NaNoWriMo has become a well-established event in the annual calendar. This is the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month, with the hope of having a first draft (large portion) of a novel at the end. The idea is that having a goal and a set time period will concentrate the mind. It particularly suits those who have busy lives and careers which impinge on their opportunities to write. It is easier to say to someone (work, friend or lover) “I can’t do X, it’s NaNoWriMo” than to do so over a period of months or years. The writer, academic and activist Alicia Gaspar de Alba http://aliciagaspardealba.blogspot.com/2010/10/getting-ready-for-nanowrimo-2010.html has documented her experience online. NaNoWriMo is a practice that benefits from the use of social networking. Tell your friends online, encourage them to get involved and they will either join in or give you the occasional nudge. It does prove positive for many. I have noticed that it has recently spilled out beyond creative writing (insofaras we want to categorise writing in any rigid way), to academia. There is now a AcBoWriMo, see this blogpost for a valuable insight intothe process and hints and tips on how to complete it: http://theteachingtomtom.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/a-writing-challenge-%e2%80%93-the-first-acbowrimo-has-been-announced/ Naturally, both have their own hashtags on Twitter.
Aside from the splurge of both of these organised months, there is also the frequency school of thought. As I discovered recently, when preparing for a class in Research Methods, much writing about writing suggests that it’s more useful to write little and often rather than in one burst of activity. For example, Rowena Murray in How to Write a Thesis (Berkshire & New York: OUP, 2006) and Gina Wisker in The Undergraduate Research Handbook (Hampshire & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) suggest developing the habit of writing. They suggest a way of improving your writing is by sheduling it and giving it a time limit, as time takes you away from focusing on the value of what you write and more at freeing up your creativity and productivity. As a quote attributed to Aristotle says, “we are what we repeatedly do, excellence is not an act but a habit”. This suits my schedule and my modus operandi, therefore, when it is reinforced by research, I’m happy. However, others have different ways of working, schedules and habits, therefore, I respect the need for months/events of this sort.
AcBoWriMo has its appeal, as writing 50,000 words in a particular time limit could have a very positive outcome. The words you produce don’t have to be good, they just have to be words on a page (or bits in a computer’s memory), it might free us from the constant self-editing and lead us to write better. Maybe we need to think about both approaches. If AcBoWriMo is the marathon, we need to do our daily fitness training to build up to it.
Whilst there is an appeal in this idea of intensive bursts of writing, and I have indulged in such splurges on occasions, because I had space and time or needed to make it happen due to externally imposed or self imposed deadlines, I won’t be joining in this month. This is not to say I won’t in future. I love that a month or time period like this makes people think, talk and write about writing. It is an activity often shrouded in mystery, as it is often silent and solitary and has many hidden fears (will it be good enough? do I know what I’m doing? it’s flowing now, but will it dry up? etc). Therefore, the more talking, tweeting and writing there is about writing the better for all of those of us who want (need) to express ourselves through the written word.