To NaNo, or Not to NaNo?

It’s a rhetorical question.


Okay, the title is a little misleading since I’m gonna NaNo. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is an online event that begins every November 1st and ends at 11:59 p.m. on the 30th. Participants commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel during that time.

Some of my author friends despise NaNo. For them, its pressure-cooker nature causes their creativity to grind to a halt. Raised blood pressure, fear of failure, and an AWOL muse make this a terrible fit for some.

I get that. Instead of firing up their creativity, it does the opposite. Fair enough.

I tried NaNo for the first time last year. I’m often in edits in November, so until then, I hadn’t had the opportunity to participate. Additionally, November is an incredibly busy month between travel, kids’ activities, and holiday festivities. I wasn’t sure I could make the 50K-word goal, so I gave myself permission to be satisfied if I hit the 30K mark. When I did, I aimed for 40K.

I made it to 43K with only one day to go. Now, I can write 7,000 words in a day, but it’s very, very rare. However, having the ticking clock and being so close fired me up. I managed to squeak in with just over 50K (like, 50 words over) and submitted my results at 11:58 p.m. on the last day of November.

It felt pretty good. So, I’m trying it again.

NaNo has great resources. Each day, there’s some sort of pep talk waiting in my inbox, and I can check in with writing buddies to see how they’re doing. I’ve also already begun receiving emails alerting me to ways I can prep for NaNo — everything from how to outline to how to make time to write each day.

And once I start, they provide helpful statistics under my profile. I can see how much I’ve already written, how much I need to average per day in order to make my goal, and which days I’ve written more or less. You can also friend other participants, which allows you to chat, see their progress, and organize group writing sprints.

For me, NaNo is fun, but it also allows me to challenge myself. I plan to approach it as I did last year: 30K words, then 40K, then hopefully 50K. However, I’m a lost cause on the planning part. I’m a pantser (i.e., I write by the “seat of my pants”), so I really don’t outline. I need to be surprised by what happens in my stories. And if I’m surprised, I can be pretty sure my readers will be, too. It’s my process, and it works for me.

Last year, I literally opened up a blank Word document on the first day of NaNo and started writing. I had some vague idea about how my story started; as it turned out, I was wrong. In the end, my “beginning” became chapter four. I just let my fingers move across the keyboard to see what came out. My story took shape quickly, though there were lots of loose ends that I had no idea how to tie together. This was true even when I hit the 50K mark. Eventually, the threads wove together into what became book two in my Starfig Investigations series, Be Fairy Game.

This year, I plan to work on book three in the series. I’m once again going in without much of a plan. I know who’s telling the story and I have a scene somewhere in the middle that’s a big turning point. Too bad I’m a linear writer and might not even get to that scene in the first 50K words.

So I won’t really know what happens until I get there, but I have faith in my process. And NaNo’s not something I could practice every month — my life doesn’t lend itself to this writing model — but participating once a year is a great way to push myself and to grow as a writer.

So, I’m definitely gonna NaNo this November. If you are, too, and want to be my NaNo friend, you can find me at Meghan Maslow.

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