The Marvels And Messes Of A Month Of Writing | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

The Marvels And Messes Of A Month Of Writing

Play associated audio

Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus.

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. Fantasized about it, composed bits of dialogue 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. National Novel Draft Writing Month. NaNoDraWriMo? Nah, it doesn't have the same ring.

Writing in a near-frenzy is wonderful and freeing but, for me, it does not result in a nice shiny novel. Instead what I have is a mess. There's a spinning-straw-into-gold analogy here, in which NaNoWriMo is about filling the room with straw. The spinning would be revising. Had I more time to compose this, I would work that analogy in better, but the I think clumsiness illustrates my point.

I worked on my book for two years' worth of NaNoWriMos after that, and of that 100,000-word chaotic November-born 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 Nov. 30, 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 end up in my next novel.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, July 22

This weekend you can see two classic operas about sex, jealousy and drama or sit down for a children’s theater performance that takes a lighter look at love.

WAMU 88.5

Two Chicken Megafarms Proposed In Delaware

Delaware is already a big state for the poultry industry, but proposals for two new megafarms could take things to the next level.

NPR

U.S. Appeals Court Deals Blow To Obama's Health Law

A three-judge panel's decision essentially throws out subsidies in the 36 states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges. A Justice Department spokeswoman says the ruling will be appealed.
NPR

Tweeting From A Conflict Zone: Does It Help Or Hurt News Reporting?

As Gaza, Ukraine and Syria trend on Twitter, has social media changed the way conflicts are covered? Host Michel Martin finds out from reporter Anne Barnard and Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.