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NaNoWriMo: Why It’s a Good Idea

One month. Fifty thousand words. No problem, right? Right. Even with a major holiday involving family, stress, traveling and other distractions, you can do this. It’s November. So it’s time for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing a 50k word book in the month of November.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo a couple of times. The first time I wrote one and a half novels. I didn’t realize it was one and a half until after the deadline passed, it just turned out that way. I have this horrible habit of writing long. My chapters are long. My manuscripts are long. Even client work runs long the first time out. Maybe even the second. Things like that don’t change during NaNoWrimo. In fact, it’s easier to write long than short. It’s a known fact. There’s even an oft-disputed quote about a writer apologizing for writing a long letter because he had no time to write a shorter one. The quote is attributed to everyone from Blaise Pascal (the supposed original author) to Mark Twain and beyond.

Luckily the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to write short or concise. It is just to write. Freely. Robustly. Wildly. With abandon. There’s no room for a critic or editor when you’re facing a 50k deadline in 30 short days. There’s no time for second glances or even much thought. The challenge is to fill pages with words in some semblance of a story, knowing you can fix it all later.

NaNoWriMo is about the creative side of writing, not the rewriting that follows. Let the editing wait for another time. When you are in the crush of word counts, you needn’t waste time with worries or trimming. Write, and write long. It’s perfect for me.

The best part of the challenge is the freedom to write without reservations. It’s the joy of NaNoWriMo. The pace forces you to let go of the critical inner voice that scolds word choice and sentence structure. The one that keeps you up at night with worries your characters aren’t sympathetic or likable enough. The only thing that matters in the heat of the challenge is stringing words together in novel form or the closest approximation you can manage. It’s a glorious experience watching the counter move toward the final goal and feeling the adrenalin flow when the counter stalls or falls behind schedule. There’s nothing like it.

As you can tell, I highly recommend trying NaNoWriMo at least once. More if you can. The first time I did it, I’d never done long form fiction before. I learned a lot those 30 days. I learned “pantsing” is not for me. I learned I needed tighter story arcs if I ever wanted to write a normal (read: publishable) sized book. And I learned setting strict goals helps keep my hands moving on the keys.

Writing a novel is a different experience than any other writing I’ve done. It’s challenging and rewarding and I love it. I never want to give it up. NaNoWriMo let me figure that out. After so many years writing for others, it was amazing to write for myself. Now I’ll admit that first effort has been shoved aside on my laptop and archived, likely never to be resurrected. But the value of that first attempt was not in the resulting manuscript, but in what I learned about my strengths and weaknesses as a novel writer. I learned more in those few days than I would have on my own in a longer time frame.

If you are on the fence about trying it, stop thinking and sign up. Yes, it’s tough. Yes, it’s time-consuming. Yes, it will keep you up at night and drive you nuts at times. But it is so worth it in the end. Even if you don’t end up with something book-shaped in the end, you will have learned as a writer and gotten some great practice pounding the keys.

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