Yep, it’s that time of the year again: National Novel Writing Month! The thirty days in which people all over the world pledge to write a novel (defined as 50,000 words). Some of y’all may know that I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth for NaNo in 2006. At the time I was in the middle of writing a chick lit that had already been rejected once and had just started a new YA for a writing class a few weeks before but one of the “rules” of NaNo is that your NaNo book must be word 1-50,000 and not 20,000-70,000.
I was a stickler for the rules and so I started casting about for a new idea — something to stretch my writing voice and take me in a new direction — and that’s when JP (my husband) suggested I write what I love which was zombies and that was that. A year later I sold The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Did I “win” NaNo (i.e. write 50,000 words during November)? No. I only wrote 20-30k. I became unerringly stuck and ran out of time, etc etc, but I kept writing and finished the first draft in April, 2007. Did it stress me out that I “lost” NaNo? Nope.
To be honest, my goal wasn’t really to write 50k words in a month, it was to WRITE. See, I’ve found that it’s crazy easy to *want* to write, to *think* about writing, to *plan* to write but not always easy to actually sit down and write. It’s too easy to find excuses in life — to have other priorities (cleaning, exercising, watching TV, sleeping) and to put off writing until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Furthermore, while motivation ultimately has to come from the inside, sometimes it’s nice to have external cheerleaders and having someone expecting you to write words is the motivation you need to sit down and pound out some words. And once you develop that habit, it gets easier and easier to keep sitting down to write.
To me, that’s the beauty of NaNo. Some people don’t need the added incentive to sit down and write, some don’t need the insta-community of like-minded folks because they already have a support system. But others need to have that opportunity to, for one month, put writing first and have a community of folks doing the same — reinforcing the decision.
Here’s my takeaway message for NaNo: why not? Why not challenge yourself and push? Why not delve into the task along with hundreds of thousands of other writers and take this one month to put writing above all else. If you find that it’s destroying your writing, if it’s making things worse… then walk away. There’s no guilt for failing to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Writing is hard enough with pressuring yourself unreasonably.
To me the guilt comes from not writing at all. If you want to be a writer then there is one thing you must do without fail: write. If you want to sell a book, you have to write a book. And if NaNo is what it takes to motivate you, then jump in with both feet. If you fail, the key is not to give up — the key is to keep writing.
So good luck to all you NaNoWriMos out there! Yay for putting writing first and regardless of the outcome, I hope all of you keep writing!!