Every November, millions of people write as many words as they can in an attempt to form their very own novel. They find the time between work, school, family, holidays and sometimes life in general, to attempt to reach 50,000 words. Many of them succeed in the first day, and many of them blast past the measly 50,000 and write so much more in the entire month. Since it started in July 1999, NaNoWriMo has been going strong. I’ve been participating since 2009 and I absolutely love it.
But what exactly is NaNoWriMo, and why do so many people participate?
NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a non-profit, mostly website run event by the Office of Letters and Light, that takes place in the month of November. Every year, the goal is to reach 50,000 words in any way possible, whether writing stories, a full length novel, or anything else with words on a page. While there are some rules and regulations, it is mostly a self based challenge, and goes by the honor code when counting daily word counts, until it is actually validated. The event may only last for the month of November, but the website and all of the great resources on the website (the forums, the profiles, the shop and many other goodies) stay up all year.
There are several other programs run by the Office of Letters and Light, such as Camp NaNoWrimo and Script Frenzy (while the website is no longer up, it does continue in the forums). The events are hosted usually in the summer months and occasionally April as well. There is a website but the parent is the NaNoWriMo site.
Why is NaNo important?
I have been a writer for most of my life, but I haven’t always taken it totally serious until recent years. I wrote all through middle school and high school with no problems, but when I started college in 2009, I felt like I lost my writing mojo. I couldn’t find any serious ideas and I suffered from the worst kind of writer’s block. Every piece I started just felt like crap. I had just come off finishing the longest novel I had ever written at just under 500 pages, a great script I had written over the summer, and I felt like my writing talent had just fizzled out, like I had used it up and it would never come back. I was depressed and in the biggest writing funk of my life.
And then I found out about NaNoWriMo.
I first found out about NaNo in September or October of that year, and I signed up almost as soon as I found the website. I didn’t have a novel yet, but by the time November rolled around, I knew I would. I ended up writing a rewrite of the novel I had started in 2008 and that was a good honest first effort. I did not win, or even get close to 50,000, but the lessons it taught me and the fun I had writing only caring about the quantity instead of the quality, was well worth the effort.
NaNo is so important because unlike every other writing challenge, it doesn’t care about the beauty of the words, just that there are words. This transition was tricky at first, because I was so used to being a perfectionist before, and even in my first attempt. I edited a lot during that first NaNo and that was why I didn’t get as far. NaNo focuses more on the act of actual writing rather than the act of polishing your writing for something better. NaNo knows that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect and that it’s ok for it to suck.
I have continued to compete in NaNoWriMo every year since 2009 and to be honest, I don’t think I will ever stop. There is just something about having an idea and writing those words and sentences and paragraphs down that make up that idea without caring if they make sense that is just so freeing. Sure, sometimes I look back and make a disgusted face, or actually cringe at some of my word phrasing and choices, but it’s all in good fun, and is by no means permanently stuck in one way or another. Edits can always come later, just after November.
There are some naysayers out there that think NaNoWriMo is stupid, or a waste of time and that people should be reading books instead of writing them, and that December is terrible because people send off their unedited NaNo novels to publishers. I have to say, I honestly don’t understand it. It’s not like it’s out to hurt people or that it’s going to sully the act of writing. Just because people are writing new books doesn’t mean yours will be magically unpublished or cease to exist. People will still read books, even if they are writing their own. As far as the argument that December is terrible because people send their unedited works and that NaNoWriMo is the cause is a really bad excuse. I don’t think I know anyone who would send their NaNo off the first of December because most of them aren’t even finished by then. Blaming NaNoWriMo for something that it isn’t responsible for is backhanded and rude.
I actually had someone say to me when I told them about NaNo “That’s stupid. I would rather focus on quality and write a great piece instead of quantity and have crap.” If that technique works for you and you want to focus on quality words, great! Why are you putting down any method of writing? The result is the same whether you write one word a day or a thousand, you have words on a page. NaNo is just a way to break past the block of “What if my words aren’t good enough?” and finally finish something for once.
There will always be people who don’t want to see people succeed, or who don’t want to see people have fun in writing. I say, why not do it? It’s not going to hurt if you try. If you hate it, I’m sorry, maybe writing under pressure isn’t your thing. If you like it, that’s awesome!
So I want you all to do two things for me:
I hope to see you this November!
Note: If you do sign up, be my writing buddy: Here
What are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo?