You were just going to waste your November anyway


Illustration by Bryan Gomm.

Infinite Jest took about five years to complete. Cervantes spent a good fifteen years writing, rewriting, pulling out his hair and pacing around his room smoking cigarettes until Don Quixote was finally finished. In Search of Lost Time is a seven-volume tale that ate 20 years of Marcel Proust’s life, like pellets down Ms. Pac-man’s gullet, only to remain largely unread by the unwashed masses, unless David Fincher decides to adapt Swann’s Way into a blockbuster movie.

Writing a novel is hard work. Writing a good novel is a bleed-from-every-pore, cut-off-your-ear, slam-your-delicates-in-the-refrigerator-door kind of task; it’s an exercise in mental and emotional hara-kiri not meant for the weak of heart or mind. But if any of you drooling subhumans think you have the time, energy, clarity of thought and fine motor skills required to pen an entire tome, have we got an event for you.   November is National Novel Writing Month, an annual event sponsored by the The Office of Letters and Light in Berkeley, Calif. Participants are allowed to write any genre of novel they wish — even fan fiction, if you can call that a genre. As long as you write a minimum of 50,000 words that are written between midnight on Nov. 1 and 11:59:59 on Nov. 30 (local time), The Office of Letters and Light will recognize your indecipherable ramblings as a novel.

Although 50,000 seems like a low word count for a complete novel, it is 10,000 more words than the traditional 40,000 count that distinguishes a novel from a novella. Novels of roughly 50,000 words include The Great Gatsby, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Brave New World. In order for a participant to reach the minimum word count in the short span of a month, he or she would have to pound out 1,667 every day.

Such a feat of daily output requires a level of discipline and focus usually only seen in 1,000-year-old Zen Buddhist monks and crystal meth addicts in the clutches of a formidable tweak. That is why the Office of Letters and Light does not award any prizes, money or even pats on the back for quality writing. Rather, this contest is the literary equivalent of the plastic fishing pond at a church picnic. Everyone and anyone who can assemble 50,000 words together in some kind of order — hell, anyone who can program their computer to repeat the same word 50,000 times — gets a printable certificate and their name on an official list of that year’s “winners.” For this reason, National Novel Writing Month officiators do very little in the way of curbing efforts to cheat since there are few rewards to this exercise other than the personal reward of having completed a novel.

But if the satisfaction of completing something is the only reward for participating in a writing contest which requires one to throw all thought of characterization, plot, symbolism and dialogue down the garbage disposal, why not take all of that energy and time and put it into actually completing something at least semi-worthwhile, or at least not completely embarrassing?

Of course, by the time you read this, it’ll be about halfway through the month. All of the workshops are about halfway done. If you’re going to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and you haven’t started yet, you have to write 3334 words a day. At this point, there is no time to consider anything other than typing, typing and typing with no regard whatsoever to what you’re actually saying.

Go nuts with your crappy novels, you third-rate Tolstoys. You generic-brand Twains.

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