I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (affectionately called NaNo) since 2007, a memorable year in which I distracted myself from my horrifically soul-sucking job by ignoring my duties and writing a cheesy romance novel. It was messy and poorly planned (I believe I may have started late that year), but it was also the first time I’d really tried to write a long story. The experience was stressful and terrifying and incredible.
NaNo is a sort of lurking beast in my life—it’s always somewhere in my mind throughout the year—but it’s a beast I’ve fallen in love with. The best thing about NaNo is that it is all about process and journey. We operate in a world where there is an emphasis on product that can be borderline paralyzing. This mentality is actually the biggest reason I see people drop out of or talk themselves out of participating in NaNo.
The thing about NaNo is that while it is goal-oriented (word count), there isn’t anyone waiting at “the finish line.” You can’t really get it wrong. The purpose of NaNo is to get people writing—to create productivity, to encourage creativity, to push people out of comfort zones, and to foster positive feelings. I can’t stress that enough. NaNo is meant to make us feel good! We’ve tried something new. We’ve pushed past our comfort zones. We’ve been creative. Yay!
That right there, new friend, is all you need. Sure, it’s immensely gratifying to make it to that 50k words. But honestly, the NaNo that really feels like my greatest achievement was 2008, when I wrote 2000 words. Total. Because I had a one-month-old baby and sleep was a distant dream. But damn. I wrote 2000 words of a story I hadn’t planned with a one-month-old baby. That has win all over it.
In sum, you can do it. What it is can be totally up to you. What I love most about NaNo is the camaraderie. Friendships made, creativity spurred, and that feeling of “Wow, I didn’t think I had that in me.” Are you sort of on the fence? Come find me. I’ll convince you, and no matter where your journey goes, I’ll cheerlead the crap out of your journey, because it is all always valuable.
My NaNo success tips (tailor or ignore these at will):
Find an accountability buddy: Whether this is online or in person. Having someone to talk to, to motivate you, to keep you accountable to your personal goals has been so vital to my success every year.
Work in writing sprints: I do these with my buddy. We sit down—online, we aren’t in the same place— and either set a small word goal or a time limit (something totally manageable, like 20-45 minutes). We don’t talk or allow ourselves to do anything else. It’s just time to write. I find it super effective.
Set manageable goals: What time do you write best? How can you utilize your time? Are you goal- or deadline-oriented or not? I personally love making a spreadsheet. I have a daily word goal (1667 words per day for 30 days=win). My spreadsheet includes my total words as I go and also tells me how far ahead or behind I am. This is good because then I can plan for days when I won’t be writing, but can also allot time in the days ahead to catch up.
Be forgiving: Do not allow this to become a time or exercise where you beat yourself up. I cannot stress enough that this is supposed to be fun! Give yourself rewards! Celebrate your success on social media. Buy yourself chocolate.
Interested in signing up or checking things out? Check out their website. There are a ton of resources there, including information on meetings and write-a-thons in your area. There are discussion boards for almost everything, including research help and genre specific information. And you can find buddies. Buddies are good!