So another November is ending, and I haven't participated in National Novel Writing Month yet again. Each year, I tell myself I'm going to do it. It seems like such a no-brainer for a writer, right? Especially a writer who is actively working on a novel. I've come close to participating. I've signed up twice and last year I led a group of young writers in the junior version of NaNoWriMo. But I've yet to take the plunge. This year, I didn't even sign up.
The deal with NaNoWriMo, for those of you scratching your heads in puzzlement, is you attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Over the past decade, it's grown from one person's attempt at finding the motivation to finish his novels to an international movement. There's a Web site where you can sign up and track your progress. Well-known authors write pep talks that are emailed to you once a week. Many cities now have NaNoWriMo groups and there are sponsored writing marathons to help participants make their daily or weekly word count goals.
This year, an element of snarkiness entered the writing world. Larua Miller penned a particularly nasty opinion piece for Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/11/02/nanowrimo) entitled "Better yet, DON'T write that novel" in which she reveals that agents and editors hate December because it now brings with it a deluge of novels fresh from the word processors of NaNoWriMo participants. I can see her point, to a point. It is possible to write a salable novel in 30 days, but not probable. And there have been sales generated from novels composed during NaNoWriMo. It can be a tremendous kick in the butt for a lot of writers. Miller surmises that many NaNoWriMo participants just want to put a check mark next to one more thing on their lifetime to do list. Possibly.
I suspect it has something to do with a more primal urge. I suspect NaNoWriMo has flourished (this year, more than 200,000 people around the world have already written more than 2 billion words) because of our desire to tell stories. I think the desire to tell stories is one of the basic human drives - we are story telling animals.
I find NaNoWriMo heartening because it gives people a way to do something they've probably been wanting to do for a long time. Write. While I feel sorry for the agents and editors who will soon be deluged by eager Wrimoers (who have forgotten one thing about writing - it's a profession - just because you've managed to put 50,000 or 100,000 words together doesn't mean you're a writer), I am thrilled that the desire to tell stories is still going strong.
This month, I am rereading the Odyssey for the fourth or fifth time. This is a story that was written down almost 3,000 years ago about events that happened more than 4,500 years ago. Yet we still know the names of Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Helen, Paris. We still know about the Cyclops, the Lotus Eaters, the Scylla and Chyribis, about Circe and Calypso, and about the 120 suitors who plagued Penelope and her trick of weaving and unweaving her father-in-law's funeral shroud in order to hold them off until Odysseus returned from his 20-year odyssey. We still tell the stories of the ancient Greeks even when we don't realize that we do.
Perhaps NaNoWriMo flourishes because of the desire for an epic battle, a supreme test of our desires, our fortitude, our worthiness. A way to tell the story that makes the storytelling as central to the effort as the story itself.
The ancient Greeks began every artistic endeavor with an invocation to the Muses, a plea that the artist's efforts would be pleasing to their ears, would honor the gods and bring glory to the artist's name. So in the dreary month of November, let's be thankful that 200,000 people are out there praying for inspiration. Maybe a little of it will rub off on the rest of us mortals.