As much as I wish to get back to relating the information from the JRWC sessions, a topic came up last night at Writers Wednesdays that I promised to mention: NaNoWriMo. It surprised me that some of the writers there hadn't heard of it, so I figured I should give it a shout.
NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a sensation that happens every November. The rules are simple: at 12:01 am on November 1, you must start with a blank page. At midnight on November 30, you need to submit a minimum of 50,000 human-generated (yeah, that means no using the "rand" generator in Word) and mostly different words, and you should have some idea that you're at the end of the story. If, in fact, there is a story--that's one of the optional parts. Doesn't have to have a plot, you see. Nor does it have to have gripping characters or sparkly dialogue (or is it the other way around?).
It certainly doesn't have to not suck.
Here's a snippet of what the official site (www.nanowrimo.org) says about it:
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
Writing sucky crap is, in fact, kind of the whole point. It's a fairly well-accepted truthyism among those who have come before that nearly everybody's first novel is better suited for giving the gerbils something to pee on than to actually be read. There was a guest blog post on the subject this very morning, in fact, over in Rachelle Gardner's place: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2011/10/a-time-to-kill-your-novel/. According to Mr. Brotherton, "It’s fact: the death of your first few manuscripts is almost inevitable. Sure, exceptions exist. But there’s just too much to learn in this craft to be instantly brilliant."
So, if you're sitting there with Novel #1 still to come, why not make it happen in November? It's going to suck anyway, so why not have fun with it? And by fun, I mean actual fun, involving-other-people sort of fun. You know, that stuff that's significantly more fun than sitting at home in front of your keyboard telling yourself how much fun you're having.
When I did NaNo, it was up in Alaska at a time when there wasn't a whole lot of "real fun" to be had in that region. Now, though, were I doing it (and I would be, certainly, if I didn't have this nasty dissertation thing hanging over my head this year) I'd look up the Richmond group. Well, I would, except I already met the person in charge of the group. It was last night, in fact, and that meeting is what spawned this post. They're going to have several great get-togethers: writing parties and plot parties and party parties. Your area likely will do the same; go to the site and look up your region.
In the meantime, you've got a few weeks to read a couple of very important books on the subject. Chris Baty, NaNo's founder, wrote a book called No Plot? No Problem. It's short, yet it spins an interesting yarn about how they came up with this sort of silly notion. It also discusses how to go about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. At the other end of the spectrum, you should also read Stephen King's On Writing. That book is, by all accounts I've heard (and I've heard several), one of the seminal works on how to write well.
By reading both books, then, you're bookending yourself on both sides. One book tells the tale of how it's okay to suck, while the other tells how not to suck. Excellent works, both, and a great way to while away the rest of October whenever you're not doing your fingie exercises to prepare for a crushing 2K-words-per-day writing pace.
Only, 2K words per day isn't really crushing, is it? I did it for most of the spring and summer this year, and once you figure out where it should go in your schedule, it's really not that bad at all. Especially when those words don't have to be the right ones.
So go, doooo eeeeet. Two hundred thousand people did it last year. Thirty thousand novels were written as a result. According to the agents' blogs I've read, a gazillion horrible query letters were sent out in early December (don't do that, by the way). You'll be joining a great community.
You could, after all, be writing the next Water for Elephants, which was written as a NaNo project (and then, I'm sure, revised a LOT). Granted, you're probably not writing it, if statistics are to be believed. But what you are doing is limbering up the writing muscles, learning some great lessons in the process, getting that first throwaway out of the way, and setting yourself up for success later on.