The first time I did National Novel Writing Month, I didn’t realize there were rules. I had heard in some writer’s group or class or online forum that in the month of November, writers try to write 100 pages. I was a freshman in high school and 100 pages was a lot more than I’d ever written before, but I did it. By hand, each page painstakingly numbered. It was my first stab at writing long-form, and in doing it, I found a love affair for prose, when I had thought for so long I was a poet.
I’m well out of high school now and I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo–according to the rules–for about ten years. I’ve scrambled to finish 10, 20, 30K in a weekend, and I’ve failed, less than four thousand words from the finish line. I have stories I have forgotten writing and I have published two full-length novels from my NaNo efforts. NaNo is an excellent tool that has provided me with an education in storytelling, a community, and support that us loner-writer types really do need. And though those benefits may change over time, they don’t go away. After more than a decade of this madcap writing sprint, here are a few reasons I keep going back.
It Helps Me Maintain Momentum
This year, I finished the last few chapters of an 80,000-story and immediately started on the next book. There was no delay, no time to sit and ponder. Normally, I would give myself a few days before I started the next story, but I had finished writing book one in about six weeks, and I was on a roll. NaNo has helped to keep me on that roll. I’m caught up on word count and about 20,000 words into my new book. That means when I’m done with NaNo I’ll be more than halfway done with the second book in the series, which makes everything seem less daunting and helps me write more.
It Helps Me Restructure My Habits
We all fall into messy writing habits. Sometimes it’s because the real world is calling and sometimes it’s because we get distracted, overwhelmed or frustrated with our lack of progress. With NaNo, I get back into the habit of writing nearly every day or, at the very least, producing a certain amount of content a week and, ideally, by the end of the month. Even after November is over, a lot of those habits stick, and I find myself writing more in December than I did in October.
It Makes Me Feel Like a Real Writer
I know. I’m always the first to say ‘drop the aspiring, you’re a writer if you put words to the page’, but it can still be hard to believe that. When I write every day with the goal of completing a project, it makes the whole thing feel real and active. I’m striving for goals, I’ve got drive and speed, and I’m going to make them happen.
It Reminds Me I’m Not Alone
Over the years, I’ve found a community of amazing writing friends both inside and out of my genre and I’m very lucky. But the truth is, the writer’s every day doesn’t look like a party. The writer’s every day is a lot of sitting alone at the computer writing. Alone, alone. Even when my partner is home, I seal myself in a different room in order to get stuff done. With NaNo, I’m reminded that there’s a whole world of writers just like me out there. We’re all at different stages of our careers and we’re all just trying to make it work. And that’s great.
It Shows Me There’s No One Way to Write
This is actually the first time I’ve gone into NaNo with a work in progress. My hope was to finish it before the end of November, but I didn’t, and that’s fine. I ended the book a few days into NaNo and because I was already hitting my goals, I happily started the next one. I’ve NaNoed with extensive outlines and I’ve done it by the seat of my pants (I’m not a pantser, y’all). I’ve done NaNo on the go, with organization and precision, and everything in between. There have been years when I’ve finished days ahead of schedule, and years when I’ve hit 50K with just hours or even minutes to spare. The point it, as there is no one way to be a writer, there is no one way to do NaNo. And that’s worth remembering.
If you’ve been holding back on trying National Novel Writing Month of if you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to keep going back year after year, I’m here to say that it works for me, even though I’m at a far different place in my career than I was when I handwrote 100 pages and kept them in a binder. NaNo, like all facets of the writing career, should work for you wherever you are. If it doesn’t, skip it. If it does, like I’ve found, then why not keep coming back?
I hope you’ve experienced only success and inspiration from NaNo, but wherever you are in your writing journey and your November word count, you are on the right path and there’s no place to go but forward. Good luck!