If you’ve never heard of it before, NaNoWriMo, is short for National Novel Writing Month, also known at November. Also known as the month writers attempt to make themselves even more crazy than they already were, by attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I knew this thing existed. I just never wanted to do it.
Like, seriously. Never wanted to. At all.
But it turned out that one of my friends has done it for years, and she started talking about it, and I was all “I’ll encourage YOU, but I’m not doing it”, and she said, “You should at least sign up on the website so you can be my buddy,” and that is where I made the critical mistake of saying “Yes, I’ll do that, at least.” Because I really like this friend. She has critiqued my longest novel AND helped me butcher and pluck two roosters when she’s never done anything like that before in her life. If that isn’t the mark of a good friend I don’t know what is.
So because of her, I went on the website, and somehow I got caught up in it. Next thing I know I’m dropping the novel I was about 15,000 words from finishing, and over the course of one sleepless night deciding that I would instead write the sequel to a completely different novel instead…one that I hadn’t had even the lick of an idea for, or a plot, or characters. I warned you this NaNo thing makes you crazy.
So here I am, at the end of November, and I have written 50,000 words in 30 days. Actually, in 25 days, because I got completely obsessed with doing this thing. Like I do with almost everything in my life.
Am I glad I did it, and grateful to Reina for asking me (so innocently!) to be her buddy on NaNoWriMo?
Yes. Yes I am.
Will I ever do it again? I doubt it. I learned a long while back that ‘feeling inspired to write’ is meaningless. If you want to write, train your brain to create inspiration on demand by sitting down and writing. 9 times out of 8.9, after you sit for awhile, inspiration will come. And it will come easier and faster, the more you do it. So I already knew the primary thing NaNoWriMo teaches…but I didn’t know that I could push myself this hard and or write these many words, every day. That was valuable. That is the reason I would recommend every writer attempt this at least once.
But by the end of the month, I was a little turned off by the attitude of so many of the people who were doing NaNo. So many of them were…well, they were honestly cheaters. So many were posting on facebook, talking about how they were including all the words they wrote for their grant-writing job as part of their daily word count. Others were writing pages filled with nonsense children’s rhymes, or purposely writing each sentence in the most long-winded and convoluted way possible. Or upping their word count by never using any contractions, ever.
No. This is wrong, and quite honestly, it makes me a little angry. It’s no wonder NaNo novels are so notoriously terrible that many publishers and agents won’t look at any submissions at all right after NaNo. First drafts aren’t going to be perfect, and they can be quite bad, but I can’t even imagine trying to wrestle a novel into shape when you’re spent the whole month trying to make it as terrible as possible…just to get more words in. All I did differently for my NaNo novel was to write more words every day, and write every day. And I didn’t go back and fix plot points that changed as I wrote, or spend any time whatsoever researching online or fussing over names. If I didn’t know a thing, I just made a note and left it for later. And while I’m no where near writing the end of this particular novel (it will probably be around 75-90 thousand words, all told), this first draft no worse than a first draft I took months to write. And that should be the real lesson of NaNoWriMo: that you can write a book, and you don’t have to wait for inspiration, and you can write even when you’re tired, or not in the mood, or just really want to watch the third season of The Crown on Neflix instead. And you don’t have to cheat. Look, I get that many people’s lives are way more complicated than mine. I’m healthy, I don’t have kids, I’m not married, and I have a day job that doesn’t demand much from me. But NaNoWriMo doesn’t have to be 50,000 words, or you fail. It can be writing for however long (or short) a time you have, every day. Just to prove to yourself that inspiration, while delightful to experience, is a hoax, and if you want to, YOU CAN WRITE. You can do this.
I taught a short class the other day about writing and brain-training, and afterwards had a lovely conversation with a middle-aged woman who had always wanted to write, but never had, because she was too intimidated. After our conversation, I told her to go home and write. Two days later, she came back to tell me that she had started writing, and it was exactly how I said it would be: her characters were coming alive for her, and she was having so much fun. She was glowing with happiness. I’m so glad I did that class, and I’m so glad she came.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite bits from my NaNo novel, a fragment of conversation that sent a shiver through me when I wrote it:
His words went through my heart like one of his knives, and the blood that came out was poisoned and dark. “I should be the Queen, shouldn’t I? Not my mother. Not Anissa. Me. In spite of my eyes.”
“Because of your eyes,” he said. He leaned in, speaking directly into my ear, a low whisper of words. “I swear to you, by every cut I have ever made, that you are the Queen of Minos. You will sit on that throne. Whatever I have to do.”
And I believed him.