In three days, I will join the thousands of slightly crazy people who participate in National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. For those unaware of the event, the goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s right, 50,000 words in 30 days with one major U.S. holiday, a few weekends, a day job, and a family that expects to eat and wear clean clothing during the month.
This isn’t my first time. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo annually since 2005. I haven’t won every year. Sometimes I let life get in my way. Some years I was just plain too lazy to plant my butt in the chair and crank out some words every day. But I’ve learned something new every year.
The very first thing I learned was that NaNoWriMo is a lot like my great-grandmother’s chocolate meringue pie. It takes a lot of work to make it look that good, and it’s much too rich to handle in one sitting. Plus, it goes much faster (and tastes better!) when you have all the necessary ingredients.
Both “recipes” need certain items to create the desired result. It’s pretty self-explanatory that you would need ingredients for a chocolate pie. You need a pie crust, eggs, and some chocolate squares. Ingredients for a novel would include plot, character development, setting. You also need tools for both. The chocolate pie requires an oven, a pie plate, and a mixer. To complete the novel, you need paper, pens or pencils, and a word processing program. Both also need time: time in the oven to bake, or time in the chair to write.
All of those things are standard. Whichever of my siblings or cousins are making that pie, we need to use those same things. The same number of eggs, the same amount of chocolate. Whoever is writing a novel needs those tools to get the words out. However, there are other tools and ingredients which vary from person to person. In the case of the pie, I end up using more cream of tarter than my lower-elevation relatives. Numerous authors have other tools they use to inspire themselves. I use a specific “writing” candle and music that sets the tone for the scene. I also use a huge dry erase board and sticky notes.
My process to make the chocolate pie is a little different than that of my relatives. Shoot, some of them would even rather make the pumpkin pie, a phenomenon I will never understand. My process to write is different than that of my author friends. And that’s okay, too. We write different things, so it’s only logical that we would get there in different ways.
Time is important to both processes. The pie needs time to cook, both in the double broiler and the oven. A novel needs the author to take the time to put those words out there. As one of my friends put it, “This is an exercise in turning off your internal editor.”
One final similarity between a rich, decadent chocolate meringue pie and National Novel Writing Month: pieces. No one could eat that pie in one sitting. It’s too much. At the same time, I can’t imagine anyone writing 50,000 words at once. However, one piece of pie at a time will take a few days and allow you to savor it. And 1,667 words each day will get that novel written in a month. One piece isn’t much, but persistence will take the cake, er, pie.
So do it. Divide that pie. Write a few words every day. Eventually the pie will be gone and the novel finished. Both are extremely satisfying…
Nichole R. Bennett is the author of Ghost Mountain and a huge fan of chocolate in just about any form.