I go to the front of my classroom. I write, on the board, “NANOWRIMO.ORG.” I turn to the group of wide-eyed ninth graders that have been placed in my care. “Has anyone in here, by any chance, ever heard of National Novel Writing Month?” I ask. I am greeted with silence. I am not surprised.
“National Novel Writing Month is an annual challenge for writers. Participants register at the website and then make an attempt to write an entire 50,000-word novel in 30 days.”
The students’ faces are immediately gripped with fear. “Relax,” I said. “I’m not going to make you guys write that much in a month. But if you go to the website, there is a young writer’s section as well, where you can set your own word goal. If you only think you can hit 20,000, or 10,000, there’s a way for you to try to meet that goal.”
“Are you gonna do it?” one of the kids asks.
“I’m going to try,” I say. “I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the last three years.” It’s true. My first NaNoNovel, A Long November, became a podcast novel that I released last year. My other two were technically winners, in that I made the 50k word goal, but both have been shelved. Neither is really ready to show possible readers, although I think last year’s zombie novel, The Last Portal, could potentially be something worth publishing once I make the time to do the revisions.
“How long have they done it?” another kid asks.
“This will be the tenth year NaNoWriMo is held, and it’s actually done by writers all over the world.”
“What do you win?” someone says. This question always comes up.
“There’s no prize,” I said. “It’s not a contest, it’s a challenge.“
“Then why would you do it?” a dismayed voice asks. As always, there’s someone who is utterly horrified at the idea of doing something without the guarantee of a reward.
“There are a lot of reasons,” I say. “For a lot of people, it’s a motivation factor. There are so many people who always say they wantto write a book, but they never do. Signing up for NaNoWriMo motivates them in a way that may never happen if they were trying to write alone. It’s also a great social project. Doing something with so many other writers trying to do the same thing makes you feel like you’re part of something, and that’s a feeling people like. And finally, for a lot of people, it’s just so you can say that you’ve done it. It’s like climbing Mount Everest — the only real reason to do it is so that you can honestly say that you did do it.”
“I climbed that,” one kid says.
I blink. “You climbed Mount Everest?”
“I dunno. Some mountain.”
I shake off the question and turn to another kid. “How do they know you did it?”
“The website has an automatic word count feature.”
“You mean no one reads it?”
“Not unless you do something with it.”
“So why don’t you just cheat and send it 50,000 random words?”
“Well, there’s no prize, right? What would be the point of cheating?”
The kid shakes his head, still stuck on the concept of “no prize.” It’s a problem I frequently see in my students. Trying to convince them that there’s value just in trying to achieve a goal, even if no one is going to pay you for it… that’s tough sometimes. And, sadly, I fear some of these kids will never know that feeling.
But as always, I do see a flicker in a few eyes, a few kids whose faces are asking the question, “Could I do that?” And chances are, the kids who have that look are the ones that I believe in the most, that I believe with certainty really could do that, if only they put their minds to it.
So I cross my fingers for the kids. I go home and get dressed and go to the Halloween party. And then I come home and, for the fourth year in a row, wait for midnight to arrive. And when the clock strikes 12 and the calendar flips to November 1, I open a new document and begin to type.
Over two dozen superheroes responded to the Red Ball alert that day – not a crisis-level of response, but pretty impressive nonetheless. Angela Montessi wasn’t particularly surprised, though. Certain supervillains simply drew that level of response, and Doomsayre was certainly one of them. She’d seen that lunatic put behind bars nearly half a dozen times already, and every time there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would break out again. One time he’d managed to secrete a microscopic teleporter homing beacon inside a false tooth – he beamed himself right out of jail. Another time he used tools from the metal shop and a chunk of a strange meteor he found in the yard to shrink between the atoms of the walls. Once he actually managed to simply hypnotize everyone in the prison. The guards actually smiled and waved at him as he walked straight out without so much as a finger raised to stop him.
I stop and sit back, looking over what I’ve written. It’s not bad. I’ve done better, but for a first draft, it’s not bad. But to hit the goal, one has to write at least 1,669 words every day. I usually aim for 1,700, to try to build a little pad. By the time I stop writing on day one, I’ll have written 1,836 words total.
And I’ve got a long way to go.