Three years ago this November, spurred on by a friend of mine, I decided to attempt one of the craziest things I've ever done in my life: I entered a literary marathon known as National Novel-Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).
The goal of an aspiring novelist who enters NaNoWriMo is simple to say, but very difficult to do: write a 50,000-word novel in a single calendar month. The entrant is not allowed to edit, revise, or otherwise worry about the quality of his/her writing in any way; you can save the self-criticism for later. Obviously, it was an insane thing to even try, and there were nights when I gave up an hour or more of precious sleep after working a 10-hour shift, with classes the next morning, just so that I could meet my daily requirement of 1,667 words.
My grades slipped, my social life suffered, and even my sleep cycle was affected. But twenty-eight days later, when I crossed the 50,000 word mark in the Halle Library computer lab at EMU, sometime around two in the morning, I felt what may well have been the greatest sense of accomplishment I had experienced in my life up to that point.
I learned a lot about myself, about what I can do when I've got a goal, a deadline, and consequences for missing said deadline. I learned a heck of a lot more than I would have in "Health & Fitness," that's for sure.
The next year, I gave NaNoWriMo another go, but was defeated early on. I didn't really have a story I believed in. The year after that (i.e., last year) I attempted the task again, this time with a better story in mind. But once again, my resolve flagged, and I allowed the mundane world to swallow my literary ambitions. I chipped away at the massive task over the course of the next year, though I was forced to stop for nearly six months, due to personal crises (such as the basement-flood, and the subsequent Black Mold infestation).
Since beginning my book (which remains untitled), my current page-count sits at 177. That's a lot of writing, and I'm very proud of myself for getting that much done, but I've still got a long way to go. Probably less than a hundred pages, but that's still a daunting task.
But since it's coming up on the anniversary of my starting this novel, and NaNoWriMo is looming once again, I find that I'm seized by the urge to finish the damn thing. I want to formally dedicate myself to the task of completing my manuscript, and getting the whole darn thing off my chest. Of course, the quality will necessarily be low, but NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. You can go back and edit later; the important thing is to get all your ideas out on paper, before your conscious mind can say Hey, this is the worst thing anyone's ever written, and I should destroy the manuscript before my friends and family find out what an idiot I am.
So, here is my formal declaration:
I, David Frederick Keeber Wurtsmith, by the end of November 2010, will finish the first draft of the novel I began last year, or else I will have a trusted confidante mail a $20 check in my name to the Westboro Baptist Church.
It is up to you, my friends and family, to keep me on track and honest with myself. Throughout the month of November,
I realize that now isn't the best time to try to write a novel. I have other responsibilities: work, friends, my girlfriend, shopping for groceries,etc. But there's never a good time. There's always a bill to pay, or a job to find, or a party you really can't cancel, or the floor needs to be cleaned, or the dog needs to go to the vet, or something.
Even if you wait until you're retired, you still won't have all the time you want, and you'll probably have forgotten half the plot by then. Worse still, you'll probably have convinced yourself that your idea wasn't that good to begin with, and you're better-off not exposing your friends and family to something that bad.
That's why I need to do this now, before I can come up with more and better reasons why I shouldn't attempt it. As Shakespeare had it:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
-Julius Caesar, II.2.33-4