The NaNoWriMo Experience

It’s done. National Novel Writing Month has come to a close. Turn down the lights, lower the volume and close the doors.

For the first time since I began participating in the annual event, I succeeded. Fifty thousand words…50,000…50k… (50,566 words, to be exact) written in 30 days. Also for the first time, I stepped out of my cave and met other writers by attending write-ins. I don’t think I can properly describe how much I learned about myself as a writer, the writing process and the writing community — but since I am a writer, I’ll give it a try.

A Writing Community

This was the missing key.  I’m an anti-social person. It’s difficult to step outside of my comfort zone and throw myself into a crowd of new people, but I decided to take it like a man this year by attending local write-ins. When, at the first write-in, a group of us got into a deep, zombies vs. robots conversation, I knew I had made a sound decision. We made no attempt to portray ourselves as flawless writers.  What we mostly talked about were our flaws and the hurdles — we laughed about how our characters adopted our own insecurities. After years of worrying that every writer out there was a natural, and that they’d judge my weaknesses, it was a huge relief to hear that everyone had the same problems. That doesn’t mean the idea of sharing my work and works-in-progress no longer terrifies me. At another write-in, I offered to share a passage from my novel for a challenge, and my voice shook violently. Embarrassing. But I learned first-hand that the knowledge and experience gained through opening up far outweighs the pain.

The Writing Process

I knew this before, but now I am 100% convinced: discipline does amazing things. My resolve to set aside more than an hour a day for writing was nonexistent before November, but during NaNoWriMo I found myself writing for over four hours in one sitting.  I challenged myself to keep going, to push past my daily goal, even when it meant spending the greater part of a Saturday at the dining room table with a pot of coffee.

And don’t even ask how I forced myself onward without stopping to edit every sentence, or go backwards when I thought maybe I could phrase something better. That looming deadline kicked my self-editor in the shins and laughed.

The Writer

I can do this. I’m not a one-trick pony; that one novel I wrote a million years ago wasn’t the beginning and end of my ability to write a novel from beginning to end. I am able and willing, and that realization is the best gift NaNoWriMo gave me (other than a 50% discount for Scrivener).

It might be difficult to imagine sadness as a response to the end of such a stressful writing event, but if you were involved and made the journey you probably understand why I was a bit teary-eyed on December 1. It’s time to say goodbye to an amazing adventure and to the people I met; time to file the experiences away for future reference. But it doesn’t have to be the end of sharing and learning. More than challenging me to ignore my inner editor and write a novel without a filter, NaNoWriMo taught me to put myself out there and interact with the community. It taught me to give myself the opportunity to grow by taking risks, and I plan to continue that tradition on my own.

Until next year!

P.S.  If you can spare it, please donate to the Office of Letters and Light–they put on a number of amazing programs for writers of all ages, in addition to organizing NaNoWriMo each year.