Lucky Number 13: Thoughts on the Eve of My Thirteenth Year of NaNoWriMo

I remember the first time I heard about National Novel Writing Month. At the time, I was a member of a rather large online writing community, and suddenly there was all this chatter about an event where people wrote a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Sheer craziness, I thought.

What is this madness, I thought.

No way could I ever do that, I thought.

But somewhere way back in the dark corners of my brain (and okay, okay, so there are a LOT of dark corners in my brain) something was happening. Wheels were turning. Thoughts were…well, being thought. And at some point I realized something even crazier: I wanted to do this thing. This crazy, mad, maybe downright bonkers thing. And I not only wanted to do it. I BADLY wanted to do it.

After all, hadn’t I always wanted to write a novel? (And no, I absolutely refuse to count the godawful piece of melodrama I called a book manuscript back in high school.)

So way back in 2003, what feels like a lifetime ago, I signed up for my first year of NaNoWriMo. I would attempt it, I thought.  And then, as it approached, I told myself: I was not going to ATTEMPT it. I was going to DO it. 

Why leave room for doubt?

So not only did I attempt it…I completed it, and I loved every minute of it. November 30th of that year, I typed “THE END” on the completed first draft of a book manuscript. I printed it out and I handed the printout to my husband, proof of what I’d done. That I’d written my first book.

It’s now 2015, and maybe for the first time I’m really looking back at, and reflecting on, my years participating in NaNoWriMo. So I thought I would share some of my stats, and also some of what I’m thinking tonight.

I have completed twelve successful, back-to-back years of NaNoWriMo (plus one unofficial novel-in-a-month challenge that I embarked on with a small group of real-world writing friends).  Since I began in 2003, I have never missed a year, and I have never NOT completed a manuscript or reached 50,000 words. (Confession: NaNoWriMo has become something of an obsession for me. I don’t know, at this point, if I could skip a year without having a complete nervous breakdown.)

I have written as few as 50,023 words during the challenge, and I have written as many as 98,860.  My lifetime NaNoWriMo word count is 749,653 words.

One year, I began the NaNoWriMo challenge the day after my husband and I separated. I decided I would be damned before I let that stand in my way, and I think it was the best decision I ever could have made. For one thing, I think it saved my sanity that year. For another, it was the book that—years later—got me an agent.

Come the last week of October, every year I still get that same fluttery mixture of eager anticipation, impatience, and absolute dread just like I did the very first year I attempted this. It never gets easier for me, and there’s something I love about that.

Most years, I have no idea what I’m going to write about until I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on November 1st. A few years years, I have restarted several times with new ideas until one stuck.

There are books I’ve written during NaNoWriMo that I will never, never, never let anyone else see. Ever. They’re THAT bad.

One of the novels I used to say that about is the novel that netted me an agent. It is also the novel that…  (Sorry, can’t say more about that just yet!)

Of the NaNoWriMo books I've written, I've revised four of them enough to the point that I felt they were ready to query.

Several of my NaNoWriMo books originated from failed short stories of mine.

The high-speed approach to novel-writing opens me up to creativity like nothing else. During the month of Novembers I feel like there are ideas just hanging in the air around me, ready to be harvested. The craziest place I've ever gotten an idea from during NaNoWriMo is the local movie theater restroom. The material used for the stalls, a black surface with white speckles became the cave of the night sky in my 2004 NaNoWriMo project.

I look at NaNoWriMo as my chance to stretch myself, to try new things…maybe a new genre or a different style, perhaps weaving in multiple points of view or writing for a different age group. I see it as an opportunity to work on improving a weakness or to practice a new technique or to do something absolutely crazy.

More than anything, NaNoWriMo is the month when I can forget about the business of writing and can remind myself what it is to just create. It is when I remember WHY I do this in the first place.

My writing life has changed in so many ways since I decided I would attempt National Novel Writing Month for the first time, and I am grateful that those initial whisperings awakened something inside me, something that has turned out to be unstoppable. Something that has ultimately brought me back to who I am and who I think I was always meant to be.

I love this event. With my whole heart, I love this event. I can say with confidence that it absolutely changed my life.

And so tonight when the clock ticks its way past midnight, I will begin again. I don't know what I'm going to write about. I don't know where it will take me. I don't know if it will be viable, or if it will ever see the light of the day. What I do know is that the joy is in the beginning. It is in the writing. It is in creating for the sheer joy of creating. It is in the potential and it is in the possibilities.

To everyone who is embarking on this amazing journey with me this year, good luck and happy writing.


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