The wordfest that is NanNoWriMo is about to kick into action. Probably not the best time to suggest another writing marathon but here I go anyway. And it’s a totally different kind. The challenge in NaNoWriMo is to write a lot of words — 50,000 — in a very short period of time — a month.
NaNoSloMo comes at the writing schlep from an entirely different angle. It’s about telling your story in a small number of words — no more than 9,600 — but written in twelve monthly instalments of no more than 800 words over the course of a year. And with no going back.
OK. So you’re asking…
For God’s sake why?
I’ll tell you. Because writing is about quality not numbers. The short story — and this is an attempt to produce one of those things — is an art form in itself, one too often neglected because there are only a limited number of commercial outlets for them today. Collections of short stories by individual authors aren’t popular with publishers. So that usually means magazines, newspapers and anthologies.
This is a great shame because a good short story is to be cherished. It’s also bloody hard to write. These things aren’t cut-down novels. They’re more like snapshots of a moment in a life, an event, a conflict, a flash of redemption or salvation.
Just as importantly…
Less can sometimes be more
Some stories rely on a richness of material: vaulting time spans, narrations that cross continents even worlds, cast lists so long they need to be listed at the front of the book so readers can refer back to them and remind themselves who the hell this character is.
But as I said here the other day… simplicity is much harder than complexity.
It’s all very well to kit yourself up with a war chest of writing apps, story development tools and a flow chart that runs the length of the living room wall. But it’s also a good habit to try to embrace plainness from time to time. To work with as little as possible and see what you can achieve with a paucity of resources and tools. There’s a huge difference between being told ‘you need to write fifty thousand words to tell this story’ and having someone whisper in your ear, ‘Just eight hundred a month sweetie, but they’d better be good ones’.
All too often we reach for complexity because it’s there. Because the modern computerised world offers us so many solutions on a plate we never question whether we really need them. This is a way to test what you can achieve with nothing but your own imagination and a handful of words, over an extended time period to give you the chance to think hard about what you’re trying to achieve.
How it could work
The rules could go something like this. The goal is to write a short story of no more than 9,600 words over a year. Participants write twelve chunks of text, each of no more than eight hundred words. The individual story parts are lodged at the end of each month. A missed deadline means failure: no excuses. It’s eight hundred words, people. Two hundred a week. Less than thirty a day. If you can’t manage that you are in trouble.
Once a story part is submitted it can be edited and resubmitted during the month allotted to it. After that the part is locked. In other words you can’t go back and rewrite it. Why?
Because if you know it’s going to be locked at month end you understand you’ll have to work at that tiny number of words to make sure they’re right. Writing without restrictions — with the ability to go back and revise at any stage of the process — is all very well. But before the word processor lots of authors simply didn’t have the time or money to rewrite their works constantly. They had to get them pretty much right first time round. That’s the creative restriction we’d be imposing on you here.
After twelve months those twelve story parts are joined as one. They could each be a separate element in the story. Or some could run together as joined scenes. Or it could be one long single thread. Also the maximum word count is just that: the most you can write. It’s not a quota. If you want to write less it’s up to you. Your creative horizon isn’t dimmed by working like this. Some might say it’s actually enhanced. Perhaps after a year you’d find out.
And then… I’m stuck. NaNoWriMo awards its plaudits on the basis of hitting that phenomenal target of 50,000 words in a month and nothing more. You could do the same for anyone sticking with NaNoSloMo for twelve months I guess. Though I repeat: if you can’t manage to set down eight hundred words a month you really shouldn’t be thinking of writing at all.
The details I leave to others. In fact everything I leave to others. If NaNoWriMo or someone similar wants to pick up this idea… it’s yours. And really if it’s going to be called NaNoSloMo the NaNoWriMo people ought to have first refusal. But all of this would depend on other people, the smart ones who understand how things work. Way beyond me.
But I do like this idea. Who knows? I might even give it a go myself.