Seriously, Why Do NaNoWriMo?
It’s not like you actually “win” anything.
By Jennifer Levine
Unless you’re in the thick of it NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is counter-intuitive. After all, writing is a solitary pursuit. It’s more fun to romanticize writers as curmudgeons, holed up in a drafty old house at the end of a driveway, miles off the beaten path. But on any given night in November, you can find twenty or so reasonably well-mannered adults, calling themselves writers, in a Panera chatting happily over their laptops. It makes no sense.
And yet, every year, these seemingly mentally stable people emerge from their caves, in a manner similar to the venerable ground hog, to form a hive as they attempt to write the first draft of a 50,000-word novel (roughly the length of The Great Gatsby) in 30 days.
To truly grasp why we do NaNoWriMo, you must first understand the two critical things we get out of participating in an event that is at once a marathon and a sprint.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Writers are drama queens. We have imaginative, sometimes fantastical worlds floating around in our heads. Putting these ideas on a piece of paper is tantamount to climbing Everest. We agonize every word. We debate character names ad nauseum. We even question ribbon colors in our protagonist’s hair. Trust me on this, if you are second guessing ribbon colors on page 56 of your novel, I absolutely guarantee you will not make the 1667 daily word count needed to “win” NaNoWriMo.
Lesson Number 1: Writer Unblocked! We learn very quickly to let go. The adage ‘every first draft ever written sucks’ is true. And, as a writer, you can debate the color of the ribbon in the second or third draft or realize it may not be as important a detail as it seemed when you were first stuck.
Move along, this is not the ribbon you are looking for. Yes, the lesson is a powerful one.
To survive NaNoWriMo you learn to open up your veins and bleed on the page. Everything, including typos, can and will be fixed in later drafts. For now, the important thing is to get your ideas out on the proverbial paper.
Lesson Number 2: Acceptance Feels Good! A great awakening happens during NaNoWriMo. Writers gather around tables for a free flowing exchange of ideas. The conversation will jump from a pair of elves in a great hall saving the crown jewels to a hippie hitchhiking along Big Sur in the late 60s. Our brains thrive in this creative stew. We dig into the spiritual motivation of the elves or what kind of shoes the hippie wore without missing a beat.
Writers like being appreciated for the odd bits of arcane knowledge we’ve picked up over time. If you’ve ever looked at a writer’s Google search history it looks like we could be schizophrenic with a severe case of ADHD. But for the most part we have been socialized well and keep our mouths in check at dinner parties. At write-ins, however, we are with our people. We don’t judge the writer working on a paranormal romance set in a sci-fi world. We ask how he came up with the idea.
NaNoWriMo also has a quirky insiders terminology. The biggest of which are the writing groups: “Plotters” and “Pantsers.” As different as the two styles of writing are we still respect and learn from each other. “Pantsers” learn that outlines and plot points will bring needed structure to their novel. While “Plotters” learn the complete reckless abandon of a “Pantser” can be freeing.
Now you’re ready to level-up, NaNoWriMo.org is a treasure trove of writing support. With a base of knowledge worthy of an MFA, the support we get is practically endless. We have access to vast resources from forums on the main web site, to word sprints on Facebook and Twitter, to frequent live streams, and of course local write-ins and meet-ups. The camaraderie of an international fraternity of writers is icing on the proverbial cake.
A “win” is difficult. Twenty percent or so of the writers who embark on this quest make it to the finish line with 50,000 words in thirty days. But win or lose, you’ve developed important habits which are needed if you are to become a dedicated writer. Writing daily and the ability to let that first draft flow freely are absolutely essential lessons to learn. Best of all, you get the added bonus of picking up some friends along the way.
Jennifer Levine has an unusual obsession with coffee, a natural prerequisite for becoming a writer. Being the kind of person who jumps into the deep end, Jen began her fiction writing career by entering NaNoWriMo, a yearly writing marathon with the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Summer Secrets is a product of that contest. You can follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenji FB: https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.levine1 or at her web site which includes her blog on the journey to become a writer: http://www.jenniferlevineauthor.com.
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