Every November, writers and would-be novelists all over the globe commit themselves to writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. While that sounds like an unrealistic goal at first, a little bit of math reveals that it comes down to a goal of 1,667 words per day – which is much more manageable for some. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” people say to themselves, and in October they sign up for a free account on nanowrimo.org, joining the clamoring masses on the Forums there to plan their strategy and hype themselves up for what is surely a challenge.
The goal is 50k, so the idea is usually to write as much as possible every day in November, without self-censoring, self-editing, self-doubting, or self-restricting. Write, they say. Just write. Write everything you can. When the challenge is done, when the draft is complete, you can go back and edit later. There is even a spring or summertime venture of the same structure, which they call Camp NaNoWriMo, and where they let participants choose their own goals, instead of the ‘strict’ suggestion of 50k.
There are some who poo-poo this endeavor, insisting that it is no way to become a ‘real’ writer, no genuine training for novel-writing, no real benefit to be had from this system. There are some who criticize the strategy of writing for the word count rather than the content – and who are quick to point out that in the end, on December 1st, even if you made it to 50k words you do not have a complete novel in your hands – all you have is the first draft. There is so much more work to be done after that… something the NaNo advertising tends to gloss over. However, a first draft is more than some people ever achieve, so as far as I am concerned, and it isn’t so much about Magically Climbing Everest While On Your First Time Hiking as it is about Getting Out of Your Own Way and Getting Hype About A Fun Project.
It’s subjective, I guess.
I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo. I first heard of it during my freshman year of college, and I can’t remember how it came across my radar but I remember thinking it was a suicide mission. A no-win scenario. What kind of sadists are these, I thought. And then I got curious. Was it possible? Could it be fun? I knew the play I was in was going to open in November, which meant going through tech week and performances AND classes and trying to write a totally new novel from scratch. That sounded like insanity.
So I signed up.
I started writing something – as free-flowing and seat-of-the-pants as I could get, and explored what it was like to write with no idea what was going to happen or who my characters were. It wasn’t super productive, but it was kind of fun. I got discouraged quickly, though, as my classwork piled higher and my rehearsals got longer. I left the story by the wayside and ‘quit’ my very first NaNoWriMo after a week or two.
The next time I found myself in the trenches of NaNoWriMo was the fall of 2010, after I had graduated college, and I thought: Now! Now it is time to write again. I sketched out an idea from a dream I’d had and buckled myself in for the ride. It was a crazy amount of fun, and at the end I had a silly, time-traveling story about angels and fallen angels and artists through the ages. It might go somewhere someday, it might not, but it was so much fun to write that I didn’t care. NaNo was going to become a staple for me.
I wrote again in NaNo 2011, although this time it was not fiction that I poured my words into but non-fiction. I wrote down every memory, every story, every moment I could remember about my friend Meghan, who had passed away that July. I needed a way to remember everything I possibly could about her, and writing it all down seemed the best way to do it. I wrote 60,000 words in 17 days.
In 2012, I sat down during rehearsals and performances of a holiday panto I was doing with Piccolo Theatre in Evanston (not to mention my full-time job) to write my next NaNovel. It was a fantasy, set in exotic locations, with a handful of characters of varying genders, backgrounds, and sexual preferences, and it was a lot of fun to write. It was exciting, and a little sly, and set my imagination a-runnin’. I called it On The Isle of Sound and Wonder, and after some heavy rewrites and edits, it was published by Xchyler Publishing in November 2014.
In 2013 and 2014 I skipped NaNo on account of edits, rewrites, and a handful of failed new ideas along the way. In 2015, I skipped NaNo because I got married in November. Not to mention the crippling self doubt, ‘writer’s block’, and other fun things that were all up in my brain-stuff about writing The Next Thing…
HOWEVER. That being said, I am proud to announce that I got back on the horse again after this long hiatus. Despite a 5-day-a-week day job and weekends packed with two 14-hour days working and performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, I have just completed my first Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2016! I skated in at 51k words right at the tail end of everything, and I couldn’t have done it without Tegan, Sam, Randall, and Karaline – my new NaNo Power Squad.
Although the draft of my new story is nowhere near done, it is a heckuva good start and a brand new outlook on my life as a writer. I feel completely rejuvenated, and SUPER enraptured with the project I’ve begun. I will be talking more about it on my Patreon as it develops, and I can’t wait to keep working so I can bring this story to life to its fullest potential.
No, but really – I’m reeeeeeally excited about it.
…this one’s got pirates in it.
3 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – A Chance to Grow Stronger”
NaNoWriMo + high seas hijinks = a super fun time, I’ve found. Congrats!
I first learned about NaNoWriMo Oct 31st, 2005. 8:15pm. I saw the 50,000 word challenge, and thought ‘That’s crazy’. Saw the 1667/day breakdown and still thought ‘That’s crazy. I’m down for it’ and signed up. Gathered ideas for a couple days, had people pick numbers blindly between 1-4, settled on my idea and started writing around the 5th of November. Late start, knew I probably would never catch up, plowed on anyway. Finally gave up the Tuesday the week of thanksgiving, at 22K words. But, you know what? Those 22K odd words were the most I’d ever written in a short time span like that. And they involved space pirates/privateers. 😉 I didn’t “win” the first time until 2007, a come from behind victory (I was at around 15K on the 17th, and won on the afternoon of the 28th). My best has been 50K in 15 days.
NaNo is all in the way that you use it. I’ve done it as strictly one novel, I’ve done it as a single document with parts of different works whose ideas I wanted to explore, to see if there was something there work getting further into. But, you’re right. The main thing it does is gets you out of your own way and allows you to attempt something that was always a “one of these days” or “when I have the time” pipe dream. And, as you well know, dreams DO become reality. 😀
Great post! I am not familiar with NaNoWriMo, but after reading I’m interested