One of the primary goals of the Monthly Twitter Writing Challenges (including the #NovWritingChallenge that I’m running) is encouraging writers to develop the habit of writing every day. National Novel Writing Month— or NaNoWriMo—has similar intentions, but it’s supercharged. To meet the NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words by the end of the month, participants have to aim for 1,667 words each day—more than three times the daily goal for our writing challenge. It sounds crazy, and utterly unmaintainable, and yet people still put themselves through the torture of NaNoWriMo year after year (and sometimes more than once per year, with Camp NaNoWriMo happening twice in 2014 on top of the annual November tradition).
NaNoWriMo is an important (and stressful) annual event in my household. Until ideas have been finalised and some semblance of a plot planned, we aren’t allowed to speak of the dreaded month that comes between October and December. So why do I still do it, I hear you ask? We’re one week into the month and part of me is wondering the same thing.
I have participated in NaNoWriMo every year since 2009. I haven’t always won—I haven’t even created all of the NaNo novels I’ve written on the event website—but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that at the end of each November for the past five years, I’ve had thousands of words that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
My first NaNoWriMo resulted in a first draft that I attempted to edit, but I had constructed what was potentially the most contrived piece of writing I had ever produced. Some might consider that a failure, but not me; that year I proved to myself that I could write more than 50,000 words in one month. For a sixteen year old, that was an amazing feat.
The following year I tried, but I was in the middle of my senior exams and didn’t make it anywhere near the 50,000 word goal. 2011 was a similar story, with my first year of university getting in the way. Surely I would consider these years failures then, if I didn’t even make it to the finish line? Of course not. I practised my writing and strengthened my commitment to the endeavour of writing every day; how does one improve if they don’t practise and create positive routines?
My next win came in 2012, with the first draft of a novel that I will one day revisit. I’ve edited it at least eight times already, but I think I have been making superficial changes to avoid the truth: it needs to be changed from first person to third person and that’s a terrifying prospect. Still, I won this year with an idea that had hope. It was obvious (at least to me): I was improving.
Last year, I decided to write short stories because I was lacking in novel ideas. I came up short—just 11,000 words short, to be precise—because sometimes life throws dramas in your direction that you simply can’t ignore. But I suddenly had almost 40,000 words worth of short stories that I have spent this year submitting to publications—does that seem like a loss to you?
And so, it is with this history of not-quite-successes but definitely not losses that I have committed to NaNoWriMo 2014, even with a mountain of other commitments—excuses are not going to write words.
I see a lot of criticism directed at NaNoWriMo, telling people to dismiss the concept of writing when ‘forced’ or writing ‘too fast’. I understand their perspective—it takes time to edit and improve a piece of writing until it’s perfect. However, if ‘forcing’ yourself to write more words than you think you are capable of every day is the only way you manage to create a first draft, then I’m all for it.
More than just words, NaNoWriMo is amazing at encouraging a daily routine and a writing culture. It encourages writers to practice their craft and to foster networks with other writers, particularly in our modern age of social media. In this way, the #NovWritingChallenge (and the Monthly Twitter Writing Challenges that have come and will come before and after it) are similar. Our challenges seek to create these routines and this sense of community, not just in November but every month.
It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have goals and a group of people cheering you on. But it’s also important to remember, if you don’t quite make it to these goals, there’s no need to consider that a failure—some words is always better than no words—and when you’ve found a strong community, they will stand by you regardless.