A novel.

Yep, you heard me, I want you to write a novel. Don’t look behind you, I mean you.

And not just that, I want you to write it in a month.

I know, you have all kinds of excuses why you can’t possibly. So do I. And all of them are legitimate and serious. (Well, OK, most of them.)

Which is why I’m going to do something utterly ridiculous: I’m going to take my own advice. I’m participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.

Can’t be done, you say? Well, in its first year, 21 people gave it a try, and 6 of them won. “Winning” NaNoWriMo has nothing to do with writing a better novel than Charlie Sheen. It’s simply the accomplishment of reaching the word-count goal, and while your text has to be validated at the project website in order for you to be an official winner, the whole thing is essentially on the honor system. If you copy 50,000 words from Wikipedia and paste it into the validator, no one will know you cheated but you.

But that’s kind of the point. This isn’t about writing the greatest novel ever. It’s not even about getting published (though some NaNoWriMo novels do). It’s simply about the accomplishment. And last year, over 200,000 people from around the world participated in the event, with 37,500 reaching the goal.

So why am I doing this? And why do I think you should too? The most important reason is, “Just because.” But I do have a couple others.

  1. Writing is learning. When I write, I learn about the topic I’m writing, and I learn about myself. Things come out in my words that I had no idea were inside me. I am often amazed when I go back to something I wrote a long time ago. Many times I don’t even recognize the language or vocabulary.
  2. Writing is living. Life, I believe, is ultimately all about relationships. And relationships are built on communication. I’m limited in the number of people with whom I can communicate verbally—writing extends my reach and my vision to connect me with people who I would otherwise never know about.

So why write a novel? Can’t I just start with a short story? Or maybe a sentence fragment?

I can’t answer that question for you. I do know for me, part of it is so I can say I did it. Part of it is that I realized that unless I just sit down and do it, it will never get done. And the absurdly ridiculous deadline is going to make me pour out the words and not worry about how good it is. Which, by the way, is one heck of a good reason you ought to not only do this yourself, but encourage your students to do it. But that’s another blog post.

For now, I’m counting down to midnight, when I can start writing, and get a couple hundred words under my belt and finally get this story out of my head and onto the computer.

I hope you’ll join me. If you do, add me as a writing buddy. And I’ll see you at the finish line on November 30.