There are a whole lot of opinions around NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer’s Month) and its companion program, Camp NaNoWriMo… the latter of which begins today. There are plenty of articles written on why you should or why you should not NaNo. Some of the dissenting articles are vicious, claiming that “All NaNo-written work is garbage! Pure trash! And the people who participate are no-talent-hack-losers who don’t deserve a dime for their shitty writing!”
I’ll just go ahead and put this out there: I participate.
And here’s why.
I’m a writer with a day job and a family. My school-aged children are typical kids. Meaning, of course, that they need help with their homework, and I have to shuffle them off to this-or-that activity between school, dinner and bedtime. Writing is a priority to me on a soul-deep level. But so is sleep. And I actually like to interact with my family on a daily basis. I know, weird, right?
When it comes to scheduling in my writing, I find that time becomes a severely limited resource. I find time for flash fiction, poetry, blog posts and the occasional paying article. But writing a novel is a different process.
I have a touch (LOL ok, more than a touch) of what I like to call da VInci Syndrome. Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate Renaissance Man. But despite his brilliance, he was the master of half-done projects.
*sheepishly raises hand*
That would be me, too. Just ask the portrait of a Chinese woman who remains half colored, clipped to my art board, resting on my bedroom dresser. Or talk to the almost-finished charcoal sketch of an Elven healer, tucked away in my closet. I started that one some time in the mid-90s. I think they’re about to band together and form a support group with my fifteen half-baked novels. They can hold meetings in my idea bin, where note cards have sat, untouched for decades.
For my entire life, any creative work that took longer than a week to complete left me feeling hopeless. It would never get done. It would never be good enough. Life happens way too often and way too intensely to allow me time to properly focus. By the time I get back to whatever I’ve started, I’ve changed. I’m in a new mindset. I’m not even in the same universe as that half-baked work. So why finish it?
That brings me to NaNoWriMo, 2014. I decided I was finally going to devote myself to a longer piece of fiction, and actually follow through and finish it. Honestly, going into the month of November, I gave myself a solid 38% chance of success. (Remember, most statistics are worthless, and made up on the spot) After all, I still had my kids, my job and all those other things, plus the holidays and… yeah. No way.
But then I made some contacts. They were people I’d never have met if not for NaNo. I joined an online writing group, where many of the other Geek-Mother-Writer-Women were participating. Each day, I’d get up early and write. I’d put down a few words over lunch. Sometimes I’d carve out some time after dinner and put down a few more words. I’d enter my daily count into the NaNo site, and I’d watch that little bar graph inch ever higher.
Honestly, I think it’s the graph that pushed me over the edge and made me realize that I could, and would, finish that novel.
My novel had been one of those ideas that was sitting in my bin. It had percolated there, in the back of my mind, for more years than I care to admit. It was a solid and well-formed, whole story that just needed a little time and energy to put on paper.
I didn’t care about the 50,000 words at the start of November. I’m not competitive by nature, so the word “win” meant nothing to me. What I did care about was creating a story I could be proud of. One I would finish, and then edit and polish. I wasn’t in it for competition, but I did want to beat my own record of zero. When I actually hit that 50,000 word goal, I was delighted.
But I wasn’t done.
What NaNo gave me was NOT a race. It was NOT an exercise in “how much can I word-spew today?” It was a habit of daily writing, along-side an amazing network of new friends who shared similar struggles and who celebrated each other in times of triumph. In the end, it taught me that I would, could and did finish a novel. And once I finished the first novel, the confidence boost was tremendous. I knew I had it in me. I found the keys to my own inner vehicle to success.
Camp NaNo started today. I just sent Rising off for beta proof printing. Over the last several weeks, I’ve plotted and world-built for book 2 in my Adept Cycle series: Release. This morning, I got up at 5:30, and I put down some words.
Maybe it’s all just a psychological game I’m playing with myself. But considering the fact that it helps me, personally, to reach my own goals and build sustainable habits, I’ll take it.
If you’re asking yourself whether or not you think you should NaNo, I’d say, “give it a try.” The worst thing that happens is that you write a little every day. And from where I’m sitting, I can say with pretty good authority… that’s not a bad thing.