For the past three years, I have plunged into the wilderness of creativity and wrist pain that is National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo). If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s a worldwide movement of literary minded folks where you attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days. If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is.
I’ve never made it to the 50,000 mark, not once. A lot of people don’t, but the point is to try to write a crappy first draft, not a perfect one. It’s a noble goal, but not one that I’m pursuing this November. Here’s why.
1) Dearth of Uninterrupted Free Time
In my past attempts to cross the 50,000-word mark, I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands. In college, you’re frequently faced with awkward blocks of free time between classes and work. College is bursting with opportunities for a young aspiring novelist to write. Every building on campus has a suitable place to sit with your laptop and type away. November is also the perfect month because it’s right between the chaos of midterms and the chaos of finals (not to mention it has a 3-day weekend and a 4-day weekend built in to help you bulk up your novel). If you’re still in school, you’re already doing crazy things — why not add a novel-in-a-month?
The real world is scheduled and regimented like college never was. That’s not to say a lot of working professionals don’t participate. People of all walks of life make NaNo work for them. But my life, with a new job in a new state, doesn’t give me a lot of extra time. The free time I do have is also spoken for…
2) I Have a Writing Job
I’m lucky. I get paid to write. Fully 50% of my income is generated by freelance projects. So, when I do find those times to write, I need to spend them wisely. I could blow off my commitments and write a novel, but first drafts don’t pay the heating bill. Articles and press releases do. When writing becomes your job and not just your hobby, its hard to add personal writing on top of the mountain of professional writing that you already do.
Of course, that doesn’t mean successful (or unsuccessful) professional writers don’t do NaNoWriMo. A lot of them work on projects that they’re passionate about on the side. And speaking of projects…
3) I’m Already in the Middle of a Big Writing Project
NaNoWriMo is a fantastic way to jump start your creative juices when you otherwise wouldn’t write. The mad rush of trying to get it all done in such a small amount of time forces you to write without editing, which is really great for unleashing your inner storytelling genius. It works, trust me. You will be amazed at what you come up with while trying to meet that daily quota of 1,667 words.
But I’m not in a writing rut like I have been in past years. I’m actually in the middle of writing a novella. In fact, I’m making excellent progress. It may not be a novel, but I think it has potential. It doesn’t make sense to interrupt my momentum — you don’t throw off the emperor’s groove. I’ve always struggled with seeing a story all the way to its conclusion. I think I can do it this time and finishing this is more meaningful to me than starting a novel that I will later abandon.
Why You Should Still Do It
If you’re rounding the corner of 18,337 words today, I’m cheering you on. You’re on an incredible adventure. I wish you success. If you’re behind your word count, you are just like me. Keep going, even if you spend page after page describing the blueish gray hue of your protagonist’s eyes. Your goal is not perfection. Just get something down — editing is for December. If you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo, you should try it. It unlocks potential you never knew you had.
I’m not down in trenches of NaNo this year. But I have my reasons and I think they’re good ones. Next year, if I’m more settled and have some time on my hands, I’ll take the plunge again. Write on, Wrimos. Write on.
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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. You can follow him on Twitter and read his articles on foreign relations on Grey Cell. Thanks for reading!
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