To NaNo or Not NaNo

Nov 2, 2021 | My Sabbatical, Noveling Life, Writing

It’s November. That means turkey, cold weather, the Lions losing in front of the whole country, family gatherings, and National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoWriMo for short. For those not aware, NaNoWriMo is a worldwide writing challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days (the month of November). 

I successfully completed NaNoWriMo in 2018 and 2019. I took a break last year because I was moving, and it was 2020. If you were able to complete a creative project in November 2020, I applaud you.

One of the goals for my sabbatical has been to write 100,000 words of my novel. I got a good start back in August when I went on a writing retreat to the UP, but since then the progress has been minimal. As has the progress on this blog, but let’s not talk about that now.

I do love a good challenge, so I decided to give NaNoWriMo another run this year! With a little more planning than my first two experiences. If you’ve ever thought about writing a book, here are some of my experiences and thoughts about trying NaNoWriMo to get the project started.

My first NaNoWriMo was in 2018, and it holds a surprisingly special place in my heart. I hadn’t really been writing for years, and had never pursued writing a novel. All of my writing experience up until then was nonfiction essays and journalism. I published a few profile pieces on a local online news site, and had kept a personal blog of sorts while I was in AmeriCorps. But nothing that involved fictional dialogue, plot, or character development.

I can’t remember where I learned about NaNo, but to my shock I realized I wanted to try it. Me, who avoided all creative writing classes in pursuit of my professional writing minor in college. I mentioned it to a few friends, some had heard of it. Some had even tried it before. About a week before November 1st, I signed up.

That first 2018 NaNo was pure fun. I had a general idea for my novel, but by the end of week one my story had veered in an entirely different direction. My characters travelled to exotic places and found hidden libraries. They broke into Roman ruins in England, got lost in Paris, and deciphered codes. There were secrets held for generations, and I believe a kidnapping of a German prince was somehow involved. I startled a few people when I made myself laugh out loud while writing in coffee shops. 

I haven’t looked at the story since, but it doesn’t matter. The more important thing to come out of that experience was my realization that I enjoyed writing stories. It allowed me to have fun with writing, and forced me to actually do it. To quote my mother, “I work better on a deadline.”

Even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t pursue writing much during the following year. When November 2019 rolled around, I decided to do NaNoWriMo again. Maybe this time I’ll get more serious about it, I thought. 

I work better on a deadline.

Ann Byle

I was more serious about it, which made it way less fun. It was probably a combination of a lot of things going on in my life that year, but NaNo 2019 was really difficult. I still completed the 50,000 words because I can’t let go of a challenge, but it was a slow and torturous slog to reach that 50,000. 

I hadn’t figured out the balance between fun writing and writing with professional intention. I was too focused on writing the “perfect” story, one that I could later submit to agents and publishers. My first NaNo novel had been fun, but a complete mess of a story. The second one was dry, plodding, and way too focused on descriptions of fences for some reason.

Maybe this year I’ll find a more balanced approach.

I’m writing this post on November 2. Have I written anything for NaNo yet? Nope. But I did some planning yesterday. I have my story board started on the wall, and I’m publishing this post for extra motivation. 

If you are thinking about trying National Novel Writing Month, I think you should go for it. You could set a smaller goal for yourself if the 50,000 isn’t feasible for you. You could work on a nonfiction book or a different writing project. It’s very motivating to know you are writing alongside thousands of others around the world. 

It’s free to sign up, if you want to be official, and you can submit your word count each day to earn badges and be overly excited about the line graph inching upwards towards 50,000. You can also join your local chapter of NaNo writers for events and encouragement.

What do you have to loose? A few hours of Netflix? You might discover or rediscover a love of writing. Or you might realize you hate writing, and then you can move on with your life knowing you at least tried it. 

To NaNo or not NaNo? If you are even a little bit curious, do it. 


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