• R. K. Mayer

A Compass Without a Map - NaNoWriMo as a Model for Structured Creativity


It is November already, and for me that means that I am settling down and participating in the month-long writing sprint challenge - NaNoWriMo, also known as, "National Novel Writing Month".

It will be the second time that I participate, and the second time that I wonder to myself: will I be able to harness the power of Social, self-discipline, and the love of writing, in order to reach the goal of fifty thousand words by the end of the month?

The whole concept of the month is intriguing to me - the way I see it - NaNoWriMo provides a framework for disciplined and structured creativity. Sound like a contradiction in terms? Maybe just at first. There are, in fact, several models out there, that show that creativity and innovation are enhanced when methodological and structured approaches are applied. Consider, for example, the SCAMPER checklist, originally proposed by Alex Osborne in 1953 and further developed and organised by Bob Eberle in 1971.

The framework of NaNoWriMo provides:

- A clear goal >> to reach fifty thousand words

- A clear timeline >> one month - from the start to the end of the month of November

- A circle of peers >> these peers are all undergoing the same process, with the same goal and same timelines. They are distributed globally and can meet virtually, but are also encouraged to self-manage in regional groups and face-to-face meet-ups, where possible

- A circle of mentors and previous challenge winners >> these leaders inspire and encourage the participants, particularly the new-timers, like myself.

In short, NaNoWriMo creates an organised framework, including a cultural platform, based on Social principles, which drive the participants towards success, not unlike most other organisational structures. Unlike typical organisational structures, this framework is literally a container, a vessel, into which the player can pour his or her unique creativity. There are no rules, there are no stipulations what to write or how to write. There is no intervention in quality or voice or format. The container is there to provide the structure, impetus and motivation, but not the contents. One's cup can runneth over with the sweet elixir of absolutely anything.

The challenges of the NaNoWriMo framework are probably common to most informal structures: while the deadlines are real, failure to meet them has no real consequences. So what if you don't reach the required word count? Who is waiting for you? An editor? A publisher? Chances are that this challenge is yet another thing added on top of your already burgeoning professional and personal commitments. If something needs to slide, if compromises need to be made, clearly this is a likely target. Moreover, given that the reward is in the completion of the challenge successfully - maybe for most of us, this in itself is not enough. Sometimes we need something tangible, real, a trophy of sorts. A volume of fifty thousand words is a very important milestone, but it could still be hundreds of miles away from being anywhere near a publish-worthy book.

I have said in the past, that as a storyteller, I usually have an idea where I want to end my story, but I don't know necessarily at what point my narrative will begin. In NaNoWriMo I have the compass to navigate, but I am missing the map itself - this is the challenge and the cherry. I have alI the tools I need to make my journey, I just need to figure out what the journey is. I need to create the map from my imagination, and hope that it leads to some unexpected and original treasure.

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