How NaNoWriMo Saved My Life

Doctor WrimoI know, I know, the title is a bit dramatic, but let me explain.

First, for those who don’t already know, NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month) takes place during the month of November. Writers who choose to participate attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in the span of time from November 1st to midnight on November 30th. If you’d like to know more, check out their website: here

I often tell people that I participated in NaNoWriMo last year. But this isn’t exactly the entire truth. I discovered NaNoWriMo for myself around mid-November. Ironic, I know. So I contented myself with watching the progress of others and wishing that I had discovered it earlier. It was finally bugging me enough that I talked to my boyfriend about it, and his interest was sparked. Together, we came to the decision that we would give it a go on our own. Who needs November? December at least seemed better than waiting until the next November. And we had each other to hold the other accountable.

At the time, we were living in Korea and working at a kindergarten as English teachers, so we wouldn’t even be distracted by going home for the holidays. Every day we met at Starbucks and wrote for an hour or two, and at the end of the month we printed out our drafts and handed them over to each other.

Mine turned out to be a complete disaster. At our first writing session I opened up a blank document and just started writing. That’s right, no outline, no plan, not even an idea. Names changed half-way through, characters appeared at the end that had supposedly been there the whole time (even though they definitely had not!) My character development was weak, and my ending was not well thought-out. Basically, it was a muddy pile of 50,000 words mashed together like potatoes.

At the risk of doing the same with this post, let’s have a brief flashback. I was a creative writing major in college. I went through the workshops, the required literature classes, finished my senior project, stepped right over that graduation milestone and then– didn’t write again for two years. I can tell you exactly why this happened. Put simply, I was afraid that my writing wouldn’t be good enough. The stress began to outweigh the fun and I couldn’t break away from my inner critic long enough to just write.

The word-count provides you with a goal that doesn’t include the quality of your writing, thus (for me at least) eliminating a substantial amount of stress. I suppose this could be construed as negative. Quantity over quality is not usually regarded as a positive trade-off. But no amount of learning or technique matters if you don’t write.

There is a different kind of stress to NaNoWriMo, of course, but it’s the stress that gets results. Character names changed, useless scenes were written, but none of that matters. I had to keep reminding myself that I could fix it in the next draft, the point now was to just write. I didn’t let myself look back, I just kept going forward until I was done. My boyfriend said that he wrote as if he were watching a movie, and I think that’s as good a metaphor as any.

You’ll see a lot of articles and blog posts out there telling you to come up with a plan before November rolls around and you find yourself furiously stamping out 1,600 words a day. I agree. A plan is good. You will, without doubt, have a better product at the end of the month if you do take these preparatory steps. But as of now there are four days, six hours and thirty minutes left. Even if you do not have the time to prepare, I say go for it. If you really commit to continuously moving forward, it’s not an impossible feat.

After digging through the mess of words that I ended up with, I found one idea that I thought was worth saving. An idea which became the novel that I have been working on ever since. So, in the end, NaNoWriMo brought me back to writing. And that’s as good as saying it saved my life, don’t you think?

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3 thoughts on “How NaNoWriMo Saved My Life

  1. Whoa. What’s up! I was teaching in Korea last November too, in Gimpo. Crazy awesome! And yes, I totally agree about writing have a substantial amount to do with life 🙂

  2. I was asked to do NaNoWriMo last year as well, and at that point I knew I could do 50,000 words, but I’d have been in the same situation as you found yourself. This year, I’m ready. Wishing you luck with your novel this year.

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