Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo: How to extend an imaginary deadline.

Today is the last day of November, the last day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and a day in which thousands of writers wish that their keyboards came with an 'Extend Deadline' button. According to the official count, as of this morning, 2.9 billion words have been written and verified by NaNoWriMo participants, and over $640,000 were raised to fund the writing outreach programs of the Office of Letters & Light.

Last weekend, I took a moment out of my holiday to read through the #NaNoWriMo Twitter feed and noticed the number of people who were boiling with existential angst and self-loathing because they weren't going to make it. They weren't going to win.

As someone who bathes daily in the existential angst of students dragged unwillingly to the keyboard and ordered to write 1,500 words on the American Revolution (or whatever) it was refreshing for a moment to see people who begrudged the time spent at the table on Thanksgiving because they would rather be writing.

Then I came to my senses.

The NaNoWriMo movement gets a lot of crap, and I'm on record here and elsewhere defending the validity of the idea, but that does not mean it is without flaws. If there was one thing I could change about the way we talk about this, it would be to eliminate the word "Winner" from the conversation. Anyone who manages to vomit 50,000 words into the word counter -- any words will do -- is a winner; everyone else is, by extension, a loser. And that's a false premise.

Nevertheless, as the minutes tick away toward the midnight deadline, those who did not complete their 50k will inevitably fume and fuss and glare at their screens and think of ways to pad their numbers. Do outlines count? Character notes? This old short story that has a character with the same name? Some of them will make it across the finish line and some will not. 

I want to remind those people that the inability to write a novel in 30 days does not make you less of a writer. It's entirely possible that it makes you more of one.  So as this imaginary deadline approaches I want all of you to promise me not to take this too seriously.

This is a celebration of the novel, not a celebration of the deadline.

Your worth as a writer is not on the line.

Congratulations to those who will receive that postage-stamp sized digital diploma. You wrote quickly, and I hope you wrote well. Post your plaque on Facebook or Twitter, accept the plaudits of your peers and sleep well tonight. 

Whether you 'won' or not, tomorrow it will be December and you will all sit down at the computer out of habit, take a deep breath, and look back at your share of those nearly 3 billion words, and wonder "What now?"

The answer is the same for all of you, win, lose or draw... 

Make a fresh cup of your favorite morning beverage, congratulate yourself for surviving, and then hit that extend deadline button and keep writing.


  1. This is the part where I replay re-mix bits of Finding Nemo (viewed one time too many through the corner of my eye, in passing, via multiple children). "Just keep writing, just keep writing, just keep writing..."

  2. I've never thought of it quite like that before...


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).