How I Ended Up Joining the Board of National Novel Writing Month

From 1995–2003 the only thing I wanted to be was a writer of fiction. I had a great teacher (who I didn’t really like at the time) named David Shields who really broke open my creative writing world by declaring the novel to be dead (in front of a class of 25 hopeful novelists-in-training). We explored flash fiction primarily and wrote lots and lots of 3 paragraph stories.

I designed a paper database to track plots, characters, themes, questions, found quotes, and sample sentences in a relational way (even as I was learning Perl and MySQL and blowing my mind by the power it unleashed).

I slogged along for 2 years (2001–2003) writing 10 pages a week on a novel called The Most Beautiful One which was about a Craigslist ad offering a dream job of setting your salary and job description to anything you like if you were willing to move into a patron’s house along with 11 other self-driven souls. It was sort of a disaster and really going nowhere.

Then in 2003 I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) which was a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November along with a bunch of other people.

I put my disaster aside and wrote Man Versus Himself which was a Black Mirror-esque take on corporate politics, starting with an 89-year old man who was CEO of two big companies and who, in the first paragraphs, gets stabbed in the eye by his most trusted business associate. He spends the rest of the novel accounting in first-person the last days of his life trying to run his companies with a head wrapped in full bandages.

Despite the departure from “literary fiction” it was the most fun I had ever had, and was forever indebted to NaNoWriMo for opening my eyes to power of not censoring ideas.

I did another NaNoWriMo novel in 2004 called Disaster (playing on the etymology of disaster as evil star), which tracked humanity over the course of 10,000 years as a giant, slow asteroid made its way to Earth. And how people reacted to improbable odds of extinction that slowly grow more certain.

I’ve been obsessed with mortality for a long while I guess.

Six years later, I created 750words.com which also plays on the idea of writing spontaneously.

When I moved to Berkeley two years ago a friend, Gary Wolf, introduced me to Grant Faulkner, who is executive director at NaNoWriMo. Turns out NaNoWriMo is a small Berkeley-based nonprofit that continues to turn hundreds of thousands of people into wild and inspired writers every November. They also do work year round bringing writing tools to younger people and in other fun ways.

It’s such a great mission and team and I was super stoked to be asked to join the board and bring some ideas for how to grow this already massive community.

It’s the first board I’ve been on other than for my own companies, and if our first retreat last weekend was any indication, I’m gonna learn a ton and have a great time.

Maybe I’ll soak up some of their fiction-writing energy and write another bad novel some day.

I have an idea about a book in the format of an AMA with the world’s first artificial super intelligence. One that has already set in motion the events that will cause the extinction of the human race, but is willing to take questions while the events unfold.

My BART is super delay-ridden today. I still haven’t even crossed under the Bay. Oh well, I think I’ve said enough on this ride.

Have a great Wednesday!

— written on BART

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