If you are a writer, then you should be participating in NaNoWriMo.
I know, it’s a lot to ask. 50,000 words in a month is a big goal. Not everyone has the time, not everyone wants to, not everyone even thinks it’s worthwhile. Plus, November’s already started– it’s too late, right? The list goes on.
But hear me out. In my opinion, even if you file yourself under one of the above reasons not to, it doesn’t matter. Do it anyway. Here are my reasons why the benefits of participating in NaNoWriMo outweigh the negatives.
1. It’s exciting. As many writers do, I write and care a lot. I care about my word choices, my punctuation, whether other people will like what I’ve written–it’s stressful. But every year in November, things change. There isn’t time to think or second guess myself. It’s more like pouring my subconsciousness onto the page than writing. Think of it as sledding down a giant hill. There are some rough patches, but overall it’s hard to stop. Once you’ve got to the bottom, maybe you’ve gotten something out of it, maybe you haven’t, but it was worth the ride.
2. It makes you a better writer, for several different reasons. First of all, 50,000 words is a lot of practice. As far as I know, no one has ever achieved writing perfection, so no matter how much time you spend writing, you’ll always improve. Second, I believe that our best writing is done when we’re not really thinking about it and just writing. NaNoWriMo gives a lot of practice with the “just write” thing, and when you’ve done it once, it’s easier the second time. Third, it’s a very long lesson in time cramming and will power. I’m not a very organized person. I struggle to find time to do anything I love. And when I do, I tend to be unhelpful to myself and read a book instead. NaNoWriMo doesn’t let me do that. The notion that time is running out forces me to not just wait for spare time, but to make it happen. And, in my opinion, learning how to make it happen is the first step to a successful life.
And if you feel like reaping the benefits and growing your writer brain even more, set yourself a goal of writing in an unusual style. Last year I wrote a novel in 1st person, present tense. I also wondered if I could write a complete story arc that happened over 24 hours. It worked very nicely. This year I’m writing in a genre that I’ve so far failed at–realism. Last time I tried, a vampire snuck in at around the third chapter… yup, totally realistic.
3. Big goals can be broken down into little goals. Maybe this is an obvious point, but as humans with our abnormally large prefrontal cortices, we think too much. We like to focus on the end goal–the outcome–to remind ourselves that we’re getting somewhere worthwhile. This usually has the tendency to scare us into thinking that the end goal is unreachable. This is especially true of 50,000 words and one month. So don’t think of it like that. Think of it as 1,667 words and 30 days. I’ve found that one long-ish scene is about a thousand words. So if you write two scenes a day with plenty of dialogue or action, you’ll actually find yourself ahead.
4. Rules are meant to be broken. Okay, everyday rules aren’t, but writing rules are. Some people will probably disagree with me, and it’s true that there are a few rule-like things that make a novel good, but it doesn’t really matter. Especially in NaNoWriMo. You don’t even have to write a novel if you don’t want to. Write poetic prose, or haikus (I’m genuinely curious as to how many haikus someone would have to write to get 50,000 words), or non-fiction, or blog posts. Edit something you’ve already written and figure out a way to translate the time you spend editing into “words you’ve written”. Don’t even be put off by the fact that NaNoWriMo has already started. My first time doing NaNoWriMo, I started half-way through the month. Let yourself be reckless. You and your stories will benefit.
5. There’s no such thing as losing NaNoWriMo. This one’s important. Let’s go back to our sledding metaphor. Imagine that this giant hill has a big fence around it and by agreeing to do NaNoWriMo they let you through the gate. Even if your sled has an unusual amount of friction so that you only inch down, or if you hit a rock and crash into the snow halfway, it’s still part of the fun. It’s not a failure, you just didn’t get that smooth, fast ride you were expecting. So you climb back up to the top and try again. And if you look around, that’s what everybody is doing. No one gets the smooth ride. No one ends the month with a perfect, fully formed novel. NaNoWriMo doesn’t lie exactly when it claims we’re writing a novel in a month, it just doesn’t tell the whole truth. Everyone is writing the beginning of a novel in November. But the 50,000 words of nonsense we end up with isn’t a waste of time. In between the junk-words are idea gems. Believe me, they will be there.
So even if you have your doubts, just try it. Stretch yourself. Take writing risks. See what happens. You might be surprised by the end result.