Fall in Texas is beautiful. I’m not a fan of the cold. I love being able to wear short sleeves and no jacket on Halloween. So even though I hate all things pumpkin, I love Fall!
Especially November. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday (all the fun and food of a holiday without the stress of gifts!) My wedding anniversary is usually that same week, and best of all (well, I guess not better than my marriage, but you know what I mean) it’s NaNoWriMo time!
I don’t remember how I found the National Novel Writing Month website. I know it was probably around 2008. I was still a closeted writer, and I stumbled up on this magical challenge to write 50,000 words from November 1-30.
After days of debating, I finally signed up under a pen name. When I confessed to my husband about two weeks in, it opened some real conversations about my hopes and dreams. I was surprised that he was totally supportive and didn’t laugh at the idea once!
I won NaNo that year (meaning I made it to 50K) and I was hooked!
I’ve looked forward to it every year since. Some years I’ve made it to 50K and beyond, some years I didn’t bother adding my dismal word count to the tracker. For me, it’s about so much more than finishing the book.
How can you decide if NaNo is right for you?
Why I love it
It gave me a reason to focus on my novel without feeling selfish.
When I discovered NaNo, I had two small kids, a full-time teaching position, and a mountain of laundry/dishes that multiplied like Viagra-dosed rabbits every night. Any time I sat down just to write, I immediately felt like I should be doing something else.
NaNo gave me a reason to let that go. For this one month, I was allowed to focus on something I loved and see how far I could get.
It gave me a ready-made writing community.
Back then, I was just starting to dip my toe into the writing community. I had joined a local RWA chapter and planned to attend my first writing conference. I didn’t have a writing tribe like I do now. I didn’t know anyone else writing. I didn’t have someone to play “what if” and talk about my imaginary people as if they were living and breathing beings.
The NaNo discussion boards were like entering a wonderland. There were other people who didn’t think it was odd to start a conversation with, “So if the poison doesn’t actually kill him, how could he get out of the box?” There are also regional groups that have write-ins and meet ups.
The best part was The Night Of Writing Dangerously . Even though, I lived way too far to attend in person, I made my highest word count EVER during one of those nights by sprinting against other writers online.
Writing without editing was amazingly freeing for me.
One of the sometimes criticized aspects of NaNo is writers are encouraged to just keep going. Don’t delete. Don’t edit. Just keep pushing and make your word count. Everything can be fixed later.
That opened the floodgates for me. I was just starting to learn the craft of writing and was being stifled by all the you-must-do-it-this-way! advice. Knowing that all I had to do was write broke through my fear and let me tell the story.
Why you may need to think twice before starting
If you are a deliberative writer who feels pressured by word count.
It is so important to honor your process. If you already feel suffocated by the idea of making a certain word count in a day, then NaNo might not be for you. The idea is to help you race forward, not bring on anxiety that holds you back.
If you can’t not edit.
More honoring your process. Some writers have to edit what they wrote the day before. That is how their mind returns to that world and those characters. The idea of just plowing forward when the last scene isn’t even near perfect is just unheard of for them. That is okay.
It is still possible to reach 50K editing as you go. Just be aware of staying on track and not losing too much word count to your changes.
If you are easily distracted and can lose writing time to scrolling message boards.
As I said, the discussion boards on the site are a fascinating place. Any plot problem you can come up with, someone is willing to answer. Need character names? A villain’s catch-phrase? A setting description? Trust me, you can find it there.
You can also procrastinate there for hours. If you know that you have trouble shutting down the scrolling and focusing on your story, be prepared to have some limits in place.
If you will feel like a failure if you don’t win
That is absolutely not the purpose of NaNoWriMo. If you end up with only 37K at midnight on November 30. You are still 37K ahead. I am not a highly-competitive person. So for me, it’s never really been about winning. I do know some authors who would be furious with themselves if they did anything less than 50K. If that is a motivator for you, great. If it is a source of stress, then honor that part of yourself and consider the benefits vs frustration before you dive in.
That being said, the sponsors offer some pretty awesome rewards for those who make it!