More Espresso than Moleskine: NaNoWriMo’s Race to Write

She’s prone to wild abbreviations — we’re not talking “totes” or “def” — but this one was beyond me. Could there possibly have existed a place, somewhere in this world, and presumably within the greater San Diego area, by the curious name of… NaNoWriMo? 

Obvious answer: no. But there could be an elaborate abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. She explained the basics (write 50,000 words in 30 days, drink too much coffee, never look back). I nodded. I was in. 

The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to churn out the next Gatsby, or Harry Potter or — god forbid — Twilight. It’s to get down to the actual business of writing — not to set up shop at your local cafe, Macbook and Moleskine at bay and swear that your stroke of genius inspiration will hit you — will just have to hit you — by the third espresso; nor is it to pound the backspace every six seconds with the hard-headed belief that you can always do better. As my favorite advice columnist might say over at therumpus.net, the point is simple: to write like a motherfucker. 

And to get through 50,000 words in just a month, a motherfucker one must be. A speedy one, at that: the website suggests a pace of about 1,666 words per day. That’s six double-spaced pages, or, for anyone keeping count, more than three of these columns. On the bright side, apparently someone who did NaNoWriMo a few years ago got a book deal (Water For Elephants, anyone?), then a movie deal and then presumably handpicked Robert Pattinson for the male lead. (Who wouldn’t, for the record, be my first choice, but I’m sure we could work through creative differences.)

By the looks of the official website, the NaNoWriMo staff is a well-meaning gang of walking clichés: people who claim to spend entirely too much time in vintage bookstores, or entirely too much money on espresso macchiato or entirely too many library paychecks — you get the point. But in addition to all those exasperatingly familiar, quirky little bios, they also come armed with sound advice. 

They recommend going in with an outline, for starters, which isn’t a bad idea. Even badass literary renegades could probably do well to organize their chapters. More than that, though, their message reminds me of a lesson that stuck from one of my first writing courses. 

It’s sometimes hard to quantify what you learn as a writing major, but there are a few lessons that resonate. One of them, two years ago, came from a professor who said: you have to give yourself permission to write the crappy first draft. Only then can you move forward. Getting you and me and thousands of others to write without abandon for a month — run-ons and split infinitives and all — is what NaNoWriMo’s all about.


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