Perhaps I am a masochist. Amid everything else I do, I decided to write a 50,000-word novel. In a month. In case you were wondering, that’s roughly the same length as The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Why am I doing this? Just because a website challenged me to.
I’ve known about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for a few years through my writing friends, but I had never had enough guts to try it. This year, I decided I’d do it. So I made an account on the NaNoWriMo website and agreed to write an article on my experiences so I’d be officially trapped into doing it. And then came the hard part. At first it was impossible. I kept looking at the blank page of expectant Word document and I was petrified. It was daunting and I was rusty on writing fiction. So, to avoid the judgment of the disappointed and still blank page, I did everything I could to stay away from Microsoft Word. I perfected my recipe for cheesecake brownies. I checked out stacks of books from the library for papers that aren’t due for another month. I spent way too much money online shopping, all the time avoiding the judging stare of the ‘W’ icon on my screen. The first few days were murder; I felt accomplished for churning out five hundred words of total drivel. Then I hit my stride.
It took a few days and a whole lot of procrastinating, but as soon as Reading Week started I ran out of excuses and wrote my first 5,000 words. It was agony. Absolutely torturous. But then I reached a point where suddenly, and without warning, the words just started to flow. I’ve looked at what I wrote; it’s complete rubbish, something I would never show anyone whose respect I value. But the point is that I’m writing. In fact, that’s the entire point of National Novel Writing Month. You’re just supposed to get your pen to paper, or as is much more common in this day and age, your fingers to the keyboard and write.
As the NaNoWriMo website assures all potential participants “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes.” And it’s true. For someone who worries and analyses even the shortest email for syntactical perfection, being able to just write and be rewarded and assured for writing without judgment on content is a breath of fresh air.
Not only does NaNoWriMo present a daring challenge and a judgment-free environment, it also presents something that I, being an Economics student, am powerless to resist: graphs and statistics. When you sign up for a NaNoWriMo account a word counter becomes available on the main page of the website. Every time you enter in your new word count, you can check your statistics on an included tab on your NaNoWriMo homepage. There you can find average word count, projected finish date, what your word count should be, and a reminder of how many words you’ve written during the day. Then, there’s the crème de la crème: an enormous graph that tracks your daily word count relative to the pace you should be writing to finish on time. NaNoWriMo also provides a plethora of other opportunities to support writers as they try to make to through the month. When you sign up you can give your county and country, which puts you into a forum with other WriMos in your area. There are also games and daily challenges to keep you going through the tedious month. For example, on 11/11/11, the challenge was to sit down for 11 straight hours and write 11,111 words. Needless to say, I did not take this challenge.
The other day I was writing at eleven on a Friday night. Even my mother called me from across the Atlantic to ask me why I wasn’t out. As you can imagine, NaNoWriMo is very time consuming, social life sucking, and at times overwhelmingly frustrating. But at the same time I’ve really enjoyed doing it, and I think it can be very satisfying for the right person. Not only has it gotten me back in the saddle as far as writing is concerned, but it has given me confidence by providing evidence of what I can do if I put my mind to it. This certainly isn’t a challenge for the faint of heart, or one to be taken on a whim, but if you just can’t shake the urge to write, it’s a great experience.