Why I Love NaNoWriMo

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Author: Ashlyn Sindal

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Every year for the past eleven years, shortly before midnight on Halloween, I pull away from whatever costumed festivities I’ve been enjoying and hunker down over my laptop in a quiet corner. Or as quiet as I can manage, anyway. I open up a blank document and watch the clock count down the seconds to midnight. At 12:00 a.m. on November 1, I start typing, and I don’t stop until I’m too tired to string together a coherent sentence. I spend the entire month in a sort of haze of random plot ideas and frantic writing sessions squeezed in between work and family obligations. Little things like sleep and eating regular meals fall by the wayside. By the end of the month, I’m exhausted, my house is starting to look a bit like a tornado tore through it, and there’s an even chance I’m wearing mismatched socks. And it’s fantastic.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is a month-long writing challenge that takes place every year during the month of November. Started in 1999 as a challenge among a group of friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, the event has grown to include over 300,000 participants worldwide. The challenge? To write a novel of at least 50,000 words between 12:00 a.m. on November 1 and 11:59 p.m. on November 30. The prize? Bragging rights, some nifty web banners, and usually a few discount offers from sponsors of the event. Oh yeah, and you’ll have written the first draft of a novel.

If you’ve never written a novel, or tried to, that last one might not seem like a big deal, but trust me: it is. It’s easy to get caught up in constant revision of the first couple chapters or get distracted by things like family, work, and the need to bathe regularly and just sort of...never finish writing. The arbitrary deadline imposed by NaNoWriMo gives you a reason to keep writing, to ignore any editing you might feel the need to do (only for a month! you can do it!) and an excuse to maybe cut back a bit on that bathing thing (I mean, come on, surely you don’t need to do it every day, right?). It gives you the chance to explore the whole scope of your novel, if only perhaps in a bit of a slipshod fashion, instead of just the beginning. And if you’ve got a novel in you begging to be written, that’s a really powerful thing.

Even if you’ve written a novel before, or a few, you might get something out of NaNoWriMo. If you’re like me, you probably spend a lot of time thinking through every sentence you write, every plot twist, every nuance of character motivation. You might even have a tendency to take yourself, and your writing, pretty seriously. The breakneck pace of NaNoWriMo, along with the focus on quantity over quality, doesn’t leave much room for any of that. Now, I’m not saying these are bad things. Eleven months out of the year, that’s how I write, and it’s how I like to write. But there’s something to be said for shaking things up, for stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something completely different. You can learn a lot about yourself, and your writing, that way. You might even surprise yourself and write some things you really like.

Now, those of you who know me might be thinking, okay, this writing a novel in a month thing is all well and good for someone who voluntarily runs in excess of ten miles at a time on a regular basis and sometimes gets paid to play with fire, but what about those of us who don’t do ridiculous and occasionally painful things on the regular? Well, here’s the thing: I didn’t used to do any of those things. I’m not going to say that I never would have started fire dancing or distance running if I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo first, because I might have, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have started either with half as much confidence or relish if I hadn't done NaNoWriMo first. Because the thing is, once you’ve done one ridiculous, intimidating thing you think you might want to try, all of the rest start to seem just a little bit less ridiculous and intimidating.

So, if NaNoWriMo sound like the kind of thing you might want to try, go sign up. Right now. I don’t care if it’s already November and you don’t have a plot; winging it is half the fun. You can do this. And then come talk to us about it on the Fine Arts & Literary Pursuits board, because as I said at the beginning: bragging rights.

What are you doing still hanging around here? It's November! Go write!

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