Some Thoughts on National Novel Writing Month

Every year for the past nine years, I’ve spent the month of November buried deep in a challenge known as National Novel Writing Month. The goal is simple–write 50,000 words of a novel within 30 days, which averages out to be about 1,667 words per day. Given that I can write around 3,000 words an hour when I can stay focused, this really isn’t as big a challenge as it might appear to be.

The challenge, instead, comes from finding the time–and inspiration–to do it. When I first began participating in 2007, time was not an issue. I was 14 years old, homeschooled, and spent maybe three hours a day on schoolwork–the rest of my time was devoted to reading, writing, volunteering/living at my local library, and otherwise enjoying myself. The first few years of NaNoWriMo were breathless rushes of excitement and euphoria as I easily surpassed the finish line.

When I went to college, many of the people who knew I did NaNoWriMo, and some who learned that I did, thought I was crazy to continue participating. After all, the semester ran through most of November, meaning that I would have to balance classes, homework, work-study, and writing, not to mention my growing social life. It was quite a juggling act those four years, but I managed it, even if sometimes it meant that I spent the last week of November (and sometimes even part of Thanksgiving) pounding away at my keyboard as if my life depended on it.

This year, I spent the month of November traveling to visit friends and family; the novel I worked on, Upgrade, is the sequel to Augment and also the first NaNovel I’ve written completely away from home. Sometimes focus was hard to find, because there were always people to spend time with. Sometimes time was hard to find, for the same reason. Sometimes I simply didn’t know what to write. Maybe I simply work better under the pressure of having no time; regardless, it wasn’t until the second to last day of the month that I finally broke that 50,000 word barrier.

What kept me going, even though at times I felt like writer’s block was this huge, looming monster that I was trying to fend off with a broken toothpick, was the knowledge that I had done this before, that I could do this, and that the story I was telling–a continuation of the story of two characters I really care about–was worth the effort it was taking to put the words down on the page.

Not everything I wrote this month was perfect–probably nothing is. Upgrade will need just as much, if not more, editing than Augment did. But the story is there, hidden under the grime of forced prose and rambling thoughts, and I’m looking forward to cleaning it up for publication next year.

Not all of the novels born during my NaNoWriMo adventures will ever see the light of day. But the important thing is that NaNoWriMo has always reminded me that sometimes you just need to sit down and write, regardless of what it is you are writing. After all, if you don’t write, then you can’t very well call yourself a writer! That’s why, when I hear people arguing for and against NaNoWriMo, I want to tell them to take a deep breath and focus on what they’re writing, not on what other people are writing.

It is up to us to hone our craft, develop our skills with characterization, plot, dialog, and description, in order to find the best way to tell the stories we wish to share, either with ourselves, with close friends and family, or the world. NaNoWriMo isn’t there to give you those skills; it’s there to remind you of the most important thing that a writer can do–sit down, and write.