MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
National Novel Writing Month just wrapped up. The organizers call it 30 days of literary abandon. Each year, anyone who dares can take the month of November to write 50,000 words. If this sounds like a gimmick, it certainly was not for commentator Erin Morgenstern. She wrote the first draft of her first novel, now a best seller, during National Novel Writing Month.
ERIN MORGENSTERN, BYLINE: Yesterday, I was told I had approximately 20 hours to write an essay, 450 words about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I'm quite partial to the event. Still, I thought about declining the essay, given the time constraint, but then I decided, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, that it was rather silly to say, oh, I can't write 450 words in less than a day.
So here we go. Before I started participating, I didn't write. I thought about writing, composed bits of dialog and snippets of description in my head. I never committed much of anything to paper, but NaNoWriMo provided two invaluable things: peer pressure and a deadline.
My first attempt in 2003 failed. The next year, I got to 50,000 words and stopped. Mission accomplished. I had no intention of actually finishing the novel, but in 2005, I found myself tremendously bored with my plot, so I sent my characters to the circus. It was the beginning of what eventually became my first book.
Here's the thing, though. There should have been a D in there somewhere - D for draft. Writing in a near frenzy is wonderful and freeing, but for me, it did not result in a nice, shiny novel. Instead, what I have is a mess. I worked on my book for two years worth of NaNoWriMo's after that and, of that 100,000 word chaotic November-borne draft, very little remains unchanged in the published novel.
The NaNo draft was about exploring and making things up. I revised and revised, then looked for a literary agent, then I revised more. And now, I'm a best selling author, a different sort of fairy tale that I still sometimes wonder when I'll wake up from. I feel very different than I did that first November in many ways, but I still write in the same basic fashion because it's a process that works for me. I draft quickly and then revise, a lot. And I'm almost at 400 words now, so I should start wrapping this up.
This year, on November 30th, out of solidarity, I decided to write as much as I could, even though I wasn't officially participating. I managed 5,103 words. It's still rough, but you never know. Some of it might even end up in my next book.
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BLOCK: That's commentator Erin Morgenstern. Her first book is called "The Night Circus."