If you aren’t knee deep in mind-numbing novel writing right now, you probably don’t know what NaNoWriMo is. National Novel Writing Month is a communal project that takes place each November, in which a dedicated group of fun-loving masochists decide to challenge themselves to writing an entire novel (50,000 words) in 30 days.
If that sounds brutal, you’re right. I told you, those who participate are fun-loving masochists. Know someone who likes to have fun with friends but also likes to isolate themselves? They’re probably doing NaNoWriMo. Know someone who is full of creative energy and also likes to torture themselves? They’re definitely doing NaNoWrimo. Know someone who goes off the grid in November and turns into a ball of anxiety running on coffee? NaNoWriMo.
The sheer notion of pounding out 50k words in 30 days seems ridiculous and impossible in and of itself, and in a way it is, but the goal isn’t to write a good novel. The idea is to crank out a full draft, which is the primary barrier most aspiring novel-writers have — actually completing a draft. It’s not going to be finished and it’s not going to be good; no one should be shipping off NaNo novels straight to a publisher. But it’s something, and something’s not nothing.
I first heard of NaNoWriMo from a high school teacher who challenged his students to partake in it as an opportunity for personal growth. I wasn’t in his class, but I immediately jumped on board with a few friends and we formed a little writing posse, checking up on each other’s progress and building each other up.
The community that NaNo creates is one of its greatest strengths. It’s not just small cluster of weirdo writers. It’s a lot of weirdo writers — thousands, actually, all around the world. On the official NaNoWriMo website you can join a local region and find a community of friends and neighbors all striving toward the same goal. My local NaNo region meets in public spaces for group write-ins and has a long-standing word-count battle with Perth, Australia (because why not?) The corporate progress of each region makes NaNo more than just a personal goal, it’s a collaborative effort and experience.
Even though it’s tough, there a lot of ways NaNo keeps it light and fun. You can sign up for daily motivational emails from actual novelists. The NaNoWordSprints Twitter account provides you with writing prompts and gives you a word-count goal to complete in a limited time period. Many NaNo participants have made YouTube videos documenting their experience.
NaNoWriMo is also a nonprofit that works to provide writing workshops, programs, and community year-round.
It’s been a lot of years since I first attempted NaNo with my little high school writing posse. Since then I made attempts to finish a novel in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2017, and I am attempting again this year. I’ve never quite made it to the 50,000 word mark, but there’s always something enticing about taking an idea that you’ve been mulling and turning it into something real, or at the very least the beginning of something real. It’s an accomplishment in and of itself just to take the step to try.
So here’s to trying!
(The fact that I’m writing this piece instead of my novel is probably a sign that I’m procrastinating, so I’ll retreat back into my coffee-fueled hovel now. See you in December…or sooner if I need another diversion.)