Why I Love NaNoWriMo
At the end of October, I attended a wonderful Writers' Conference. The National Novel Writing Month which takes place every November, called NaNoWriMo for short) was just around the corner so the banter between all of us writers often included this question.
Will you or won't you?
It didn't take me long to notice that writers who had published several books (either self-published or traditionally) and self-proclaimed 'newbies' did not respond the same way.
The newbies bubbled over with enthusiasm about NaNoWriMo and most were going to participate.
The more established writers, on the other hand, seemed to feel that while NaNoWriMo was fine for beginners, they couldn't really see the point for them as a 'more experienced author'.
I beg to disagree.
Experience Doesn't Matter
I've never really thought about it, but I suppose I could now call myself a more established author with three bestselling books in the past three years.
And I still love NaNoWriMo as much as I did (probably more) than when I was unpublished. Here are my top five reasons why:
1. NaNoWriMo kicks my internal editor out on the curb
Pumping out 50,000 words in thirty days, as NaNoWriMo decrees, leaves no time for most of us mere mortals (or those with jobs, kids, and, you know, all that tiresome adulting) to come back and also edit what we have written.
I know from past experience that my internal editor is a tyrant.
For ten years before I finished my first book I wrote four full sized novels to about 75% completion and then abandoned each of them to jump to a shiny new project.
Yes, you heard that right: in ten years I did not finish a single one of my books.
This was entirely the fault of my internal editor, who urged me to keep circling back and editing my work before I could reach the end of my rough drafts. This method clearly did not work for me.
It took a health crisis to make me decide that I was going to finish my first published book, no matter what. I started writing that book in May of 2012 and published it eleven months later. I realized then, that in order to finish anything, I needed to keep that internal editor of mine on a strong leash.
I bring him (yes, I've decided my internal editor is a 'him', and he wears a dusty old suit too) back once editing had begun, but now I know better than to let him anywhere near my rough drafts.
My blistering pace during NaNoWriMo kicks him out of the car. He simply can't catch up until I finish my rough draft and decide I am ready to edit.
2. NaNoWriMo fits perfectly into my writing calendar
My last two books have been published during the early Fall. This means in September and October I enter into a phase of heavy-duty marketing -- online contests, responding to readers, books signings, and book launches.
I attend an annual Writers' Conference at the end of every October that is one of the highlights of my writing year. I leave chomping at the bit to write, pumped up by reconnecting with my writer clan and all the workshops I attended.
NaNoWriMo takes perfect advantage of this momentum. My rough drafts, now always begun during NaNoWriMo, are generally finished by the time my three daughters are off school for Christmas break. I let the rough drafts lie fallow until January rolls around, and then I slow down, invite my internal editor back, and embark on three big rounds of edits (this is before sending it to my content editor, beta readers, and copy editor).
It is a chicken / egg question though. Does NaNoWriMo fit perfectly into my writing schedule, or has my schedule adapted to make the most of all that NaNoWriMo provides me as a writer? I don't know the answer, but I know that, for me, it works.
3. NaNoWriMo reminds me that being a writer must always come back to putting words on paper
During the intense marketing period that follows the release of a new book, I never accomplish much writing. As most successful self-published authors know, doing all the marketing yourself can be fun but also time-consuming.
NaNoWriMo reminds me, just like a strict schoolteacher, that no amount of marketing, book launches, books signings, and teaching workshops will ever replace what should be the central activity for any writer -- writing.
With its epic 50,000 words in a month, NaNoWriMo drives home the point that as a writer my primary duty is to get words down on paper.
4. NaNoWriMo is just plain fun!
It's no newsflash that writing can be a solitary existence. On bad days us writers can feel like we are yelling out meaningless words into a void.
There is nothing like NaNoWriMo to remind me that, no, I am NOT in this alone as a writer. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of other crazy people out there who, like me, make up stories in their head to share with others.
It is greatly comforting to compare triumphs and failures with other writers during NaNoWriMo, and to realize that other writers, no matter what their years of experience, or number of published books, are riding the same mental roller coaster that I am.
I like to think that during NaNoWriMo I tap into the wildly creative energy that is generated by the collective consciousness of all these writers around the globe frenetically writing towards the same far-fetched goal.
I meditate on a regular basis and I see it as the difference between meditating alone on my couch (nice, but -- alone on my couch) and meditating with a room full of people. When I do the latter, there is something unique about that energy: it almost crackles.
I'm sure to many people this sounds like a bunch of hocus-pocus, but does it really matter if this collective energy thing is all in my mind or if it reflects reality?
I don't think so. The main thing is that it spurs me on.
5. NaNoWriMo fits my writing style and helps me finish my books
This last point may seem counter-intuitive at first. How can writing 50,000 words in a month produce something of quality?
I always go back to the quote from the prolific Nora Roberts,
I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank page.
One of the hard lessons I learned in my decade as a 'non-finisher' was that I could never get to the end of rough draft if I tried to edit at the same time.
Even though my last two books have been of the 110-115,000 word count variety, the 50,000 words I produce during NaNoWriMo effectively allows me to 'break the back' of my rough draft for each new book.
By the time November 30th rolls around I feel as though I have a solid foothold in my story and this motivates me enough to race to complete the rough draft.
Make no mistake, my rough drafts are truly bad. Epically lousy. They are so rough that I live in terror of being hit by a car and having them discovered by people who will read them and exclaim,
she was hoodwinking us this whole time, she can't actually write!
However, I have learned that writing my rough draft from beginning to end is the only way I can finish my books.
Editing can come later. Editing WILL come later. Lots of it. So much so that I often feel during the editing process like I keep being sent back to the base camp of Mount Everest after almost reaching the top, over and over again.
All those bad pages of my rough draft can be fixed and will be fixed. If I had no pages I would have nothing to rewrite.
All of my creative projects begin with bad first attempts, and writing is no different. NaNoWriMo allows me to get out of my own way and in fact, celebrate the bad with other writers producing the same manure.
Manure, I have learned, is extremely fertile ground to grow something wonderful.
Laura Bradbury has written and self-published three bestselling memoirs about her life in Burgundy, France in the past three years. This year for NaNoWriMo she is starting to completely re-write a paranormal romance that she began over ten years ago.