Editor’s Notebook

Don’t get it right, get it in writing

By: Vanessa S. Holt
   If you haven’t started your novel yet this month, you’d better get cracking.
   For thousands of people, November is National Novel Writing Month, an excuse — not just in this county, but around the world — for everyone who has ever talked about that novel they’ll write "some day" to put their word processor where their mouth is.
   It’s only been going on for a few years — since 1999 — and in that year only 21 people participated in the San Francisco Bay area where the idea was first hatched.
   But this year, it will probably surpass last year’s total of 59,000 participants, according to the Web site, www.nanowrimo.org, which has taken on the status of a California-based nonprofit organization this year.
   The goal, state the organizers, is to write a 50,000-word, 175-page novel during the month of November. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, it doesn’t matter if it is finished — you can always tie up the loose ends later. Some even elect to write collections of essays or short stories. The idea is volume. Keep writing, no matter how many cringe-inducing clichés you use, no matter how many hackneyed plots you recycle, and if something salvageable doesn’t come out of it, well, at least you know what your strengths and weaknesses are if you ever sit down to write one at a more leisurely pace.
   You can find out a lot about what kind of writer you are, under this kind of pressure. Are you the type that throws in a scene with ninjas rappelling down walls in the darkness, bursting onto the scene when the action gets slow? Do pirates swashbuckle in through the window to abduct the heroine when you don’t know what to do next? Does someone rip off a mask and reveal their true identity or a horrible deformity? Go ahead, dig in and bring out a heaping helping of clichés, if it keeps the plot moving.
   It’s a little liberating, to be free to just be as bad as you want to be and laugh about it with your fellow sufferers. The idea is really just to finish something that you have started. That’s a lesson that could be translated to many other areas of life. But in the meantime, think of the great excuses that this gives you to get out of other obligations this month:
   "I’m sorry, I can’t go, I’m working on my novel."
   "I don’t really have time for television anymore, you see, I’m working on my novel."
   "I’m going to have to take off from work for the last week of the month you see, because I’m working on my novel."
   Immediately you are launched into the same class of people as Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Willa Cather, Stephen King, and – well some less notable people as well, but still — writers! Working on a novel sounds like a very noble and intellectual goal, and it should be enough to get you out of most unwanted social obligations for a few weeks.
   And yes, I’m participating, though I won’t reveal a word about my horrible plot and cardboard characters, my hackneyed clichés and lame twists. Last year I started late and gave up around 8,000 words. This year I’m right on par with my goals, writing about 1,667 words a day. It doesn’t take very long, surprisingly. Especially when you’re not agonizing over sentence structure and going back to double-check that you didn’t use the word "opalescent" five times in the last paragraph.
   "Her opalescent eyes glazed over opalescently as she looked out at the opalescent sea foam." Ahh, another 15 words in the bag.
   Not all of the novels are terrible, by the way. The goal is not to be terrible, but to finish what you’ve started. So far, nine novelists have actually sold their manuscripts for publication, according to the "NaNo" site.
   If you missed the boat on the novel writing, though, you can still cram your screenplay into 30 days next June, when Script Frenzy will launch, with the same basic idea. And that sounds even more impressive. "I’m sorry, I can’t come to the dinner party, I’m working on my screenplay!"