NaNoWriMo: So, What Did We Actually Write in November?

When November began, many creative writers were anxious about the looming challenge of National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. I was one of them. Even though I didn’t have a new novel in me, I wanted to capitalize on the energy of the legions of participants who would spend the the month scribbling, logging word counts, joining write-a-thons, and burning their candles late into the night in the pursuit of literary accomplishment. Or a 50,000-word draft, whichever should come first.

So I invited my fellow non-novel writers to make it a “National Write or Edit Anything, Seriously, Anything at All” sort of month, and motivate ourselves to get back into a writing routine with a bunch of alternate goals, like: getting our writing submission-ready, trying a new genre, finding a writing group, or just, in my case, writing something almost every day.

A month later, with one final weekend to go, I’ve been seeing a lot of frantic #amwriting updates from the NaNoWriMo tweeting hordes, with many saying they have to write four or 5,000 words a night to “win” the word count. It’s a race to the finish for that lot, and to them I say: good luck this weekend.

But what about the rest of us, with more modest ambitions?

I began the month by trying to write for at least ten minutes every day, focusing on four short stories, two of which were drafts and two of which were half-formed ideas. I even managed to wake up early to work on a bunch of occasions (I realized something important: morning writing works for me on Mondays and Tuesdays, but I usually fade out by Wednesdays). My streak was hot until about the 13th, which was my husband’s birthday. Between gift-shopping and celebrating, both of which I enjoy quite a bit, I couldn’t keep the daily momentum up.

But I kept going anyway. I’ve continued to try to at least dip into my stories four or five times a week since then, in the mornings whenever possible. I faded out somewhat as Thanksgiving approached, but am planning to make up time this weekend along with the NaNoWriMo crowd.

Two aspects of my goal-setting helped me a lot. The first was announcing what I was up to at Flavorwire and seeing people respond enthusiastically. I felt obligated and was more conscious of fitting creativity into my routine for the month, simply because I’d said I would.

The second, even more important, change that really spurred me on was manageable time increments. In changing my focus from “finishing X piece of work” to “writing every day,” I was influenced by a lot of the cheesy quotes on writing I’ve seen in the Tumblr and Pinterest realm. The best writers say: visiting your work regularly is like a workout for your writing muscles. It helps get your head in the zone of your work.

In fact, the shareable advice proved true. The switch from, “I will complete all my stories by blocking out massive amounts of time to write that will never actually be as long as I hope” to, “I will try to write as much as I can, as many days as I can” became incredibly liberating and rendered it easier to just jump into whichever story I felt like working on, without worrying about the end result.

So, yes, I wrote a lot. On the other hand, I didn’t finish any of my stories. They’re getting there, slowly. Short fiction is aggravating, at least for me, in that the hours of labor you put in versus the payoff verges on ridiculously lopsided. I can work on a single story for six months, arranging and rearranging, and not even be close to finished. Once I finish all these new drafts, I will probably put them aside for a while and then end up going back to them this spring. That endless polishing process, with no clear end in sight, does help explain the appeal of NaNoWriMo, with its simple word-count goal.

But my stories were started purely for fun, anyway, and I made significant progress on all of them this month. Most unexpectedly, I got so much pleasure out of the process. Really, it was a joy to start my day or finish it with half an hour of jotting down new scenes or tweaking. And that, in turn, made me think that I’d probably hate actually doing NaNoWriMo, since I relished writing for its own sake so much more when the “you must finish” imperative was taken out of the equation.

I love the idea of public accountability that NaNoWriMo has brought to my life, even though I’ve actually never participated. Personally, I plan to do the same “Write Anything Month” sprint next November, with whatever I’m working on then.