The Joys and Perils of NaNoWriMo

Like most writers, I have heard of NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month is a yearly tradition steeped in blood, swear, tears, and a lot of swear words as you try and bang out fifty thousand words in just the mere thirty days of November. Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a seasoned author. I write for fun and when I can, where I can. I don’t sit down everyday and force myself to stare at a screen until I pull the words out of my brain. However, in 2019, I decided to try NaNoWriMo.

I will admit, I was already in the beginnings of a large writing project and I figured, “Well, I’m writing nearly everyday anyway. Might as well jump on the train.” I was at a handsome twenty-five thousand words on my novella (*cough* fanfic *cough*) and I figured, surely at the rate I was going at around ten thousand words a week, I could easily make fifty thousand. Boy, was I wrong.

To start with, I was a full-time student in the technical writing program that semester. It was my first semester back in college after dropping out for nearly three years and I came back into the world of academia bright faced and eager to take on the world at 25. That was my first mistake: underestimating how hard college is after being out for so long.

My second mistake was under-calculating how much work fifty thousand words is. Many people break it down by the day: 1,667 words a day. A DAY. When you’re inundated with homework, studying, trying to make new friends, and keeping up with your home life, 1,667 words a day is a lot. Considering the average essay for a 2000 level class is one to two thousand words and it takes me hours to write those, I thought it would be a bit much to force that every day. So, I figured, I would add them up and try to write ten thousand words out of the 11,669 words a week and come in a little under the goal of NaNo or possibly make it up by writing extra some weeks. After all, I was averaged the right amount during the early days of the semester. That meant I could keep up with it during the middle and end of the semester, right? Wrong. I was very, very wrong.

A little backstory: I will admit, I started the writing project I was working on during the final two weeks of the full-time job I quit before coming back to school. I worked for a TRiO program at a local community college and admittedly had some free time on my hands between my job duties. For some reason, places I’m supposed to be focusing in spark my creativity: so, I used to write during class and I wrote on the job. Writing at home? Not for me so much.

My third mistake: failing to find a good writing spot. I carried this project with me throughout my first semester back: fall 2019. I would write in the Nigh’s cafeteria during lunch, the Liberal Arts building during my break between classes; however, I would mostly write in the Center. While all these places were great, they weren’t conducive to quiet thought. There was always chatter and people talking and people moving around and it felt like no matter how much I turned up my music, I could always feel the people around me. I could feel their collection of voices vibrate my body. As someone with unmedicated ADHD, finding a quiet and still spot is my preferred way of writing; somewhere calm, somewhere collected, and somewhere where I can just take in the ambience. Sort of like a private office space (see why I wrote on the job now? I had my own office!).

Now, while none of these were great writing spots, I did manage to get some writing in. I had classes Tuesdays and Thursdays and would bounce around between all three of the aforementioned spots within a day. First lunch in the Nigh, then the Center, and then the study room in the Liberal Arts building. It was a ritual during the entire semester but especially that November.

All in all, my word count for NaNoWriMo came out to a little over thirty thousand words. Did I meet the goal? No, I did not. Did I have fun? Absolutely! I fell in love with the characters and felt my creativity skyrocket when I was pushing myself to do a five thousand word chapter a day. I found new ways to experiment with dialogue and found new words to describe settings, all from experimenting with the way I wrote. Was each chapter I wrote a masterpiece? Absolutely not. I made mistakes, I flipped tenses, and found clunky areas. I overwrote when a simple sentence would have sufficed better. But I did it. I wrote a whole thirty thousand words that I had not written before and I proved to myself that I am capable of writing that much.

Before attempting NaNoWriMo, I had never pushed myself as a writer. I was very lackadaisical and very “flow with the wind.” Sure, I had taken a creative writing course in community college before I graduated and failed to go to a four-year university, but c’mon, it’s only 16 weeks and the most you write is a two thousand word short story—great for getting into creative writing, but it didn’t advance my skills. Also, sure, I wrote for fun but I never had any sort of ambition to actually finish something or allow myself to create something bigger than myself. That was what NaNo did: it forced me to challenge myself.

So, while there were some lows and some rookie mistakes, I can say with confidence that even though I did not “win” NaNo, I won my own challenge of NaNo: becoming a better writer. After all, writing is a skill. Some may be born with a talent for words and some not, but everyone has to work at it to become a better writer. It’s not something that will develop on its own.

Sorry if that pops your bubble.

Kayla Taylor
Kayla Taylor

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