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Luskin: National Novel Writing Month

(Host) After years of wishing November would just go away, novelist, essayist and educator Deborah Lee Luskin has discovered a reason to wish November went on forever.

(Luskin) Until this year, I always thought the best thing about November is that it's short.

But I've accepted the challenge to write a fifty-thousand word novel during National Novel Writing Month, and already, I wish November were longer.

It's known by the unlikely acronym NaNoWriMo, and is designed to encourage anyone who's ever dreamed of writing a novel to pen fifty-thousand words during November's thirty otherwise dark and dreary days.

It all started in 1999, when 21 aspiring writers in the Bay Area put their laptops together to each write a draft that July.

Six of them finished.

The second year, the challenge moved to November, to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather, according to the website, where a long history of the event can be found.

The short history is that over a quarter of a million people signed up last year, and nearly 37,000 of them finished. Collectively, they logged over three-billion words. Some of these novels have been published, a few to commercial success and even critical acclaim.

Thanks to the speed of electronic information, the statistics are updated instantly, and they're astounding.

Right now, there are two thousand and eighty wrimos , as we're called, just here in Vermont.

Aside from access to geeky stats, the website offers pep talks, forums, meet-ups, and write-ins, where people can actually have fun while writing. This seems like cheating to me. I've written novels before, and I always thought that struggling alone was required. But the philosophy behind NaNoWriMo is that anyone can draft a novel - and have fun.

I'm not so sure.

Back in January, I resolved to draft a story I've been thinking about for years.

By mid-August, I'd finished two hundred pages.

But I made the mistake of reading them, and I tossed all but two.

By the end of October, I'd regained momentum, but the only way I was going to finish was by adding some pressure.

Strictly speaking, it's against the rules to start a NaNo novel before November first.

Butas the novelist Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said, There are only three rules for novel writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

So my goal isn't to write a whole novel this November, just fifty-thousand words - about half. And I'm only logging the words I write this month on the web site.

Nor do I expect to socialize with other wrimos, in person or on-line.

I enjoy reading the pep talks, though, and checking the stats. There's comfort just knowing there are so many others out there, working their messy way through a first draft.

And that's the idea: to write without editing or censorship. Revision can be done at leisure, during the other eleven months of the year.

By the time I finish my two thousand words for the day, dusk is already settling into the nearby woods.

This early darkness is another form of encouragement, reminding me that November is a good time to den up around the fire, and tell stories.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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