It's almost that time of year again.
I *love* National Novel Writing Month. For those of you who haven't come across it, the object of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. There's no pressure for it to be any good - in fact, writing a good novel is actively discouraged. You win by reaching the word count target.
It attracts its share of criticism, though not from me. Some writers won't do it because they feel it will distract from their real work (or 'real work', depending on my opinion of the writer in question :p). Some people feel that there is enough bad writing in the world without encouraging more of it. These are definitely valid points, and I would agree with both of them to some extent - and any writer who thinks NaNoWriMo will affect their real writing badly should, of course, run for the hills.
Not me, though. I love NaNoWriMo. It distracts me like hell from my 'real work' (I deserve the sarcastic inverted commas, not everyone does), it releases more bad prose into a world that has plenty of it, but I don't care. NaNoWriMo is the best thing about November.
I do NaNoWriMo for a few reasons. The most important is for fun. Usually, I pick a novel that is totally unlike what I usually write, and I aim for trashy as hell.
One year - the only year I won - I wrote a high-blown fantasy epic with trees and mountains and terribly metaphorical weather systems and sacrificial victims and well-meaning best friends and beautiful, crotchety, middle-aged, Greg-House-esque wizards and plucky young heroines and every single character was named after a gemstone, a season or a geographical feature. It was marvellous fun.
Another year I wrote about fairies in the bottom of the garden. Irish fairies. The ones you don't mess with. Except now they've invaded suburbia and only a young graphic designer and her sociologist friend can save South Dublin from its own mythology. That one crashed and burned, but I did manage to give my friend's house a cameo appearance before I gave up.
Last year I decided to revisit my crotchety wizard with the pretty young proteges (there were two this time). By adding in some unrequited love, I was able to send three completely innocent fictional characters haring across an alternate-universe medieval Scotland, where witchcraft had never been outlawed but where its practitioners were suddenly being persecuted by a non-magical jealous king. They ended up in Edinburgh, watching people put to death in the Norloch, trying to save loved ones and stay undercover themselves.
This year, though, I have no ideas. Not a single one.
Which brings me to the other wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo - the forums. Oh, the bliss. Discussion threads that run to dozens of pages, full of character names and titles. A dedicated forum where you can ask things like 'My main character's boyfriend is a paramedic. What are their shift patterns like in Norwich?' and actually get useful responses.
My plan for this year is to look through the title thread and find a title that suggests a suitably compelling image for me to hang a novel on. This happened last year - I saw the words 'Autumn Chase' somewhere, and suddenly imagined people (in autumn, natch) following each other across Scotland (I like Scotland, and I was there last Halloween) with crazily different motives but the same basic aim. And that's why I love NaNo - usually, it's difficult for me to carve out writing time and I'm loath to spend too much of it on a project that may not have legs. In November, I just take an image that looks pretty and I run with it until I hit 50,000 words, or until I get bored.
Then I go back to the real novel, remembering why I'm writing anything at all.