It’s well into that time of the year again. Bloodshot eyes. Caffeine-induced jitters. Frantic fingers flying across the keyboard as if life itself depends on it. Ah, yes. It’s the unmistakable time of NaNoWriMo.
Let’s back up for a minute.
What is NaNoWriMo ? In short, National Novel Writing Month is an open challenge to all writers to scribble down 50,000 words in 30 days, and takes place during the cosy month of November. It’s designed with pushing your limits in mind. Shannon Hale puts what I would describe NaNoWriMo as perfectly into words;
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
Having tried the challenge for two consecutive years thus far, I can confidently say that it is the push I may not have wanted, but needed. Was it easy? No. Was it disheartening at times? Yes. Did I question myself as a writer? Many a time.
But it has strengthened my confidence as a writer more than anything else. It’s the one thing that made me believe that I can write a novel. Once you believe that you can, the fun begins…
Here are 10 things that may happen when you attempt to write a whole novel in 30 days;
#1 Recognize Your Limitations, Break Them
So you sit down on Day 1 of NaNo and you are suddenly riddled with crippling self-doubt. Not to worry, assuming that doesn’t totally scare you off and you run to join the circus, your sheer human will does overcome it and you will bravely type the very first words of your novel.
A 30-day challenge means you can’t afford the luxury of walking around for days on end, trying to come up with the perfect first sentence. So you scribble down something semi-suitable. You’ll fix it later, you know that, and move upward and onward.
Hold up a minute, did you hear that sweet, beautiful sound?
It’s the sound of your own limitations shattering. Just. Like. That. Remember, the writing doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get written.
#2 Practice Makes Perfect
The challenge calls for writing every day. That means the more you write, the better your writing will be. That is the simple truth. Ever looked back at something you wrote years, or even months ago, and cringe? Every day that you write brings you closer to establishing your own unique voice and your writing reaching new depths.
#3 Writing Becomes Habit
When you make it a point to write every day as you do with NaNo, you make the ritual of writing itself a habit. Like clean eating or exercise, the ritual of getting up in the morning to prepare a meal or go to the gym becomes ingrained. Your body and mind become accustomed to getting up and writing, or settling down for the evening to write a chapter or two. This is the single most important piece of advice given to any writer by successful and loved authors like J.K. Rowling, she’s said;
“Be ruthless about protecting writing days.”
“Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.”
This is something that NaNoWriMo indadvertedly teaches you, and it’s in your hands to continue to make it a part of your schedule, even if that means you must give things up just to write.
#4 Writing Creates Habit
With any ritual, there comes various add-on rituals. Many drink coffee or tea, or even a glass of wine. Some rely on the strength of baked goodies, or health-conscious green smoothies. The point here being is that when participating in NaNo, you’ll come to know your own pillars of strength and what aids your writing much quicker. These rituals will be there well after the 30 days are over.
#5 Support Of Your Loved Ones
Writing a whole novel in a month is no easy feat. For you, or for the people you surround yourself with. You will quickly learn who’s friendship only goes so far, or who’s patience and understanding goes the extra mile.
#6 Setting Small Goals Throughout
Awarding yourself for things like passing the 1,000 word mark in a day, will greatly boost your confidence. Programs like Scrivener let you set a word count for your writing session and notify you when you’ve reached it with a pop-up and a ping. During the rush of NaNo, it may feel greatly satisfying to complete smaller goals in between to aid in getting to your ultimate goal, which may also help for it not to feel as daunting.
# 7 A Sense Of Community
The beauty of doing a widespread challenge like this, is that you already have a whole community to welcome you in being a part of it. To put it into perspective, in 1999 NaNoWriMo started with 21 people, and 2016 NaNoWriMo had around 380,000 participants. It becomes collaborative and a lot less lonely to be a part of something like this, when normally writing is considered mostly a solitary activity.
Communities within Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook become stems of support and ample vessels of inspiration as you navigate through turbulent writing waters. The NaNoWriMo website itself, has stories of success, advice from well-known authors, and the ability to interact with fellow NaNoWriMoers.
#8 Build On What You Learn
Each time you participate in challenges like NaNoWriMo, you build on what you learned previously and it becomes that much simpler to visualize the end goal. This year, you may learn to trust your story and characters and where they are going, next year you will take what you’ve learned and let it flow without questioning why your characters are doing what they are doing or why the sudden plot-twist. And then you will learn something new to add to your growing knowledge of the craft.
#9 Create Your Own Challenge
Challenging yourself doesn’t have to stop once the 30 days are up. The beauty of beginning with NaNoWriMo is that you find yourself wanting to mimic the challenge or challenges like it, all-year round. This is when your writing habits come full-circle and you begin to really see the value in participating.
#10 Even If You Don’t Finish
You reach for the stars, but land somewhere amongst rooftops. It’s still higher than the starting ground-point, and that is all that matters. You quickly learn that writing a book is not a walk in the park, you are faced with challenges you didn’t anticipate and you overestimated your abilities. And it’s okay. You want to know why? Because NaNoWriMo isn’t about winning. It is about the invaluable lessons you learn throughout. You discover what you love to write about, that much quicker. You discover what you need to improve on, that much quicker. You will feel you have won, regardless.
NaNoWriMo is about building a foundation for your writing habits, discovering your interests, and finding your own voice, if nothing else. As with anything in life, it takes a passion and an outlet to create something. It also doesn’t hurt to know that hundreds of published novels (amongst them, a fan favourite; Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell), started out as NaNo projects.
NaNoWriMo may be almost over for this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a challenge for yourself or try one of these challenges;
Book in a Week: Write a novel in the first week of each month.
Camp NaNoWriMo: Takes place in the month of July, and is considered the “light” version of NaNoWriMo.
JuNoWriMo: Write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of June.
OctPoWriMo: Write 31 poems in October.