Just the other month, November of 2019, I participated in my third year of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write 50k words in one month — the equivalent to writing the first draft of a novel. Hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels have been published including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.
Although it was started in 1999 with the intention to encourage and support aspiring writings to complete that novel sitting on the shelf of your mind collecting dust, it has since grown into so much more —including an entire community, mentorships, training, and resources.
I started my first year with absolutely no idea what I was doing or what to expect. I was just excited to have an opportunity to have a valid reason to start drafting a novel, something I wanted to do but was putting off for a multitude of reasons. A pantser is the term given to someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything or plan very little, and that is exactly what I was. I had no preparation, no plans, no map to guide me along the way. I was just in for the ride.
By the end of the thirty days I had achieved the 50k goal! It was exhilarating, it was exhausting and it was…… disappointing. I now had a patchworked novel of chapters, each piece a completely different pattern, texture, and size strung together only by the thread of being dubbed a novel by my intention. While some are artists of patchwork aesthetic, I am not and resembled more of a second grader’s collage of their favorite things. I was dejected but also realized I had already gained valuable insight into the writing process and into myself. I vowed to make this just my first stop along a long journey and continue on.
I approached the second-year with a complete 180-degree turn. I was ready, I had been preparing for at least a full month and had a full notebook of ideas, a roadmap, and a precise schedule. I had now become a plotter — someone who plans out their novel before they write it. I was fully armed with an arsenal to attack my novel and prevent the same disaster from happening.
At the end of that November, I had once again completed the 50k goal. The result this time….. was dreadful. Sure there was a linear connection and common theme, but I was writing just to fill in the words for each section and connect one piece to the other. There was absolutely no substance and certainly no creativity or flavor. In trying to avoid the same catastrophe as the year before I had just created an equal tragedy by just another name.
I refused to give up. Ok, I might have given up at (a few) points along the way in the months to follow, but I was never down for the count. But as they say, “third time’s a charm” right? This last year I tried a completely different approach. Instead, I didn’t try to write anything of a semblance of a novel. I used daily prompts (inspired by word sprint prompts on a NaNo related twitter account) and used my time to reach my daily word count just writing segments. These were all stand-alone pieces of content whose only relation to each other was that they were neighbors in my Scrivener folder.
Although I learned and grew a LOT from my participation in the event each year, I felt that this was by far the most productive and enriching experience. I learned that by shedding the expectation to produce a novel, I was able to focus on my writing itself.
In the end, I had 30 pieces of work to edit, to examine and dissect my strengths and weaknesses from. I had practice writing different styles and generated a plethora of ideas. I had developed the habit of sitting down and writing daily without pressure but also without waiting or being encouraged by a muse or inspiration —both of which are equally important at different points.
Even more importantly? I was left with a feeling of eagerness, enthusiasm and a strong positive sense of conviction towards writing this year.
If you aren’t familiar with NaNo, I highly suggest checking out their website or following one of their many social media accounts on your preferred platform. Even more, I strongly encourage everyone, whether your writing is a hobby, passion or career aspiration and whether you are a novice or seasoned give NaNoWriMo a whirl next November. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up with an epic story to tell!