In Defense of NaNoWriMo.
I finished my first NaNoWriMo in 2009. When I did, I went out into the wide world of writers for advice, and was largely told it was a terrible idea, a gimmick contest that only bred terrible writing and hack art. But it has now been six days since I won my second National Novel Writing Competition, and I completely disagree. “Won” feels like a misnomer, given anyone who completes the base goal (write a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and November 30th) is a misnomer, but I can’t deny that I do feel like a winner.
When I did my first NaNoWriMo, it was 2009. I was an unemployed, full time college student who had aspirations to study English and Journalism but had not yet fully committed to it. I found out about NaNo literally two days before it started, and with the kind of reckless inclination that only comes from having to leave your house for only 4 hours a day, I figured “why the hell not?”
I’d long ago concocted the novel I would write in 2009, then called “‘Tec”. I thought I was going to craft something truly unique, a modern detective story with a twist. I had the idea that the titular detective would spend the entire novel working to solve the mystery, only to find he had inadvertently wormed his way through solving a different crime. At this point, with the secondary issue out of the way, ‘Tec (and the readers) would realize that the solution to the mystery had been given in the first chapter of the story. It is a dour, rough, fun novel that was clearly written by somebody with a lot of passion and zero idea what he was doing. Though I had the first chapter and the ending in my head, I flew through the rest of it by the seat of my pants. “‘Tec”, since rechristened “Elephants for Eileen” was started three days late, not worked on for most of the last week of November, and ran past the finish line three days early.
The feeling of writing those 50,000 words is indescribable. I had been on the fence for years about writing. I loved it, and I was told I was good at it, but I never really found the confidence inside of myself. But now, here it was. In my hands I held over 50,000 words, nearly 200 pages of hard proof. I can write. I was fueled by that for a long time, even as the inevitable post-NaNo funk and depression set in.
I would attempt NaNo pretty regularly for the next few years, but I would never get past the first few days. For some of those years, it was the difficulty of balancing work and school while trying to find the time. Two of the years were marred from the get-go by deaths in the family right as the competition started. For others, I just couldn’t find that spark, that drive, that inspiration. I had ideas, and dreams, and plots. But I just didn’t have the words.
I have still written off and on, but spent a lot of time beating myself up over my writing. I just never felt like I was able to recapture that weird, beautiful magic of sitting up all night long, drinking coffee by the pot while Roseanne blared in the background on an old 19" television.
But 2016 was different. I was no longer a college student; financial difficulties robbed me of that. Now working 40 hours a week and wanting to do nothing more than write but not finding the time, I made the resolve to be different. I had already started writing “Born of Fire and Sand” before November. The plan was a serial novel: five novellas telling one arcing plot. I made the resolve to write for NaNo again not as quickly as I could, but every day. I set my word count in Scrivener every day, adding another 1667 to it and striving to meet that before midnight. And I did it. It was stressful at times, and I wasn’t always sure I was going to make it. Many a night was spent staring at a clock at 11:20 with 500 words left and wondering if I could actually type as fast as I thought I could. But here I sit, yet again with a stack of verifiable evidence. I can write.
Does NaNoWriMo breed the best writing? Lord no. It’s often rushed, half thought out, sloppy. Looking back I would find misspelled words or mistyped thoughts. But it breeds that drive. NaNo tells me I can do it. I can write. And I don’t need a forum full of armchair amateurs to tell me its possible. I have two novels, rough and unfinished and calling out to me, and they tell me all I need to know.
I can write. And I know that because of National Novel Writing Month. And I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who thinks they can’t.