Last year was my seventh time participating in National Novel Writing Month, the mad, worldwide dash to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Last year was also my second time not completing NaNoWriMo.
When mentioning that I was doing NaNo for the seventh time, I kept getting similar questions and comments that all boiled down to: In six years, how many novels have you completed?
The answer was one. One draft, which has been entirely trashed and restarted half a dozen times. It certainly never made it to anything like a final draft or publication. I had never been ashamed of that before, but suddenly I was. I looked back on six years of half-finished (if that) drafts of novels, ones I’d never gone back to, that were just sitting on my computer. I started to wonder if I had been wasting my time and if this was some sign of being an amateur.
I made the choice not to finish NaNo last year, in part because I was busy with school, but in even larger part because, after years of loving the pursuit of those 50,000 words, my excitement had given way to fear and shame.
I wasn’t going to do NaNo this year. As November approached and the NaNo tweets and Facebook statuses started appearing, I scrolled on past and thought, “No. Not this year. Maybe next.” I was still scared. I was still wondering if it was worth it.
But I was also feeling the desire to jump back in. There’s this buzz that comes with NaNo, this joy and excitement. One of my favorite parts of NaNo is knowing that I’m making this attempt with tens of thousands of other people all around the world. I love competing with my friends, obsessively checking their word counts as I up mine, texting them late at night to say, “Hey, my word count is down. Wanna do a word war?” Everyone was gearing up for that without me.
With a few hours to go until the start of NaNo, I decided to take the plunge again. I remembered a novel that had barely gone anywhere yet – just some ideas, characters, a couple thousand words – and decided it would be the my NaNovel this year. I watched the seconds count down to midnight EST.
It’s day 6, I’m at 9202 words, and I could not be happier.
Because here’s the thing: It’s true that I’ve only produced one completed draft out of NaNoWriMo, and it wasn’t even viable. It’s true that I have written some truly shitty words in November.
But you know what else I’ve done? I’ve learned. I’ve learned what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve learned that I can write 2000 words in 20 minutes if I use Write or Die on kamikaze mode. I’ve learned the kind of novelist I am. I know that I like having outlines, but I often hate writing them and I kind of love it when the story just comes to me. I’ve learned that novel writing does not come easily to me, not like short stories do, and I have to work three times as hard to make the plots and characters make sense. I’ve learned that I can write quality pieces quickly. I’ve learned that I can write shitty pieces quickly, too.
Maybe I won’t complete NaNoWriMo this year. Maybe I’ll hit week three and burn out. Maybe I’ll finish by week three! That would be cool, but I’d also kind of miss that frantic, last-minute “oh god let the NaNo site not crash so I can confirm my win” panic. It’s part of the fun.
Maybe I’ll really complete this draft and it will go to amazing places.
Maybe I won’t.
That’s not what matters. That’s not why I love National Novel Writing Month. I love it for the experience, for the writing, and for what it has taught me and will continue to teach me about myself.
I may not publish any of these novels, but I’m happy, I’m learning, and I’m writing.
What else do I need?