A Novel Approach to NaNoWriMo

It's nearly midnight and I'm sitting in an IHOP. Somewhere in the dark of the East Valley night, trick-or-treaters are cataloguing their confectionery haul. Me? I'm sipping stale coffee with a room full of would-be famous, published writers waiting for the clock to strike 12 and officially kick off National Novel Writing Month.

For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month goes like this: An insane person logs on to the NaNoWriMo website and agrees to string together 50,000 words between midnight on November 1 and November 30. Thirty days. Fifty thousand words. That's roughly 1,666 words per day.

Though the word count seems daunting, the primary challenges of NaNoWriMo are making sacrifices to find time to write and getting used to the idea that most of what you spew is going to be crap.

For the first week or so, I did fairly well. I got a writing buddy and we sat around for hours occasionally taking breaks to shoot the shit between trying to hit the 1,667 mark for the night. When I fell behind, I made plans to head to a coffee joint over the weekend and bang out some extra prose.

And then it fell apart.

In the bleakest moments during that monthlong battle, I was overwhelmed with excuses. What good is writing 50,000 words when they aren't 50,000 good words? Should I not focus on writing well rather than upchucking prose in order to fulfill a self-imposed quota?

And that is where the true battle of NaNoWriMo lies — in defeating demons like doubt, frustration, and apathy. In the mind of the NaNoWriMo participant, doubt, frustration, and apathy create a kind of hell. I knew I must overcome them if I was going to punk down 50,000 words by month's end — and so I resolved to do just that.

Then life continued to get in the way.

I knew I should forsake poker night. Yet when push came to shove I was out the door and away from my writing desk. My NaNoWriMo writing buddy? That sucker was at poker night, too.

The cruelest joke of NaNoWriMo is having to decide between spending a few Thanksgiving moments with your loved ones or working on your novel.

With the entire universe seemingly against you, why would anyone commit to doing NaNo­WriMo? Certainly not for fame or prizes — there are none, save for the satisfaction of finally getting off your duff and putting pen to paper to finish that novel you've been thinking about writing. Though I didn't hit the 50,000-word mark, I take a little comfort in knowing I've at least got a decent start of a novel after mostly, basically, kind of, participating in NaNoWriMo.

And I've learned a bit. I'm now painfully aware that no matter how many times I watch No Reservations, my first-person writing style is just not up to par with Anthony Bourdain's. I've also learned that whether you string together 50,000 words in a single go, cram out a few every day, or do most of your writing on an airplane trip to visit Gram Gram, the important thing is to get off your ass and write.

• National Novel Writing Month official website: nanowrimo.org

• And a few gentler forms of motivation: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg; Writing Without the Muse by Beth Baruch Joselow

• Also, local bookstores are great places to find writers' groups and workshops. Try Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe (changinghands.com).

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan McNamara