NaNoWriMo 2009: Why I love NaNoWriMo
This year will be my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo, and I’m absolutely psyched for it, more this time than ever. Because of the way my writing has timed out, I have the whole month of October to prepare for it, and part of my preparation this year will be doing some meta-discussions of both NaNoWriMo in general and my process regarding it here on my blog. This is the first installation.
I’d heard of NaNoWriMo for at least a year before I was willing to try it, and I approached it very dubious as to its efficacy. The idea that I could write an entire novel in one month seemed not just impossible to me but unwise, and in the interest of full disclosure, I only achieved 50k AND a completed draft last year. I’ve also gone well over 50k every time, two of those years going either over or almost to 100k. But the real value for me in NaNoWriMo has always been in the focus and the drive and the fact that no matter what I cannot stop or go backwards.
My normal process is to cycle through the first 1/3 of a work three or four times before settling on a direction, and I have kept this process to this day, except for the novels I have written during NaNoWriMo. When I write in November, I have to keep pushing, keep letting the twists happen, and I have to keep writing even when I don’t think the thing makes sense. All three times I have done NaNoWriMo I’ve pushed myself through difficult spots in the novel, spots I would have stalled on or walked differently around had I been working in my traditional pattern, and the work I’ve done during NaNoWriMo has always been the sort of work I know I could never do under non-NaNoWriMo conditions. I’ve tried to replicate it and came close with the draft I’m editing now, but really, there’s nothing that compares to declaring to the whole internet I AM GOING TO WRITE FROM NOV 1 TO NOV 30 NO MATTER WHAT. Every year I’ve paused at some point, and I think at every year I’ve had a point where I’ve almost quit writing, usually citing that I’ve gotten to 50k so technically I’ve won. Every year I panic and think the thing has to be way off the rails, that I’ve blown it, that it just isn’t going to work. Every year it does.
During NaNoWriMo I found the courage to get a solid 2/3 of a story I’d been stalling out on for 3 years. During NaNoWriMo I wrestled through a dark, dark depression and a bone-deep conviction I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. During NaNoWriMo I delved deep into dark places and paved the way for a major protagonist shift which would define not just that novel but pretty much everything I’ve written since. And last year during NaNoWriMo I wrote 93,000 words which were a complete draft of a sequel to the novel from the year before; I’ve yet to be able to get back to that one to polish it up (ostensibly that was the goal for this October, but I fear that’s not going to work now), but I did the kind of work in those thirty days I could normally expect to take ten months to do. This year I intend to write a full draft of another m/m romance, hoping that by the time I finish it, it can be my third novel sold. (I haven’t yet sold two and haven’t sent it in yet, but I am thinking positively.)
There’s a magic to NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if it’s the energy, the public nature of it, the format, or if it’s simply that it’s not my usual method. The rules are that you begin a draft on November 1 and finish by 30 with 50,000 words or more. There’s no revision, no backing up, no erasing. It doesn’t have to be–and shouldn’t be–perfect. You can write alone, or you can join online and/or local writing groups. You can have writing buddies and post excerpts and post "cover art." You can get advice or moral support in the forums, or you can ignore the networking nature of NaNoWriMo entirely. The magic is there however you do it, and I’ve participated in all the ways mentioned above. After hooking up with my local chapter last year, I will always be at the write-ins and local meetings; I love having a local, live writing community, and I love the diversity of it. We have THE best ML, and the Central Iowa Authors simply rock, both in talent and personality. That said, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo even when it was just me and my stats page. However you do NaNo, it’s still NaNo, and it’s always great.
Maybe it’s because for those thirty days you’re so busy you can’t worry about who will buy this or whether or not it makes sense or if you’re "doing it right." Maybe it’s just the intent, the mental space you create by declaring that this month, this time is just for the novel. It helps that so many other people are doing it too, both for energy but also I think for the permission: they are saying, tacitly, "This can be done, and therefore you can do it, too."
NaNoWriMo offers hope. They call themselves the "Office Of Letters And Light" for a reason: these are the people who say, every year, "You can do it. Whoever you are, whatever your limitations, you can write a novel in one month, if you want to. And we’re here to help you do it." Writing, the loneliest profession in the world, the solitary, silent act, suddenly has a herd. The exercise of creating a whole alternate universe that exists between "once upon a time" and "the end" doesn’t just have a cheerleader, it has bar graph to show you how far along you’ve come. All you have to do is show up and make words. No, it isn’t that easy–except in November, when, for thirty days, it is.
So three cheers for NaNoWriMo and all the novelists participating in it, for the first time or the fourth or the tenth. If you’re thinking about participating, I encourage you to do it. If you need a writing buddy, this is me. If you want an LJ forum for a friendly watercooler, this one’s mine, and I encourage you to come on over. But if you want to write a novel, this is the place to start, and this is your moment.
NaNoWriMo is magic, and its greatest gift is that once you participate you realize that you are, too.