“What is NaNoWriMo?” some of you may be asking. It’s “National Novel Writing Month”. A writing challenge that runs every November, the challenge being that starting no earlier than the 1st of the month, you write a novel of at least fifty thousand words. It started back in 1999 with 21 participants and last year had 200,000. It’s certainly tapped into a massive amount of frustrated creativity out there.
Check out more about it here. Terrible Minds also has a post 25 things you should know about NaNoWriMo. And in a previous Internet life I wrote an article about it myself called Why NaNoWriMo is not about Writing.
So what has NaNoWriMo done for me? I was already writing when I first did NaNoWriMo in 2006. I’d been regularly writing fan fiction since late 2003, including novella length and earlier in 2006, a novel length fanfic. So I did already have a lot of writing under my belt. I’d already written a novel drafted it, finished it and edited it. So what was the challenge for me aside from the tight timescale? Well that November was the first time I wrote an original novel, not fanfic. I had no clue if I’d be able to pull it off, or what I’d do with the thing afterwards, but I figured it was fun to have a go. Especially as I was part of a little group of fellow writers or aspiring writers all doing it together.
It went well. It went great in fact. I wrote a novel called Shoot the Humans First. Military sci-fi, with huge dollops of homo-erotic tension. (No obvious market for that! It certainly wasn’t m/m romance. There was no sex and there sure as hell was no HEA!) I wrote fast, faster than the 1,667 words minimum for the day and I hit 50K on the 19th of November. And on the 25th I reached the end of the story at 62,595 words. Yes, that number is etched on my brain! I was well chuffed. I was somewhat amazed I’d managed to write so fast – especially as that included a weekend away from home. (I didn’t even have a netbook or laptop back then either, but I did have a rather nifty little folding keyboard that went with my Palm PDA.)
I think I managed to go so fast because of the deadline and the competition. NaNoWriMo is a challenge rather than a contest (the only prize is your novel) but there are elements of competition there. Competing with friends, competing with random strangers who happen to be at a similar word count and going at around the same pace as you… Yes, a person from Hawaii was my random nemesis in 2007. She helped me get to 75k that year and never knew it! I try to be fairly laid back most of the time, but the smallest whiff of competition and I get the red mist in the eyes. I think it’s a family trait. We’ve played some very intense games of Trivial Pursuit, I can tell you.
Anyway, it was fun, but it was also a turning point. I did a lot of thinking after that and decided I was going to at least step onto the road of trying to become a published writer. I didn’t try to get Shoot the Humans First published – though I did edit it later and put it on my website. I didn’t even switch from fanfic to original at that point. But I did start to treat writing more seriously. It was still a hobby, but it was a hobby that I worked at becoming better at and learning more about.
For a couple more years after that my writing was still primarily fanfic – because it’s a good way to get a lot done and feedback to learn from – but I almost always did original for NaNoWriMo. In fact the one year I did a fanfic – in 2009 – it didn’t go well and I only managed to finish through sheer bloody mindedness. Being a competitive person I upped the ante the second and third year, getting 75k in 2007 and 100k in 2008 (I don’t recommend the latter. I was a basket case after it.)
So NaNoWriMo has been part of what I think of as my apprenticeship. All the books I did for it I didn’t just write and trunk, I revised them and edited them and put them on my website. I considered that all part of my training, following through and bringing them to completion. Everything I learnt in the hobby years is standing me in good stead now.
NaNoWriMo worked for me. I’ve done it five times and am doing it this year too. I don’t have anything to prove any more, but something about the event has the effect of making me more disciplined than normal and write faster than normal. Since I get this effect why waste it? I harness it and put a rocket boost under my productivity – something I feel in need of right now, after a bad September, though October is going well.
It doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me and I have to credit it with starting me along the path to becoming a published writer. Even though neither of my books published so far are NaNo books, they got written thanks to lessons I’ve learned doing NaNo.