Every year the Office of Letters and Light sponsors National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to get every would-be writer in America to sit down and actually write something. Fancy that. The goal isn't necessarily to write an entire novel during those thirty days (November has thirty days, right?), but participants are to try their utmost to get to 50,000 words. That's roughly 200 pages. Sounds pretty crazy, right? Well, it kind of is but it's also amazingly effective.
When I first heard about NaNoWriMo, I had several objections. First of all, encouraging all writers to write at once would create a huge influx of novels, increasing competition in an already insanely competitive industry. How could one little novel (say, written by a corn-fed Midwestern librarian) get any notice in such a sea of manuscripts?
NaNoWriMo isn't involved in the publication of the novels so there aren't really any answers to that. I know, I was frustrated, too. However, the website does allows writers to connect with other writers and form little support communities. So you can find sounding boards for new ideas and plot twists as well as potential editors and first readers, giving your fledgling novel the best chance it can get before shipping it out into the cold, grey world of publishing.
Secondly, I objected to the rushed feel of the program. Thirty days? Two hundred pages? Are you off your rocker? Well, the good people at NaNoWriMo did have an answer to that objection. Deadlines make people work. If you have a vague inclination to do something but no timeframe for it, chances are you will never do it. For example, when I was living in City X (doncha love internet anonymity?) I always intended to go to the art museum because I had heard it was great. Bonus, it was free. I lived there for over a year but I didn't actually make the attempt to see the museum until the week before I moved away.
Deadlines suck but they get things done. Giving people only 30 days to write 50,000 pages ensures that they'll write like crazy for the entire month in order to get to the point they meant to get to. It may not all be good writing but you have to have something written down before you can pare it down to something good. You can't steer a parked car, as the saying goes, and the same is true of writing. You can't write something good unless you're writing in the first place.
When it boils down to it, though, you only have to look at the titles to see how effective NaNoWriMo is. Many, many of the manuscripts written during the month have been published. Those include The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.
So I've decided to write for NaNoWriMo. I've got 9,000 words so far and I don't love everything I've written but I don't hate it all either, it's rough around the edges but it's something concrete that I've done with the last three days. And I can honestly say that's more than I've done with almost any specific three days in recent history.