Albuquerque and its environs are associated with artists of the painterly variety who come here for “the light.” Yet come November, it’s the writerly types who can be seen at quiet corners of cafés and kitchen tables littered with stale cups of coffee and whatever authorial talismans we hope will lure the muses. We are hunkered down over a keyboard or scribbling wildly into a journal, having accepted the colossal dare of /
NaNoWriMo is the brainchild of Bay-Area writer Chris Baty, whose motives were part selfish (to help light a fire under his own novel-writing drive) but mostly very altruistic—to fund writing programs for children all over the world while lighting fires under thousands of his literary peers. Money earned through donations over the years has already built 22 libraries in Southeast Asia. Baty is a big believer in “the magical power of deadlines.” “The act of sustained creation does bizarre and wonderful things to you,” he says on the NaNoWriMo website. “It changes the way you read. And it changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.”
This year is the 10th anniversary of National Novel Writing Month and the third year this writer will pick up the gauntlet, having made it to a shameful 23,000 words in 2005 before abandoning ship.
This year is the 10th anniversary of National Novel Writing Month and the third year this writer will pick up the gauntlet, having made it to a shameful 23,000 words in 2005 before abandoning ship. Last year, let the records note, I succeeded and have an official, suitable-for-framing certificate to prove it, finishing a working draft of the novel I had been struggling with for more than three years.
The NaNoWriMo movement has mushroomed to more than 500 “chapters” around the world. Baty has joked that, at this rate, in the year 2027 every single person in the country will be working on a novel, a statement that tends to ruffle the feathers of many writers who, like artists of all stripes, enjoy that feeling of possessing a certain notoriety. Statistics prove his point, however; in the 1999 NaNoWriMo there were 21 participants and only six met the 50,000-word goal. Last year, 101,510 novelists collectively poured forth 1,098,496,066 words.
Given that people have a latent competitive gene, you may be wondering: How does New Mexico rank in the big lineup? Last November, New Mexico was 47th in the world, not bad considering population density and the constant distraction of such gorgeous surroundings. It is the rainy places like Seattle, Portland, London and, oddly, Maryland that rack up the biggest word counts each year, perhaps because their damp landscapes offer little motivation to leave the cozy glow of a computer screen. New Mexico has since pulled ahead to 42nd, generating a whopping 4 million words.
This year’s challenge looms, as does the tickle of adrenaline. Sign up at nanowrimo.org and bear in mind there are many more events listed at the site beyond November, should you want to keep that sense of community and fervor alive. As every writer knows, getting the book finished is merely the beginning, so there’s support on the site for the next, less thrilling part of finishing a novel: revision, marketing, all the stuff that comes after birth.