Hey, it’s November, you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month, adorably shortened as NaNoWriMo. This is not like Excema Awareness or Secretary Appreciation Month, this is a Month that actually comes with its own friendly competition, and cozy writing community. Write every day for 30 days, end up with a 50,000 word novel, submit it for possible reward.
As a nonfiction writer, I admit to being a little jealous. The idea of community write-a-thons has always appealed to me. You’re not alone, you have a sense of structure and deadline that we all need. (My execution has always lagged behind my idealism: I tried one sponsored by Book Country over the summer, and soon dropped off the Facebook feed.) But narrative nonfiction just takes more time than that. The research and writing process don’t always overlap, the process is full of tangents and highly dependent on facts. Sometimes, as this lovely article from a Harvard art historian demonstrates, it takes just staring at your story for a long, long time, until the necessary details emerge.
So what is a NaNoWriMo wannabe to do? Luckily, here again, I’m not alone. This helpful Writer’s Digest article outlines “What a Nonfiction Writer is Supposed to Do in November.” They validate my view that narrative nonfiction is virtually impossible on this timeline, although there are other forms of nonfiction that are available to the marathon writer: “prescriptive nonfiction,” self-help, tips, quotes, day-to-day blog guides. If that’s not your scene, they recommend some practical alternatives: write a blog post a day, jump start a journal, or write a pitch a day. That last one is the one I plan to take up.
I may not actually pitch all these pitches, but if there’s one thing the many talented narrative nonfiction writers I know do NOT spend enough time doing it’s getting their work in front of an audience. For a lot of us, that’s the hard part. So I’d like to invite you to my pitching marathon. Think of it as the writerly equivalent of throwing a baseball against the wall and catching it. Which, come to think of it, is how (the songwriter) Paul Simon thinks up his lyrics, according to an old episode of 60 Minutes that I’ve always remembered. He takes Ed Bradley to a fence behind his house and demonstrates the action and says something like “..and the lyrics just come.” There’s something comforting about that, the beautiful lines of his songs can come from something as simple and determined as an action of the wrist, a repeated attempt, a comforting rhythm. Besides, with 30 pitches to choose from, I ought to be able to move at least a couple ahead to the publication stage. Join me!