from a story for a while and come back to it with an idea of where I was going with it. Because I have so very many stories in progress at any given point (about fifteen to twenty as of right now), it’s important for me to be able to jump around as I’m inspired to work on them. I get bored when working on only one project.
So, now to link this back to all of you who aren’t masochistic creative writers who try to write 50,000 words in a month. I’ve learned many, many things from NaNoWriMo, but there’s one thing that I consider to be it’s golden rule: It doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be written.
NaNoWriMo is, ultimately, a great way to write a first draft of a story. Nobody who’s writing 50,000 words in a month is agonizing over the perfect way to describe the blue of a character’s eyes. They’re just trying to get down the plot in their head before moving on to something else for a while. NaNoWriMo allows us to write messily, to write the wildest things we can think of all in the name of reaching 50,000 words for a pretty certificate that tells us what a good job we did driving ourselves insane for a month. Seriously. That’s the reward. A certificate, and the ability to claim that we did it (and also some half-off coupons for products that I don’t use, but I’m not bitter, honest).
The point of this whole thing is this: your paper doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written. Perfection comes after the first stage of writing, once everything’s out there and on the page. Then you can play with word choice and punctuation and grammar and all of that. But for your first draft? Just get it written.
Come see us in the Writing Center and we can help you with everything else.
–Katy, peer tutor