Seven Reasons Why I Love National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo)

On November 1, my friend Sarah Rodriguez Pratt posted a note to say that she hates National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).

I gasped. It had to be a typo.My sweet, Jackie-O lookalike friend in the sassy peacock dress had just sprouted two green heads with fangs that threatened to puncture my little NaNo heart. I hurried to read it. In the end, I didn’t hate her for it, but I had an overwhelming urge to respond.

Sarah ultimately admits that NaNo can be life changing (whew!) but worries that the craft of writing is lost in the rush and crush of words.  I get that, but here’s a little more perspective from my side of the laptop, and seven great reasons (in my humble opinion) to love NaNoWriMo.

1.    You have the motivation of a deadline.

If you’re one of those people who honors commitment and follows through, there’s no better motivation than a looming deadline. You know going into the month exactly how many words you’ll need to write each day to cross the 50,000-word finish line on November 30 at 11:59 pm. You’ll know where you are in the race at every mile marker.

2.    It’s a chance to put duct tape across the inner editor’s mouth.

I’ve written hundreds of articles, two nonfiction books, and three novels. I know from experience there’s nothing more distracting than an obnoxious inner editor who second-guesses every word choice, critiques grammar and punctuation, and questions the plot. Because of NaNo’s urgent need for a steady supply of words, it’s finally possible to ditch your inner editor, saying, “This is just for one month. It’s all in good fun.” At this point, my inner editor tunes out and waits for a more serious moment to chime in, and I’m guessing yours will too. For once, you’re free to write with abandon.

3.    There are no excuses.

If you’re participating in NaNo and have visited the official NaNoWriMo website  you’ll know that during the month of November, you have explicit permission to let dust accumulate in the house, let the laundry pile up, and eat take-out. You can also consume copious amounts of sugar and caffeine, secure in the knowledge that your typing fingers will burn off any extra calories along the way. Or, to put it another way, NaNo is a state of mind: this month, writing comes first.

4. The camaraderie.

Being part of NaNo is like suddenly connecting with 276,908 people playing on the same team. You have a common goal, and you can hook up with writing buddies online, read posts from your local WriMo leaders, and show up at local write-ins to urge each other on. Last year, I timidly crept into Java Joe’s in Santa Fe, NM to participate in my very first write in, and ended the month with a supportive group of friends who continued to meet to write all year long. Yes, we often sat at a long table in the coffee shop, typing away and ignoring each other. But, we also gave each other a safe space to write and challenged each other to word wars that could garner an extra 1,000 words in just 15 minutes. This year, I’m in Austin and I’m setting up write-in camp on Sunday afternoons at Lakeway’s Lola Savannah. I’m looking forward to meeting my other intrepid NaNo adventurers and cheering them on.

5. You have permission to experiment.

I’m an obsessive planner by nature. Maybe it’s a Virgo thing, but in the past, I’ve been utterly lost without detailed outlines and character sketches. Last year, after reading Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, I decided that just for NaNo (just for fun!) I was willing to give his approach a try. He begins every story with a situation, and lets things evolve from there. For the first time, I gave myself permission to experiment. After all, it was just 30 days, right? I started the month armed with little more than one character from a dream and a situation, and I can honestly say I’ve never had so much fun writing. My character and I eventually traveled through time, fought the bad guys, and found love. And although I started this year’s project with a bit of hand-wringing, I’m learning to trust the process. Good things are happening all over again.

6. There’s finally something to edit.

You’ll never have anything to edit until you get that first draft onto the page. If NaNo is the magic trick that turns ideas into words, and words into polished drafts, then NaNo is time well spent! Yes, you actually have to spend the time after NaNo to edit, polish, and take your novel to the next level. And yes, you’ll have to stretch that sense of commitment beyond the 30 days of NaNo; but if you’re in love with your story, it’s worth it.

7. Confidence.

Whether you’re walking over hot coals, running a marathon, or writing 50,000 words in 30 days, there’s no better feeling in the world than the joy of saying, “I did it!” That kind of success inspires confidence that lights every corner of your life. So whether you spend your days working with a hammer, changing dirty diapers, or staring at a computer screen, writing can still build a bridge of confidence that reaches far beyond the page.

The NaNo experience is different for everyone. You can tackle the NaNo challenge for just one month and let it go, or you can use that time to forge new habits and jumpstart your writing career. NaNo might be like a New Year’s resolution that fades after February 1; but instead, you may discover that the tiny spark in you that wants to be a writer suddenly burns as bright as a bonfire by the time November 30 rolls around. NaNoWriMo ultimately does make you a better writer, not because you wrote for 30 days and became a literary superhero, but because you wrote.

Good luck to all 2013 WriMos! See you at the finish!

P.S. I want to say Thank You to  Sarah for the inspiration, and congrats on her recently-published young-adult novel. Don’t miss Choose Your Weapon, the first in the Helen Hollingsworth trilogy!




Leave a Reply