I actually tried it.
It was a doomed effort, of course, from the start; all odds were stacked against me, as were common sense and human decency. But I rather suspect that this is the case for a great many NaNoWriMo participants. That’s the point, I suppose: you don’t have time to write, but you try anyway.
So I tried, and, unlike last year — where I gave up about ten days in and just pasted all my previous work on my memoir into Scrivener to see what my total project word count was, then wandered off to get a drink — in 2010 I started with a fairly concrete vision of what I wanted to write and how to write it, and I kept pushing all the way through the month.
My basic premise: the essential arc, and many of the specific details, of my own experience of seminary and the lost years that followed — but made much worse. Every historical moral lapse would be amplified, every missed opportunity for moral lapse would be seized, and more than a few less than stellar moments would be imagined from the ground up. I approached it more or less as memoir meets lad lit, with a motto — “as bad as I never ended up being” — as my touchstone.
I cannot pretend that I got far enough to really have a full appreciation for what crafting a lengthy work of fiction means or entails. But I think I can say that I was able to explore some new modes, to stretch myself as a creative writer, and those experiments were both rewarding and instructive. For instance, I had never attempted to write a sex scene before. I haven’t even read that many of them, so given that my principle literary examples are The Canterbury Tales and American Psycho, I consider it doubtful at best that my numerous forays into that bit of genre over the course of the month were anything short of banal. But it was still highly entertaining to take a stab at it (so to speak).
But it was chiefly a fruitful experience, in two principle respects. First, it got me flailing away at the keyboard again, freewriting (which I have not done in far too long) an just letting the words flow. And second, it was very much, as intended, a way to sneak up on my real memoir project from a different angle. By treating them as fiction, I was able to write a few scenes from my history that have daunted me for years. If that is all it takes to get an honest memoir written, I’ll keep working on this crap novel as long as need be. I am sure I can make this character of mine get up to some more mischief that will make me smile, even if no one else ever sees it.