Coming up in less than a month is National Novel Writing Month, 2009. I have been a participant since November 2002 (and actually staged my first month-long novel writing challenge in May 2002, since I’d just barely missed out on the “real thing” in 2001), and of seven attempts have “won” four times, including last year. My successes have since become Lost and Not Found (NaNo’02), Dragons’ Truth (NaNo’03), Untrue Tales… Book One (NaNo’04), and More Lost Memories (NaNo’08). ((For those of you who are both unaware of NaNoWriMo and who didn’t just go to their site to see, it’s a novel-writing competition where you try to write a novel in a month. It’s on the honor system, it’s more about getting something done than about doing something well, and the prize for most winners is simply the knowledge/pride of having written a novel.))
Among the many features that make NaNoWriMo what it is, some of the most important are the online forums and the in-person gatherings of participants. On the forums, writers can connect with people from all over the world – usually to procrastinate, but sometimes for writing prompts, factual details, help with character, setting, theme, whatever can get them from zero to novel in a month. For anyone living far from other participants, the forums are the community. For people in large urban areas, there are usually hundreds or thousands of other participants they have the opportunity to meet and write with in person. There are, traditionally, write-ins scheduled throughout the month; ostensibly to get together and write (esp. including group “word wars” to spur bursts of high-word-count activity), but also importantly to chat and connect with a community of like-minded people. Like-minded only in that they also wanted to write a novel & had the audacity to try to do it in a month: NaNoWriMo participants come from all walks of life, which is why it’s such a great way to meet new people. People who love books & writing & words…
Back in 2002, my first year doing NaNoWriMo (the 4th year of its existence), the Phoenix area had never yet been organized, had never had a Municipal Liaison, and I wanted to interact with other writers in person -I’ve never been a fan of online “forums” and that was the only alternative- so I volunteered. I organized. I scheduled write-ins. I contacted local writers. I contacted the press & got articles in both the East Valley Tribune and the Arizona Republic (the latter featuring a photo of our group at a write-in, which I thought was pretty cool). I started novels that I was having trouble with, tossing them out and starting form scratch over and over and ended up writing an entire novel in 8 days, finishing at 10PM on November 30th, not long before the deadline. It was a great experience.
Then, within months, my whole life situation changed and I was living in the tiny Northern Arizona town of Pine when NaNoWriMo 2003 rolled around. The nearest meetings were 100 miles away in each of three directions, and … and I still didn’t much like forums. I took a couple of days during the month to drive down to Phoenix, and got a fair amount of writing done at the same coffee shop I’d written my first novel at (though I don’t think I ever managed to connect with other participants, that year)… and it wasn’t the same. I very nearly didn’t finish, and I think the result is my least favorite of my novels, and I put a lot of that on how it felt to be doing NaNoWriMo by myself. It’s one thing to be an author working on a novel and to do that singly; it’s something else to be doing a worldwide challenge in parallel with tens of thousands (now over 100,000 every year) of other people, none of whom you ever see or speak with.
Then, by NaNoWriMo 2004, I was back in Phoenix. The Phoenix area had two co-ML’s who did a great job finding great places to write, getting people motivated both on the forums and in person and a lot of people were showing up to the write-ins. It was great, again. A lot of the participants continued meeting, and writing, and editing &c. for months and months after November ended. [details removed] and when NaNoWriMo 2005 hit, I wasn’t welcome at the write-ins and other community gatherings, nor to post on the forums. I felt like shit, rejected, threatened and emotionally abused by a few members of the group, and I think I ended up writing about 1200 words that year. (Or maybe it was 5k that year and 1200 the next?) It was basically the same thing in 2006. If you look at my blog posts for November, 2006, you see I only made 1 post, on November 30th, about how much not being able to participate in the NaNoWriMo community was tearing me apart.
So, in 2007, I’d decided that I was going to participate anyway, and if the few people who’d had a problem with me were still participating & still had beef with me, that was their problem, not mine. I wasn’t going to let it be my problem, any more. And I had a good time, again. One of the great ML’s from when 2004 had been so good was still ML, and the group dynamic was pretty good (though smaller), and there were write-ins all over the valley. I wrote a story, I finished the story, and it wasn’t anywhere near the 50k words minimum to “win” but that didn’t bother me too much. About half-way through the month, Mandy and I decided to get married. On December 1st, we did. Which is to say that, rather than starting a new novel attempt and easily finishing before the deadline (which I could have done), I instead planned a wedding & honeymoon in under two weeks. Now December 1st will always be a happy day for me, whether I’ve just finished a novel by November 30th, or not.
Then in 2008 the ML that had done such a great job for years moved to the East Valley, and for the first year, Phoenix NaNoWriMo participants got split into two groups. Phoenix, and East Valley. Another person wanted to split off North Phoenix (where I live) as well, but the new ML-in-charge-of-Phoenix said no – so she scheduled her own “unofficial” write-ins in North Phoenix anyway. I only went to a couple of the East Valley meetings (because I live 30-60 minutes away from where they were), but when I did I had a good time and saw a great group. All the “official” Phoenix write-ins were scheduled in the new ML’s neighborhood, the forums were nearly dead, and few bothered to show up to the write-ins. Mandy and I both participated in 2008, and we went to a couple of these “official” write-ins, and they were deadly dull. It was frustrating as heck, and I barely got any writing done in their stifling silence. Alternatively, we also attended some of the “unofficial” write-ins in our neighborhood and found that not only was attendance equal or greater than the “official” ones, but the attitude and atmosphere were much more cordial, friendly, and conducive to writing. After about mid-month the new ML stopped showing up to her own events, failed to plan anything for a non-writing gathering that she’d put on the schedule, failed to organize a TGIO party… Mandy and I continued attending the North Phoenix write-ins, and both finished our 50k words before the month was out.
Looking forward to NaNoWriMo 2009, I’d been thinking, a couple months ago, that the ML who had totally dropped out of NaNoWriMo in mid-month last year wouldn’t be back. I’d been thinking I might even volunteer. I’ve been ML before, I’ve done NaNoWriMo 7 times before and have 10+ books published, plus I don’t have a day job other than being an author and artist, and working with the writing community in the Phoenix area is certainly something I’ve been wanting to at least try to do more of. Except that when I went over to the NaNoWriMo site to see what it said about Phoenix’s ML situation, I found that last-year’s failure of an ML was apparently gung-ho to get started and excited to try again. She’s put together a (sparse) “PhoeNoWriMo” website, and created a PhoeNoWriMo Twitter account (with 3 tweets), and… uhh… yeah. Said she’s planning fewer write-ins, more non-writing gatherings, and putting an emphasis on doing things online, online chat, forums, et cetera, and minimizing in-person interaction. Plus, she hates dislikes me, and doesn’t mind saying so to my face. I don’t like her either, and say so right back to her.
On the other end of town, there’s the East Valley, with two great MLs who I know I can count on to host lively events and encourage everyone effectively to reach their writing goals. It’s only the minimum 30-minute-each-way drives to the East Valley events that makes that difficult; money is tight, and that could add up to a lot of gas… though if the Phoenix ML schedules all the events in her neighborhood again, it’s still a 20-25 minute drive. Or perhaps a few of us North Valley participants can “unofficially” write together again, this year. In the “official” NaNoWriMo-is-only-a-month-away email, the Phoenix ML specifically told us not to schedule any “conflicting” events, and implied that us North-Phoenix writers better not be having a good time at unapproved events. The whole thing is making me want to contact the real NaNoWriMo staff & ask about officially creating a North Valley region, if not for this year then for next.
Oh, and what am I planning on writing? I don’t know. Depends on what other writing I’m able to get done between now and then. Cheating, Death seems to be paused temporarily in the middle of Chapter 8, though if I can get my momentum back, I should be able to finish it this week. If that happens, I may be able to start work on the next zombie novel, and then I could either work on a totally new & random project for NaNoWriMo 2009 or I could write the Self Publishing book I’ve been thinking of. And then there’s the question of whether I try to podcast excerpts from my NaNoWriMo novel as I’m writing it, like I did last year. The podcast version of Untrue Tales… Book Three runs out mid-November, and I think I run out of pre-recorded poetry at the end of October, so … probably, yes. Lots to do. Always lots to do. I may not be earning much money doing it, but I’m going to continue working, writing, painting, podcasting, and otherwise creating as long as I’m able.