Some film lines never leave the viewer, but pierce our hearts with the ring of truth. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s film The Master, Amy Adams portrays the wife of a quack hypnotist/cult leader, and Joaquin Phoenix an acolyte of the titular guru who is played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. When Phoenix departs the organization, Adams gravely pronounces,
“This is something you do for a billion years, or not at all.”
While it is an allusion to the character’s belief system, one that has drawn controversial comparisons to the Church of Scientology, it struck me as a succinct way to describe the commitment it takes to write a novel. Writing a 50-60,000 word manuscript is a daunting task. The non-profit organization National Novel Writing Month hosts yearly events that challenge novelists to compress that great effort, which can take years, into a period of mere weeks and finish a complete manuscript in one month.
Affectionately called NaNoWriMo as a shorthand, the event was first staged in 1999, and the organization became a non-profit in 2006. National Novel Writing Month’s flagship writing challenge is held annually in November, but smaller events also take place throughout the year.
Volunteers host in-person and online meetups for participating writers during events. The organization also has programs for young writers. NaNoWriMo events and programs help unite writers who all have a common goal and encourage them to finish their efforts.
My NaNoWriMo Experience
I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month before, but during this year’s July event I felt especially motivated. The manuscript I was challenging myself to complete is one close to my heart, a fantasy concept based on a beloved childhood game my sister and I devised from our love of the Arthurian saga.
The interest in Arthurian lore is a passion passed down from our mother, who elaborated on the tales of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, and Lancelot as we watched films together like First Knight starring Richard Gere and the made-for-television miniseries Merlin starring Sam Neil. These memories date from one of the happiest periods of my childhood and cemented my lifelong love of folklore, mythology, and speculative fiction.
Writing, however, is not acting. Motivation is not enough. It also requires technical diligence, planning the trajectory of the plot, and making sure the finished product cohesively communicates the author’s intended message. Pondering this aspect of the project tasked me with asking myself some very serious questions about my own views about life, and challenged my ability to outline my writing and manage my time.
Like planning a trip, one needs to know the route and the destination when setting off. If either is unclear, it is easy to become lost…but not impossible to find your way back. My manuscript is not yet finished- I have many “miles” on this journey to go.
“A billion years, or not at all.”
Writing can be a lifelong passion or a fleeting pass-time. Writing a novel is a commitment, whether one plans to finish the manuscript in the two years allotted by a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, the sixteen years that James Joyce allowed himself to complete Finnegan’s Wake, or the one month that participants in National Novel Writing Month challenge themselves to adhere to.
Those that participate and finish in the challenge need to have a clear plan, as well as a passion for their craft, to finish thousands of words in just thirty days.
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