Fast Company magazine has been running an intriguing series called Starred, where they showcase innocuous emails that went on to do surprisingly big things. It inspired me to dig through my old Yahoo! account and see if I could find the email I sent out to my friends in 1999 inviting them to take part in a ridiculous book-writing endeavor I’d hatched the night before. Here’s that email, in all of its exuberantly imperfect glory.
From: Chris Baty
Sent: Sunday, May 30, 1999 8:51 PM
Subject: national novel month
Hear ye! Hear ye! Come one, come all, and dust off those word-processing devices!
Under the motto “A lousy novel is better than no novel at all,” I have declared July National Novel-Writing Month.
To celebrate, I want to write a novel. In a month. And I want you to write one too.
Everybody’s got a ton of stories in them. Collectively we have lived over 700 years, and in that time we’ve accumulated enough characters, places, and plot twists to fill a dozen tomes.
I am proposing that we seize art by the horns, and spill some of those experiences onto the page.
This will be a great exercise for everyone interested in storytelling who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. As you write, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the country, other National Novel-Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Frenetic American Novel.
Because the writing time is so short, the only thing we’re looking for is length. Reach 200 pages (just 7 pages a day!) and you’re done! Quality is of no concern. Don’t have an ending? Just stop writing at page 200—real writers do it all the time! No plot? No worries! Some of the best novels of the past 20 years haven’t had plots.
I think all of us will surprise ourselves with what we are able to produce in such a limited window of time. The short working period will prevent the second-guessing and foot-dragging that can stifle creativity. It will also limit the “I should really be working on my novel” guilt to a one-month window.
Ok, the breakdown:
What: Writing one 200+ page novel from scratch in a month’s time.
Who: You! I can’t do this unless I have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together!
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from your novel at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
When: Writing begins July 1. Completed, printed manuscript due to Chris by midnight on July 31.
Interested? I’d like to have a meeting either June 16 or June 17 to discuss particulars. Call me at home or email me!
– Chris B.
Photo by Flickr user sporkist