I first heard about National Novel Writing Month, which is more affectionately called NaNoWriMo by its supporters, about seven or eight years ago. I thought it was crazy. Write a novel in a single month? Please. A decent novel takes years and years to write! Everybody knows that.
But then I looked into it and realized that it wasn’t about writing a novel in a month. It was about writing a 50,000-word draft in a month. And there’s a big difference between what we think of as a novel (a finished product) and a draft.
Chris Baty is the founder of NaNoWriMo. In my quest to learn more about NaNoWriMo, I picked up his book, No Plot? No Problem, which was a fast, delightful, and entertaining read, and I realized that NaNoWriMo is about productivity and community. It’s about squeezing those words out and connecting with other writers.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo in 2008 and surprised myself by completing a first draft for a YA novel. Its working title is Wolves at the Door. I doubt I’ll ever publish it, but the lessons I came away with are invaluable.
What I Learned from NaNoWriMo Back in 2008
Here’s what I had learned by the end of my first NaNoWriMo experience:
- I can do it. I can write a book.
- It does not take years and years to write a book or produce a novel.
- The writing community is freaking awesome.
- Some of my best work happens when I don’t feel like writing.
- I should write every day (with occasional breaks, of course)–even when I don’t feel like it.
- Writing a novel is hard but it’s also doable.
- Completing a first draft is an incredibly rewarding experience.
In the years that followed, as I wrote more drafts for more novels, I also came to understand that writing well also takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. I’d written reams of poetry and nonfiction. After NaNo 2008, I realized I needed serious practice with fiction writing.
When NaNo started this year, I had a total of seven books under my belt: two published nonfiction books and a third that was in the editing stages, three novels (one of which I am still reworking), and a children’s book (originally written as a picture book but I plan to rewrite it as a chapter book). Even though some of these projects will never be published, I’m proud of all of them. Each one brings me closer to writing a fictional work that I feel is worth sharing with readers. I came out of NaNoWriMo this year feeling one step closer to that goal, and it felt pretty damn good.