Sailing the NaNoWriMo Sea

art silverandgoldfish002

The tide of National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Are you getting into storytelling ship and setting out on the turbulent sea? Or are you staying on shore, watching other mad sailors disappear over the horizon, sink under the waves?

Perhaps the metaphor is wrong, but it went with my gold ocean up there.

I love NaNoWriMo. I first gave it a try in 2004. I’ve missed only two years since.

Let me say, I am not trying to convince you to jump in. Don’t explain why NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for you. You know yourself and what works for you. Depending on how you write, NaNo is a terrible thing. You may already be in the middle of a novel and don’t need NaNo. The pace may not work for your schedule. You may not be a joiner. You may think it is a waste of time. You may hate the mess you have at the end, preferring time for research and rewriting. You may be a perfectionist. Whatever. Love what you love. Write the way that works for you. Don’t explain.

(Of course, you may not be a writer, but I’m assuming most everyone reading this is or hopes to be.)

I’m writing why I participate in NaNo for anyone who wonders if they’d like to journey alongside.

The first time I heard of NaNoWriMo, I laughed and rolled my eyes. No way would I do that! A novel in a month. Ridiculous. Then a year after my son was born, I wanted to get back into writing. I wanted a challenge. Well…wouldn’t hurt to give NaNo a try. I’d push myself outside my comfort zone and maybe meet other writers in town. Participating was (is) free, after all. (Though donations are appreciated!)

I’ve never seen myself as a joiner. My dad put me in Girl Scouts. Ugh. Hated every single meeting. He put me in Girls’ Club. I hated that too. Clubs in school? Tried. Never went to meetings. Sororities? You’ve got to be kidding. No. Team building retreats? Torment. I’ve often been much happier home alone than at a party.

But NaNoWriMo is different. Well, I became good friends with the woman in charge of NaNo events here. I sometimes helped set up write-ins. I even hosted a few. I’ve heard stories of other regions where the Municipal Liaisons (the persons in charge of a region and who communicate directly with the head NaNo office) are terrible organizers, cliquish, unfriendly, or in some way not suited for the task. Our ML here was amazing and supportive. She planned great events. That makes a difference. It’s unpaid gig after all.

But a good ML isn’t what kept me coming back to NaNo. You are joining, but you’re not. If you choose to participate in write-ins and similar events (plenty of people write at home on their own), you can share space with people who have the same drive you do–to tell a story. But each person tells the story she wants. This guy is writing a horror story, that girl is writing a fantasy, that fellow is working on a mystery, and that woman is working on a literary retelling of her life. Everyone is quiet and furiously typing (well, some people are furiously staring into space), and a NaNo-er looks up. “Heavy metal band from the 80s?”

People toss out answers. A few talk music. Someone throws down a challenge. “Everyone work in an 80’s song into their novel!” Some folks accept. Other challenges go out. “The most words in 20 minutes. Go!”

I laugh quietly when I overhear two writers in line for coffee talking about the different ways to kill people in a horror story.

The people I’ve met at write-ins are very often people I could’ve been friends with in high school. These are English majors, bookish people, nerds, oddballs, and Whovians. Of course, there are accountants, police officers, computer engineers, and others, but they love stories and characters and spending time lost in their own created worlds.

I care about reaching that 50k goal. I always reach it because I’m obsessive about it. That’s me. It doesn’t have to be you. I’ve known NaNo-ers who set their own personal goals. 25k and they’re happy. One fellow worked hard all month, reached 50k, connoted until he wrote the ending of his story, received his winners certificate, and then deleted the entire file. He did this several years in row. Some of us were horrified. Why would you delete all that work? ARE YOU CRAZY? He shrugged. “I just like writing the story. I don’t need to do anything with it.”

Sure, some NaNo-ers set out with unrealistic expectations. They don’t know what it takes to write a publishable novel or they don’t know what it takes to be published. So? They’ll discover if writing is what they really want to do. They’ll meet other writers. They’ll try to do something that they’ve always talked about. Many people say they want to write a novel, but they never put one word to paper. I’ve heard critics say, “NaNo is a waste of time.” I suppose. But how many things we take part in are a waste of time? Most people are changing the world or saving lives in their free time. Most people are spending too much time on Facebook or binge watching shows on Netflix.

I’m reminded me of an expression (source long forgotten) that says something long the lines of, “What’s important to me has meaning. What’s important to you but not to me is meaningless.” Personally, I love witnessing people passionate about what they’re doing. Are they writing the great American novel? Maybe. Maybe not. Does it matter?

The challenge of NaNoWriMo motivates me. I let go of the small stuff. The word goal focuses my mind, makes me stow distractions away below deck. The story gets written in its unholy mess. And I continue to work on during the year. Then I ponder every word choice and plot point. I straighten out the mess. Other ideas show up ready to take a journey of their own by the time November rolls around again.

This year I’m working on a story titled, The Book of Astrophilia. We’ll see where it takes us.

Are you NaNo-ing? Then bon voyage! Tell me about your travels.


Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Sailing the NaNoWriMo Sea

  1. Well said! For me, NaNo is definitely about the challenge and the excitement of sharing creative energy with a roomful of fellow writers. I went all in with my first NaNo last year and loved it. Unfortunately, the ML for our region turned out to be pretty egotistical and unpleasant, so I’m not feeling as enthusiastic about attending write-ins she’ll be at this year.

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