Each November, writers across the globe participate in National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days on a new work of fiction.
Each year, I'd hear about the challenge. I never signed up. The last three months of the year are hectic for me at work. And if I think I write a lot to maintain this blog—posts often start at around 600 words, get edited down to around 400 words, and I post every other day—it's only a fraction of what I'd need to write for NaNoWriMo.
This past November, I signed up.
Did I make it?
I gave it a true college try. Yet coming on the third week of feeling completely strung out from working twelve-hour days followed by four hours of writing each night (not including the blog writing) and failing to exercise, eat well, or even maintain many of my necessary life-maintenance duties, I forgave myself in advance for not completing the challenge. I continued to participate, but I didn't stress about hitting 50,000 words by November 30.
Was it a waste of time, then?
I gained incredibly, even in not finishing:
Deadlines help. I've worked on an outline for a novel for a long time. At the end of a long workday, it's hard to want to get started on writing it. Having a target word count each day forced me off the sidelines. The majority of the time I hated everything I'd written and bemoaned my pathetic writing ability. Yet the challenge kept me going.
You're never ready. True of most things in life and true of fiction: If you wait until you're ready, you'll never start. And if you never start, you'll never finish. Most nights, I stumbled in the dark, not sure what came next in my story. But I had a word count to maintain, so I forced myself to forge ahead. Fix issues later. Just get the story down.
Community is everything. As much as we enjoy stories of people going it alone, against all odds, I'll venture that few people actually do. I met amazing NaNoWriMo participants on- and off-line. Their support and camaraderie got me through some dark moments and kept it fun. All that self-loathing? Normal, they reassured me.
Gamification works. The NaNoWriMo Web site allows participants to log daily word counts and track "buddy" writers to see their progress. Watching other people's bar charts advance as they racked up words motivated me to stay as close to them as I could.
Maybe next year, I'll hit the target. But if I don't, I'm okay with that. I'll definitely participate. I already miss it.
Can we have the spirit of NaNoWriMo every month?