This past Sunday marked the start of NaNoWriMo. For many writers out there you already know what this acronym stands for. For others, like my mom or my dentist or 5/6th of my friends on Facebook, it just looks like a jumble of letters. Just to be clear–NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place every November and the goal is to spend the month writing in an attempt to create a “novel” of 50k words in 30 days or less.
I learned of this project five or six years ago—before becoming a published author and before I was even willing to admit that writing was something that fulfilled me. It marks the first time in my life that I dove into the deep end of writing, sitting down to reach a goal every day no matter what. I was overwhelmed and inspired by the experience. And though the words I wrote during that first November will never be seen by another human (no…never…stop asking) I am so glad I took the time to write them.
So, what is it about November? Why do all the secret writers, burgeoning writers, aspiring writer, hard working writers, professional writers, still enjoy the thrill of this literary sprint? Why is this goal of 50,000 words in 30 days so compelling for so many of us?
First, I think that NaNoWriMo is one time a year that we give ourselves permission to do the dance of creativity with complete abandon (even if that dance looks a bit like Elaine dancing on Seinfeld). Because writing can be seen as a hobby, it is easy to feel guilty when we spend our time doing it. For a long time I would only write when the urge became so overwhelming that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Or I’d write when I knew I couldn’t be doing anything else (that is how ½ of WRECKAGE was written one handed while nursing my fourth baby). But for some reason every year when November hit I suddenly felt justified in dedicating my time to writing. It felt almost heroic to see that word count go up and to see my goal coming closer and closer.
Now that I’m on my fifth NaNoWriMo and my first as a published author, I’ve come to understand something: We need to give ourselves permission to write every day.
Though I love NaNo and I enjoy participating in it, why the heck should November be the one time you or I can write without guilt? Build writing into your daily life. Make goals to reach every single day/week/month/year. November is fun, but writing deserves a life long investment of your time and talent. There will never be glowing neon signs saying, “Write NOW! This is your chance.” You have to make that time and know that you deserve it.
Go on twitter and look up #NaNoWriMo. Go ahead. Do it, I’ll wait…….Okay. What did you see? Thousands upon thousands of tweets about writing, right? There are Facebook pages, Twitter pages, chat rooms, support groups, websites, all dedicated to this one month of writing. I love seeing the writers in these groups rally around each other.
You also find writers coming out of the woodwork in real life. In November you discover that the guy you sit next to on the bus is actually dreaming about a world full of sci-fi villans and epic heroes or that the mom who passes you on the street has a sweeping historical fiction growing in her mind.
Sometimes it takes another writer to understand how hard it is to find the right name for your main character or how sometimes your mind feels like a blank brick wall at the end of a dead end ally or how hard it is to kill off a character you’ve come to love and enjoy writing. These are weird problems. I say weird not as a judgment but as a badge of honor. We sometimes have weird issues as writers and in November we have an amazing support group to help us through them. And to have a built in group of cheerleaders is invigorating. I never write better or more often than when I know I have someone there who cares how many words I’ve gotten out of my day.
But when November comes to an end, let’s try to keep up some of these friendships. When your NaNo project is complete, use your support team to help you edit that masterpiece. Maybe they’ll even stick with you as you query and high five you when you sign with an agent and then take “thumbs up” pictures holding your book at your launch.
Now, 50k words isn’t exactly the length of one of my books and, if I’m perfectly honest, I’ve never actually reached the whole 50k goal. But every year I try to participate to some degree. Two years ago I was SO CLOSE at 46k and let me tell you, that is a lot of words for me.
I will be the first to admit that writing this fast is not always about quality. It is the raw materials for a masterpiece, still needs to be honed and sculpted but somewhere in there is your magic. Writing this volume of words this quickly does help me do something I struggle with as a writer: It helps me get the story out.
I’m a thinker when it comes to books. Usually, I think through each scene over and over throughout the day (or days) before writing it. What this usually means is that the writing is slow, but the quality is a little finer. But sometimes when I go too slow I don’t get the momentum I need to keep up with the story and I peter out. In November, I love writing with abandon. I love getting to the point where I can turn off that voice in my head saying, “This isn’t good enough. Maybe this isn’t right. Write better!” and turn on the voice that says, “Go! Go! You can do it. You can write. You will figure this out!”
I need to do that more. That critical voice is good for planning, revising and editing, but it should be firmly in the “off” position for your first draft. It is easy to say that but harder to do. I’m glad I get to practice flipping that switch every November.
Well, since these words don’t count in my word count for the day, I’d better get back to my story. I think someone is about to die. Yeah, intense. If you’ve chosen to participate in NaNoWriMo—enjoy it! I hope you reach and exceed your goals. Meet me back here in three weeks and we will talk about editing and revision because I promise you that after sprinting through 50k in one month we all will need it!