Monday, October 31, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

October 31st. I know what everyone else is writing about: costumes and candy and pumpkins and witches. It's a day of skeletons, of harvest time, of black and orange. It's a day of worshiping Celtic deities and appeasing potentially malevolent ancestors. What day is that? All Hallows Eve, of course, or Hallowe'en.

But that's what everyone else is writing about. Boring. Not to mention a bit creepy, once you start studying the ancient and pagan rites that surround it... so I'm going to tell you about another event that occurs on this day. Tonight, at midnight, all over the world, writers everywhere are going to pick up a pen, or touch fingers to keypads and start typing on one of the most popular challenges anywhere: Nanowrimo.

Ah, the marvelous magical madness of mayhem that begins on the first of November and continues until the end of that fair month. This is my third year, and I like to think I know the process fairly well. This then is your grand tour to that mystical place called Nanoland.

First you need to meet the important people behind this madness. First and foremost is Chris Baty, the insane writer who founded the program, and this year stepped down to pursue his dream of becoming a published author. He is known for wearing a viking hat, for running, and for making hilarious videos to inspire others to write at a pace as insane as his own. He's the author of "No plot? No problem!" the handbook for wrimos and "Nanoland Chronicles; Bedtime stories for Wrimos."

I hear your pleas for mercy. "Slow down," you say. "What's a wrimo?"

National Novel Writing Month abbreviates as NaNoWriMo. Now forget what those words stand for, because only the abbreviated version is important. Nanoland is the place where novels are written. Nanowrimos are the people who write them in Nanoland. Wrimo is an affectionate abbreviation for those people.

Next in the line up of Important People is Lindsey Grant. She is the voice of reason behind the throne of genius, or in this case, the voice of insanity behind the throne of Chris Baty. (Really, I don't know what Nanoland will be without Chris Baty. It's like Holy Worlds without Jay Lauser, or Apple without Steve Jobs. It kind of defies the imagination...)

And the third person you absolutely must recognize is Dragonchilde, also known as Heather Dudley. Dragonchilde is the head moderator of Nanoland, the sort of Marshall or Enforcer. She posts the rules, she notifies you of infractions. She's everywhere at once, a veritable whirlwind of moderating. She makes it her goal to read every single post on the forum, although she confessed that eventually that becomes impossible. All hail the moderators!

Continuing on our grand tour! Like with most writers wrimos are skilled at the art of procrastination. Rulers of Nanoland recognized this fact and, rather than squash it, they chose to foster it. There are many ways of procrastinating.

1. The Procrastination Station. This is the lower right tile found on the Dashboard, which is the Nanowrimo homepage. Every day it is updated with new links to suck your time such as "How many gallons of ketchup it takes to flood a cave" and "How many cubic feet of jello would fill the White House?"

2. NanoVideo. Every day last year a new video was posted by the staff at Nanowrimo, ranging from the pointlessly hilarious, to plot dares, to effective word boosting tips.

3. Nanotoons. Some made cartoons about wrimos!!!

4. Games and Diversions. "If there's one thing more exciting than working on your novel in November, it's not working on your novel in November!" Thus proclaims the description of this forum, who's sole existence is the playing of word games such as: Convince Cleverbot to join Nanowrimo, Last Post, and The Abbreviation Game.

However, November isn't all about fun and games. It's about writing, seriously writing. And sometimes you need to talk about that writing. The forums are equipped with rooms for every type of conversation imaginable, from age grouping to occupation, to genre. But if you're really stuck then you venture into the world of Nano Tips and Strategies. Here is the Adoption Society, where you can hunt down a sidekick for your MC, or an annoying sibling for your villain. Or you can adopt a setting for that gruesome murder, or a food to eat at your MC's favorite restaurant. Or check out the Reference Desk for help on the distance between Alaska and New Hampshire, a believable speed for knitting a carpet large enough to carry an army, or the amount of hot chocolate packages you would need to fill a bathtub. Get help on how to reach those 50,000 words with tips, tricks, and just plain cheating, or go over to plot doctoring and find away around that persnickety wall that has reared itself in your path.

NanoLand is a kingdom with a culture all of it's own. Obsessive Word Counting is one aspect of the world, but there are others as well. I'd like to introduce you straight off to some favorite elements.

1. Word wars! I love word wars. It's such a pity that they tend to go out of season after November. No better way to boost your word count and feel competitive at the same time. Best done with people you know, preferably people you can chat with.

2. The Traveling Shovel of Death. Death by Shovel. How does that work? Well, if you're really stuck, maybe the TSoD will find it's way into your novel. It can be sneaky, sometime's it's a murder weapon, sometimes it's just a means of tripping the unfortunate character.

3. Plot Bunnies! Plot bunnies are the makers of Rabbit Trails. Very similar to Idea Fish they hop about wreaking havoc with your plot, taking your novel in directions you never intended it to go. One method of dealing with plot bunnies is to drop them off at the Adoption Society, or leave them at the bunny daycare center.

4. The Knights of Nanowrimo. For years these friends have ridden together, courageously battling through the Plains of Writer's Block and the Forest of Procrastination, being stopped by Rabbit Warren, or the Gloom of Real Life Duties. Mounted on brave steeds and armed with sharp weapons they press onward, always onward, fighting their way to the kingdom of 50,000. Melodrama is ours, banners waving high in the air proclaiming our quest, and never mind the laughter of those upon the site of our awkward appearance and progress. Join us in epic speechifying as we get our wandering quest underway!

Those are the highlights of Nanowrimo as I have experienced it for the past two years. To explain it all would take a book the size of a Nanoer's novel, and I do not wish to bore you anymore. You must proceed to the site and see for yourself other wonders such as Shoutouts, and Donation Halos. No where else will you find such freedom to be a writer, to write with abandon, to care for nothing but that final word count. Whether you actually turn out anything useful can be arbitrary, if you have truly joined into the wonderful group effort of writing a novel in November.

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