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Nanowrimo: Day 1

November 1, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

Today marks the first day of Nanowrimo which means (on the small chance that you might be an uninitiated) that for the next month everyone and their mother is going to be trying their hand at writing the next great American novel. 30 days….50,000 words….#genius. Or so the hope goes.

Where did the idea come from you may ask? Good question! The most iconic “Great American Novel” is The Great Gatsby. Penned by F Scott Fitzgerald in the second decade of the twentieth century, The Great Gatsby has all the elements of a super complex thriller (thwarted love, murder, jazz, and bourbon….lots of bourbon) but it also manages to be short enough and concise enough that one could, in theory, read it in a somewhat short period of time (which also means high schoolers everywhere actually read the real book and not the Spark Notes. Novel, eh?: ) Gatsby clocks in at about 50,000 words thus the next great American novel has a good chance at success if it too can hit that word count. In this spirit of intense optimism, vigor, courage, and idealism, every November people everywhere (or at least everywhere in the States) dutifully sign up on the Nanwrimo website, drool over the badges they might earn and the products they might buy with their first royalty check, pour themselves a very full double scotch, and then get down to the business of putting words on screen in the hopes that the story that has been living in their head for the past eleven months might actually have the legs to turn them into a twenty-first century Fitzgerald.

I’ll admit that in the past my knowledge of Nanowrimo didn’t extend much past listening to interviews on NPR as I was in the midst of long and somewhat dreary commutes to work as an in-house designer. These interviews gave me a very passing and high level knowledge of the fabled fiction dreamers who hoped that with some discipline and consistency they too could match the output of Fitzgerald and pen their own classic in a month’s time. To the past me it sounded like a fun and quaint challenge….if that happened to be your thing….somewhat more extreme and high stakes than committing to watching an entire season of Survivor in a weekend…somewhat less extreme and high stakes than committing to run a full marathon.

That said this year, after some deliberation, I’ve decided that it’s time….this year it’s time for me to shift in allegiance from the one who passively listens to NPR as I sit in mind numbing traffic to the one who is talking in animated, fanatical tones as they’re interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

This is the year for me to Nanowrimo like a pseudo-Fitzgerald, twenty first century female champ. {cue inspirational music here}

But…as I am a graphic designer, visual communicator, and an academic-in-training hoping to be doctoralized in the next few years, this month is not quite going to be Nanowrimo in the usual ways rather it’s going to be Nanowrimo: the Academic Edition. (Sounds super impressive, eh? I’ll admit I have tried to come up with a sexy acronym to describe how an academic thrust might slightly shift the verbiage but “Naacadedwrimo” just sounds awkward and forced. Plus, with my own arts based research leanings, who is to say that a novel won’t somehow play into my future dissertation output? Or even further down the road as a source of phenomenological arts based research? For example, if someone paid me a fat advance to write a novel about a single American girl in her early thirties with an adorably cute and tiny dog who decides to take her doctoral degree at a school in western Canada, I’d be totally willing to change both my own name and Ruby’s and romanticize a few key details and I’m pretty confident Jay Gatsby and I would have more than a few things in common….just saying. But I digress… : )

So, why Nanowrimo for me?

Basically, I’ve realized that:
1. I need to be more intentional about writing .(Yes….I do say this about once a month and then write like a boss for about three days followed by a disappearance, deep feelings of shame and guilt, and a magical reappearance rhree weeks later with a litany of embellished excuses about why my lived life took precedence over my written life. Newsflash…98% of the time I disappear because I lose steam and get lazy, tipping the scales more in favor of reality television and mind numbing whiskey than actually feeling feelings, processing events, and forming my own opinions on the litany of questions that are asked of me each day.)

2. I love somewhat extreme/fringe challenges. (Bizarre right for someone who has just confessed above a disconcerting love of being numb, the Bachlorette, and drinking hard alcohol? But yeah…for whatever reason, the idea of doing something super far out of the ordinary and beyond whatever is considered normal daily routine human behavior totally appeals to me especially when it has an ultra endurance vibe to it. For example….challenge me to go to the gym 4 days a week for thirty minute chunks (i.e. be like a normal person who values physical fitness and I’ll say, Boring!! Legit I will go for a few times and buy a couple new outfits but in the end I will most likely break my resolve after about 3 days. On the other hand, Challenge me to run an ultra marathon that will require me to put in a couple months of serious training because if I do not there is a pretty good chance I will die or at least be totally wrecked by pain and misfortune and…. I’m in!! And I’ll even do the unthinkable like wake up with an alarm and go to sleep early.)

3. Thirty days is pretty much nothing. (Seriously. For me the last month-ish has basically been lived in fast forward which means that even though I know in my head that it’s the beginning of November, there is still a large part of me that thinks it might actually be only the beginning of October and in some bizarre act of cosmic jet lag mixed with Rip Van Winkle syndrome is wondering just what happened to the rest of the month. I think a lot of what happened to the rest of the month can be summed up with the three words: adrenaline, panic, and emails but regardless….thirty days really isn’t all that much and as I’ll hopefully be sucking air for all of them, the least I can do is set some stable posts that I’ll also be writing during them.

4. I’m a lazy academic and this will keep me accountable to actually engaging in journals, articles, videos, audio interviews, etc. (Yep. I’m finally ready to admit it. My academic interests are super narrow, super specific, and outside of my own scope I pretty much don’t give a flying rip about other stuff being done. This tenacious focus on a single slice of the knowledge pie is fabulous because it helps me with things like picking a thesis subject, finding a scope through which to frame projects, and appropriately narrow my prospective journal submission listing. On the other hand (and in the much darker sphere) it means that I quickly shut down and enter brain space preservation mode if I’m not somehow captured in the first couple minutes. With this writing and the sheer number of words I’m going to generate per day, I think I will have to push myself to find connections, read, and research like never before. I can generate 1500 words over the span of a week or so as I rant about whatever pet topic has turned my head. For this endeavor, I’ll be generating 1500 words per day and if I’m not consciously eating words and ideas like an Ironman eats peanut butter during the race, I’m just not going to be able to make it through.)


So, there you have it. For anyone who has made it this far and is still reading and also happens to read the blog on a regular basis—here’s your get out of jail free card for the next month. It’s going to get long and rambling and totally unpolished (ha! as if it ever was!!) so probably the best bet is to leave now while you can. : )

That said, this new endeavor is going to be very interesting as I’ve never tried anything of this magnitude before. In addition, this challenge is coming on the tail end of me attending a writing/leadership conference (and like any conference the post conference hangover is perhaps the most potent part of the experience!), me being in the midst of working on the written portion of my 803 Assignment 2, Assignment 3, and Assignment 4, and me feeling like I may actually be within striking distance (or perhaps wrangling distance since that’s what urban cowgirls do) of a dissertation topic that has the ability to bring good to the world, hold my attention for the next two to three years, and have measurable metrics.

Thirty days. Nearly fifteen hundred words a day. Nearly fifty thousand words at the end of this whole shebang….let’s see what happens! Here is to the adventure.

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