The Month of Mo’

Elizabeth Bluemle -- November 1st, 2016

Happy Candy Hangover Day, pumpkins! Time to put aside the tiny chocolate bars, the slim rolls of little round sweet-tart Smarties, the loose scatterings of off-brand Starbursts, the Tootsie Roll midgies, and the Holy Grail of dark chocolate, mini Kit Kats, and think about books again.

November has the most Mo’ of any month in the calendar; it actually puts the MO in MOnth.

There’s Movember, for one thing; that’s the moustache-growing celebration for men’s health (and no reason we women of a certain age can’t join right in). That’s the first No(vember) Mo. But in the literary world, there are several giant Mo’s:

1. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month — This is a worldwide writing marathon each November in which participants have 30 days in which to write 50,000 words. That which works out to around 1700 words a day, or about seven double-spaced pages, if you stay on track. Needless to say, anyone involved in retail cannot do NaNoWriMo, especially if they are also writing a holiday catalog with 125 book reviews in it (*cough*) but many make a valiant effort. I think I topped out at 11,000 words one year and felt pretty darned good about it.

NaNoWriMo is most wonderful for the writerly camaraderie. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people near you are participating, and they gather in cafes and libraries and living rooms to drink massive amounts of coffee and frantically type their nascent masterpieces into laptops. I’ve met some really great people during NaNo season. Even if you never exchange names, there’s something uncommonly cheery about groups of people engaged in this solitary endeavor — together. It’s a great way to instantly become part of a wonderful (and over-caffeinated, under-slept) writing community — even if November is the first time you’ve ever tried to write a novel.

The second best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it really gets your words flowing. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality. There’s literally no time for perfectionism, no Flaubert-esque agonizing over polishing your first line to perfection before moving on. Nope. Your only job is to get those words onto the page. One year, Josie and I set out to do NaNoWriMo using the same very specific title for our novels-in-progress, and it was fun to see how completely different our stories turned out to be.

The third best thing about NaNoWriMo is the team that puts it together. Created by a smart, funny, creative dynamo named Chis Baty, this clever idea has grown into a behemoth. About half a million people participated last year alone. In addition, there are more than 900 community liaisons who act as resources for local writers, putting together write-a-thons and encouraging word-count competition among regional groups. And then there are the professional writers, who contribute helpful, funny encouragement all along the way with blog posts and letters to the writers.

The last best thing about NaNoWriMo is that you can use it for your own purposes. Say you’re writing something that isn’t a novel. It’s a memoir, or a group of essays, or something else. You can still use the spur of NaNoWriMo to make yourself let the words pour forth every day for 30 days.

Oh, wait. There’s actually another last best thing: the merch store! I still have a set of Writers’ Merit Patches from the year I did the most writing. The patches aren’t made anymore, but the merchandise shop is filled with fabulous posters, scarves, mugs, T-shirts, journals, and other writerly goodies that you likely will covet and that might make perfect holiday gifts for your literary buddies. Because it’s a 501(c)3, proceeds from the merchandise benefit the projects NaNoWriMo does with young writers in schools and their other great programs.

P.S. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and want a truly evil helping tool, try WriteOrDie by Dr. Wicked, which starts erasing words if you stop typing for too long. (It’s fully customizable for how long it takes before it starts erasing.) There also seems to be something newer like it, called The Most Dangerous Writing App. I haven’t used that one, but it might be worth checking out.

2. The second big Mo’ used to be PiBoIdMo, or Picture Book Idea Month, created by author Tara Lazar as a NaNoWriMo alternative for picture book writers. The goal is to come up with a picture book idea per day. PiBoIdMo has moved to January, so hang on to your picture-book-writing pens until then!

3. November is also the last big month of huge fall releases. Big books are coming out from Laurie Halse Anderson, Fredrik Backman, Eavan Boland, Michael Chabon, Lee Child, Cassandra Clare, Paul Coelho, Michael Connelly, Bernard Cornwell, Bob Dylan, Janet Evanovich, Elena Ferrante, Fannie Flagg, Terry Goodkind, Thich Nhat Hanh, Alice Hoffman, Jeff Kinney, Wally Lamb, Justine Larbalestier, Ursula LeGuin, Philip Levine, Yann Martel, Marissa Meyer, Stephenie Meyer, Paul Muldoon, Haruki Murikami, Stanley Plumly, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, Bernie Sanders, Brandon Sanderson, Neal Shusterman, Neil Simon, Zadie Smith, Jon Stewart, Nicola Yoon, about 650 other authors, and the Harvard Lampoon.

4. November is National Picture Book Month! Founder Diane de las Casas, along with co-founders Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar, and Wendy Martin, inaugurated this brilliant idea in 2015. Each day of the month features a picture book “champion”—authors, illustrators, editors, agents, publishers, and more—who contribute brief thoughts on the importance of picture books.The 2016 Picture Book Month Champions are: Kwame Alexander, Kevan Atteberry, Phil Bildner, Elizabeth Bluemle, Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Laura Gehl Chamberlain, Matthew Cordell, Pat Cummings, Doug Cushman, Erzsi Deak, Josh Funk, Marita Gentry, Paul Hankins, Verla Kay, Lester Laminack, Minh Le, Adam Lehrhaupt, Sylvia Liu, Ralph Masiello, Laura Murray, Carmen Oliver, Todd Parr, John Parra, Jan Peck, Alexandra Penfold, Jeanie Franz Ransom, Isabel Roxas, Jodell Sadler, Andrea Pinkney, and Ashley Wolff.

If you noticed my name in there, you will understand that I am absolutely thrilled to be a participant this year, even though it almost killed me to whittle down my thoughts on the importance of picture books to 300 words. (Note that the word underneath each person’s name doesn’t indicate the topic of their essay, just of one of their books.)

I can’t wait to read everyone’s entries! It’s worth bookmarking the website to remember to go back each day. You can also peruse the archives; the 2015 champions were Sudipta Bardan-Quallen, David Biedrzycki, Paulette Bogan, Mike Curato, Matthew Gollub, Julie Gribble, Julie Hedlund, Carter Highins, Molly Idle, Joe Kulka, Jennifer Gray Olson, Kathryn Otoshi, Anne Marie Pace, Rukhsana Khan, Robin Newman, Penny Parker Klostermann, Eric Litwin, Loren Long, Deb Lund, LeUyen Pham, Matt Phelan, Stephen Shaskan, Trisha Speed Shaskan, TJ Shay, Whitney Stewart, Holly Stone-Barker, Mo Willems, Natasha Wing, Matthew Winner, and Paula Yoo.

Speaking of which, we can’t really talk about big Mo’s in children’s books without mention of this guy:

5. Mo Willems, whose new picture book, Nanette’s Baguette, has just hit the shelves. It’s a jocular, wordplay-rich tale of a young girl who’s been given the great responsibility of getting a baguette home for the family. Alas, though she has told her friends she’s got to jet, she is beset with regret when it turns out she cannot resist eating the entire baguette. Visual jokes abound; there are reams of rhymes. It’s another Willems wow. (And while you’re there, don’t forget to revisit Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator, which remains a woefully undersung work of genius.)

I had a great Mo’ ment the other day in the store when an older couple came in looking for a book for their eight-year-old granddaughter. “She’s just started in a French immersion school in the U.S.,” they said, “so we’re hoping to find a book for her age set in France.” Voilà! The Story of Diva and Flea was the natural choice, of course, and the couple deemed it “perfect.”

For all these reasons, it does look as though November will indeed be the month of Mo’.

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