(inter)National Novel Writing Month in the Middle East

Click for the NaNoWriMo Website

If you know me well, then you know that since 2005 I have been involved with National Novel Writing Month.  What’s that?  Basically it’s a creative outlet for people who love to write that started out as a crazy dare among a few friends to write a novel in a month and in less than 12 years has turned into a world-wide phenomenon.  Last over 165,000 people participated – this year, just over 200,000! Can you imagine any event going from 8 to 200,000 participants in just over a decade?  In my opinion NaNoWriMo (as it is abbreviated) is such an important example of how the right combination of technology, human interaction, and creativity can start a self-sustaining movement.

So how does it all work? It’s simple, really.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month.  This is the equivalent of a 175 page novel, or perhaps more accurately – a novella (think Fahrenheit 451).  Each participant signs up on the NaNoWriMo website and waits for November 1st to roll around and then starts typing.  Along the way writers update their word count on the website (on the honor system).  The site keeps track of word count for each person.  As I am writing this post I am at 28,000 words or so – about 3,000 words behind if I want to finish the challenge.  Here’s my current word count:

Click for my NaNo profile

At the end of the month writers can upload their novel for official validation.  Their file is promptly deleted and no one ever reads it.   If they have passed the 50,000 word mark they get a spiffy winner’s certificate.

That’s it.

It’s basically a solitary challenge to pound out a rough draft (of perhaps questionable quality) of a book in a month.

So why has the challenge become so wildly popular that even here in the Middle East there are almost 400 writers who have signed up and some of  whom are furiously writing the month of November away (already typing over 2,000,000 words, BTW)?

 

Click for the Word Count Scoreboard

  • First, I think for some people it taps into a deep creative well.  Some people have always dreamed of writing a novel.  For those, this is that chance.
  • Second, people love audacious challenges.  Writing a novel in a month just sounds ridiculous.  So ridiculous, in fact, that a lot of people think, “Yeah!  Why not?”
  • Third, NaNoWriMo as an organization has made smart use of technology.  The year they started the website their participation numbers exploded and have steadily grown since.  The website is a treasure trove of forums where writers from all over the world exchange a wealth of ideas.  There are forum threads committed to specific genres, particular topics, age groupings, geographic areas, and of course just plain goofing off.  It is here on the forums that many people make connections and feel like their participation in the challenge is part of something so much bigger than just themselves.
  • Fourth, NaNoWriMo turns out to be a great way to meet people.  Everyone who signs up has the opportunity to join a local Region.  Back in 2005 I joined the USA::Illinois::Naperville region.  Even though it had Naperville in the title it served as the region for the western suburbs of Chicago.  In those days we might have had just over 100 writers involved, now that region boasts over 1000 participants.  On the local level volunteer leaders called “Municipal Liaisons” organize, advertise, encourage, and advise the local WriMos (as the writers are called).  This includes setting up Write-Ins where people come together – not to discuss writing or critique each others writing, but to write furiously in the same room with other aspiring authors who are trying to reach the same 50,000 word goal.

NaNoWriMo and the Middle East

Click to see the Elsewhere::Middle East regional forum

When I first moved to Jordan there was no local chapter here.  There was something in Egypt and Israel, but nothing in Jordan or anywhere else in the Middle East.  I had to join a region entitled “Elsewhere.”  This was the catch all for places in the world that had no local volunteers to organize thing.  Then last year an “Elsewhere::Middle East” region popped up under the leadership of an American ex-pat in Bahrain.  She returned to the States and somehow the mantle of leadership moved on to me.  I actually had the honor of being featured on the NaNoWriMo blog recently on Municipal Liaison (ML) Appreciation Day – you can read the interview here.  So now I have the pleasure of interacting with nearly 400 writers in over 15 different countries.  (Truth be told 400 are signed up and affiliated with our region but only around 175 are actually writingbut still – that’s pretty good).

I think something like NaNoWriMo is exactly what the Middle East in general and Jordan in particular needs.  As I’ve interacted with people in our NaNoWriMo region,  I’ve noticed a good mix of ex-pats and locals.  Maybe more ex-pats than locals right now, but I see that changing in the future.  Of course, here, like everywhere else in the world, NaNoWriMo attracts very intelligent and creative people.  People with a talent to write and tell stories, but also to think outside of the box.  This, in my outsider’s perspective, is something that seems rare in this part of the world where cultural values say that tradition and sameness are important.  But actually I am beginning to wonder if creative people are rare, or they just seem rare because there haven’t been many outlets for them to express their creativity.

At a recent Write-In one of the Jordanian WriMos said. “Actually, this is a new kind of thing for Jordan.  A new way of thinking.”  We had been talking about family and friend’s reactions to people participating in the event.  Most were perplexed.  “You’re writing a novel?  Why?  Will it be published?  It’s just for your OWN enjoyment?”  In this collectivist culture, where tribal affiliation still means so much, an individualized competition with little public accolade is hard to understand.  Of course, although people didn’t seem to think it  a very worthwhile endeavor,  apparently they all had their opinions about what should be written into the book.  Another clue to me that there is some creative energy boiling just under the surface.

So what do you think?  Is writing 50,000 words in a month as a means of creative expression cool or crazy?  Middle Easterners, what do you think about it?  Is this a counter-cultural idea or just one that needs some more exploration?

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks Larry! Maybe you should NaNo next year . . . there’s a very active region in the Western suburbs . . . and I am sure you have a lot of good stories!

  2. Great Job, sir! You rock!!!

  3. YOU CAN DO IT! Only a couple more days left! YOU CAN DO THIS!!!

  4. Cool, crazy, and counter-cultural… oh and did I mention fun in an insane, did-I-really-do-this sort of way. Great job ML.

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