What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

In November 2004 I attempted my first writing marathon … National Novel Writing Month. Every year between November 1st and 30th, crazy writers accept the challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel.

Chris Baty hatched NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 21 aspiring novelists accepting the challenge. Six of them crossed the finish line.

In 2007, 101,510 writers took the challenge and 15,333 finished. A total of—and this is a REALLY big number—1,187,931,929 words were logged.

In 2017, 306,230 writers participated. Crikey!

There have been at least 25 published NaNoWriMo authors, including Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS, one of my very favorite books of all time! Here are some more. Maybe you’ll be on that list in a few years.

But only if you accept the challenge, Grasshopper.

Why, you ask, would I subject myself not once, not twice, but three times to this type of chained-to-your-desk-butt-numbing-highly-caffeinated torture? Simple. To write. To get it done. To learn. To create a habit.

Having survived, I highly recommend this peculiar approach to kick-start a stalled project or to silence your inner-editor or to give yourself a shove right over the Niagara Falls of your creativity.

I learned to plant my hindquarters in my chair for extended periods of time. It seems obvious, but the obvious truths are often the very ones we overlook. If I’m not in front of my keyboard, it’s guaranteed that no writing will take place. But if I’m sitting, fingers poised, I will write.

I learned the importance of an organized plan of attack. I knew how many days, hours, and minutes I had available to write. I knew how many words I needed. I had access to a calculator, a 40-cup coffee hypodermic, and the pizza delivery guy. My plan was born.

I learned how to write faster and better. When quantity matters more than quality, I learned to stop editing myself along the way. Something magical happened when I ignored my dictionary, thesaurus, and style manual. I was free to write creatively instead of correctly. My word choices broadened in direct proportion to how far behind I was on my word count that day. Instead of using a boring placeholder word like quickly, I found myself using a more colorful phrase like in a jiffy or as fast as a pig going downhill on roller skates. What a bonus to count all the extra words!

I also learned it doesn’t matter whether I’m cranky, sad, angry, tired or hungry. Nobody can tell my state of mind based on my writing. Now I know I never have to put off writing until I’m in a better mood. As a bonus, I learned that writing always puts me in a better mood.

I learned the importance of good health. Sitting and writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. I had to take time to exercise and stretch every day. I had to protect my fingers, forearms, neck and eyeballs constantly. I also flossed more often than normal, but in retrospect that probably had more to do with stalling.

I learned my household would not fall apart if I focus on an all-consuming project. Thanksgiving dinner is just as enjoyable with Stove Top as it is with homemade chestnut-blue cheese stuffing. My kids, in fact, say it’s more enjoyable. Go figure. Laundry will not topple over and suffocate us while we sleep, field trip forms will get signed in a timely manner, and the Health Department will not need to visit.

So, if you’ve been considering writing a novel, or you just need your butt kicked, dive into National Novel Writing Month in November. Take a couple of days, make some notes, research a location for your setting, sketch your characters, and maybe rent an industrial-sized coffee pot.

Let me know how it turns out. Never mind. I know how it’ll turn out. It’ll be crappy. Oh, so joyfully crappy. Mold it, bend it, curse at it, delight in it.

You’ve won!

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?

4 thoughts on “What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

  1. KJ Scrim

    “I also flossed more often than normal, but in retrospect that probably had more to do with stalling.” This made me laugh out loud. I have a pristine kitchen when I’m doing writing marathons.

    I’m attempting NaNo this year. I made an attempt in 2013 but failed. This year? I’ll let you know on December 1 – or whenever I come out from under my writing recovery blanket.

    Reply
  2. Claudia Rouge

    WOW, thanks to this – and you – I just had a big memory trip down Julie Ann Peters Lane.
    I was trying to remember the year I did NaNoWriMo. I knew it was pre-FB, so there would be no help searching there. I eventually remembered it was thanks to JAP’s blog that I was inspired to try it. So in my head I’m thinking that (like texts), there is a place in the email on my computer where I can just type in her name and all our communiques will magically appear. Not exactly, but close. Sure enough, I found a folder titled JAP. Here is one thing I found to Julie from me:

    Glad to hear your writing is going welllllll.
    I, on the other hand, (thanks to you and the nanowrimo) have written 10942 words of crap. That’s all there is time for–especially if you are behind. Yes, there will be plenty of time to edit later…if I don’t just chuck the whole thing. Yes, I am learning discipline and what I am capable of, and for that I am grateful.
    And that I need a better chair.

    There is more hilarity, but my question was answered. The year was 2006.

    Reply

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