Write a novel in a month? NaNoWriMo in Costa Rica

Come November I’ll be holed up in a rented beach house, trying to knock out at least 50,000 words in the space of a month. I won’t be alone. In fact, I’ll have tens of thousands of other writers along for the ride, courtesy of NaNoWriMo.

When I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)—which started back in 1999 with 21 San Francisco writers and has since exploded into an international phenomenon—I laughed out load. That was a good sign. Usually, anything to do with attempting a major writing project makes my bowels seize in fear.

I laughed at—and loved—everything about it:

  • the babytalk acronym
  • the Three Stooges hubris of thinking you could write a book in a month
  • pep talks from the likes of Dave Eggers and Aimee Bender, and
  • writers of all levels from all over the world signing up to cheerfully attempt the improbable.

The idea is to start the clock on November 1, then crank out at least 50,000 words (about 175 pages) by 11:59:59 on November 30.

You might not finish and even if you do, it’ll be just the start of a project that will require numerous drafts and rewrites. But you have to start somewhere, right?

“Because of the limited writing window,” their web site reads, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”

Let’s hear it for lowered expectations. Scaling back what I think I should be doing is the only way I ever get anything done. I’m in!

Yeah, I bought the t-shirt (that's not me in the photo, though I'm sure I'd write better if I had straight blonde hair). The shirt says "An idyllic writers retreat smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life."

And what better place to hunker down for NaNoWriMo than a rented beach house in Costa Rica? When I searched the NaNoWriMo web site, I saw writers from Cape Town to Caberra to the Caribbean, but I didn’t see any Costa Rica participants. If you’re out there, let me know. We’re in this crazy attempt together.

What allowed me to be in Costa Rica for a month, setting up my laptop within earshot of the surf? I lost my benefited position writing at a science museum in San Francisco. They didn’t cut me loose, just made me oncall and unbenefitted, a favorite tactic for businesses looking to save money.

But I cut myself loose. I vowed that I would devote as much time as possible in 2011 to writing that novel I’ve been thinking about for years. In February 2011 I organized a “Write a story (or chapter) a week” on FaceBook. In July I sprung for the Mystery Writing Conference at Book Passage bookstore. And for November, I’m carving out time and dipping into my savings to make sure I’ll be far from distraction in the very place my novel is set: Costa Rica. I’ve written about this country a lot, but never in the way I now intend to: as a character in its own right in a novel of suspense. Yes, there will be blood. But won’t it look nice, sinking in to the clean white sand?