A Novel in November: National Novel Writing Month 2016

By Stu Burns
By Stu Burns

Longtime contributor Stu Burns penned the following article. It’s all about writing a bunch this fall along with thousands (tens of thousands? more?) people across the nation and world.  Read and enjoy and think about trying your hand at knocking out a novel.

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There is a piece of folk art that I’ve seen floating around offices and tacked on refrigerators. It is a circle with the letters “TUIT” printed on the interior – a “round TUIT” if you will. As the story goes, most people have some great project they are ruminating on that they will undertake once they get “a round TUIT.” This little homophonic talisman, abusive of language as it may be, is a gentle reminder that the opportunity they seek is right in front of them, ready for the taking.

Since people who are apathetic about writing rarely read literary journals, chances are that you are either a regular writer or aspire to be. To paraphrase Jane Austin, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a regular or aspiring writer must be in want of their first book. If you have already completed a volume or two, that’s great. However, I suspect that most of my readers have rather good ideas for novels, but have delayed progress on them until they “get a round TUIT.” I am not so naïve as to ignore the many real reasons that most of us have not written our long works of fiction. Children, work, education, and many other slings and arrows of outrageous fortune organically conspire against the singularly meditative practice involved in writing, and a cutout paper charm is no substitute for the gumption it takes to grind out a novel.

I am not qualified to give any wisdom on that discipline; my own books remain trapped in my head and heart, still waiting to run free on paper or through digital media. Over the last few years, though, I’ve become friends with a remarkable cadre of creative minds who have found a great way to push out the words, turning off their private editors and censors for one month to accomplish a goal most folks never reach: writing a short novel.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a just-for-fun, on-your-honor program that thousands take part in every year. In its purest sense, the prospective author starts out with a blank word processor document at 12:01 am on November 1. By midnight of the 30th, they have a narrative of 50,000 words. Some people have prepared extensive outlines in the preceding months. Others fly by the seat of their pants, making things up as they go. Many take advantage of their online co-writers, posting their word counts daily on the national website, nanowrimo.org, and trading pointers on that website’s forums. Even more find fellowship with the writers in their local communities. Most larger towns have regional groups that host training sessions and kickoff parties in October, along with “first-chance” events at midnight on Halloween, several group “write-ins” through November, and a “Thank Goodness It’s Over” party after the dust has settled. Most NaNoWriMo novels tend toward science fiction or fantasy, but people write in all genres. For example, Sara Gruen’s 2006 historical romance Water for Elephants began life in National Novel Writing Month, eventually reaching best seller and Quill Award nominee status. Young Adult novelist Rainbow Rowell, already an established author, took up the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2011 and found it invigorating, saying that the strict time limit made her write more courageously than she ever had before. As ANY writer will tell you, the regular habit of writing every day is the single best way to produce good writing, and a concerted effort to write over 1,600 words a day, every day, is a good boot camp to instill that habit.

So take up the task this year, if life allows. Put fingers to keys and write. Forget about editing or care; there will be time for that later. (Erin Morgenstern wrote her bestselling novel The Night Circus for NaNoWriMo 2004, but the editing was not complete for over six years.). Join us for kickoffs and write-ins; the details for your region are easily found on nanowrimo.org, and some regions (including Omaha, Nebraska, where I’m based) keep meeting year-round; in my own life, NaNoWriMo has been the source of some of my closest friends and co-conspirators. This November, seize your round TUIT. Win or lose, you will be glad you did.