NaNoWriMo: or the unexpected virtue of failing

Today’s post will be a quick one, because its goal is to get you to stop browsing and start writing.

I first heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) when I was in grade 10. At this point, I was reading more than I had or probably have, and I enjoyed writing. Yet, aside from the occasional short story that fizzled out before it ended, or a failed fantasy trilogy that was mostly lifted from CS Lewis, my writing was sparse.

A friend told me about NaNoWriMo—a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in November. I signed up on the site and discovered the forum of people sharing their ideas, their goals, their progress, and discussing writing in general. 50,000 words in 30 days. 1,666 words per day. I could do that.

For approximately two weeks—after school, extra-curriculars, and homework—I wrote. I didn’t edit. I barely had a sense of where this story was going, and I eventually gave up, my NaNoWriMo goal cut short around 20,000 words. I failed. And that has made all the difference.

Ever since that November, I wrote. Not only did I focus more on my writing, but the experience also marked a distinct shift in my writing. Before, I wrote because I loved reading and thought “I could do that”. While participating in NaNoWriMo, I started to feel what it was like to invest my time into my writing. The discussions on the NaNoWriMo forum, while often self-congratulatory and full of empty platitudes, also gave me insight into the “writer’s mind”. it was, in a sense, the first time I thought about the craft of writing.

Still, my relationship with NaNoWriMo since that first time has been a loose one. I have skirted along the edges of it in years where school or work didn’t overwhelm me. But I never committed to writing a novel in 30 days. Instead I take the month to (re)answer the question—

 

Who are you as a writer?

Instead of sitting down on November 1st determined to fill the blank page with 1,666 words, maybe jot down a few notes. Who are you as a writer? It doesn’t matter what stage you are at. It doesn’t matter how much or little of your career writing occupies. You should be able to come up with something. There’s no right or wrong way to interpret the question. There’s no need to share your answer. It is a useful exercise to remind yourself of why you love writing, and what you want to accomplish short-term as a writer. It will set you up for a month of rejuvenated interest in writing. After all, isn’t that the true meaning of November?

 

The success of failing

A few months after failing NaNoWriMo, I came across the word doc. I had abandoned. I read through pages I had written late at night the previous fall, hardly remembering anything I wrote. I decided to continue with this spontaneous novel. For the next (I won’t admit how many) years, I wrote and rewrote what ended up becoming a 100,000-word novel. I have since removed most traces of it from the Internet, but as I worked through it, I developed as a writer. Everything I learned was poured into the novel. I keep a copy for a few reasons: it was my first substantial work of writing, it has some decent parts, but mainly because it is a time capsule of my early writing development.

You do not have to commit to NaNoWriMo thinking that you will write a full novel in a month. In fact, that’s a great way to give up before you start. I don’t mean to dissuade anyone from this goal, but I found so much value in failing NaNoWriMo. Without the stress of feeling like I need a final product, I take the month to remember why I love writing. I take the month to commit to writing more. I often take the month to start a new project, which I will sometimes continue, sometimes defer, and sometimes delete.

If you are reading this, you have some passing interest in NaNoWriMo, meaning you have an interest in writing. Sometimes the stress of not being able to come up with an idea, or not having the right words to reflect your idea, or watching others  succeed as you stare at your folder of unfinished works—sometimes this can be overwhelming.

However, if you start November committing to (re)discovering yourself as a writer, to writing more than you did in October, to blocking off anything else writing-related except for putting words to page or screen—

If you do this, and you accept that failing to write 50,000 words in a month is perfectly fine—

You may remember why you love writing. You may discover what you need to learn, and what you need to hone, to improve your writing. And you may land on an idea or two that will stick with you for years to come.

In failing to finish one project in one month, you may set yourself up for years of successful works.

So go write! And get off Twitter, because NaNoWriMo Twitter is a dangerous place.

But first, as always

Thanks for reading!

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