I Finished NaNoWriMo, and You Can Too

Photo Credit: Darius Bashar/Unsplash


I’ve known about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, for years. The basic idea is that, cheered on by others, you commit to writing a novel-length work, about 50,000 words, over the course of the month of November.

I’ve had an idea for a story circulating around my brain for a year now. I had it when I moved into my house and was toying with possible plot points and characters in my head. I decided to take the plunge and start putting pen to paper.

When I get going on something I’m excited about, I really get going. But, sometimes it’s hard to justify doing unpaid labor, even if it’s a labor of love. I put hours into plotting out and drafting this story, but felt like it was a long shot to pursue such a big dream. Shouldn’t I be working on paid writing projects or trying to get other paid work? Or at least doing the laundry, if I’m going to do unpaid work?

I looked into NaNoWriMo in mid-October and was more than pleasantly surprised by what I found. It’s free to participate, for one thing, and it’s a nonprofit with a mission to, as the website says, “support writing fluency and education.” They host the Young Writers Program and have notable big-name guests like Roxane Gay, John Green, and others cheering on would-be novelists. Some of my favorite novels, such as The Night Circus and Fangirl, have been written as NaNoWriMo projects.

I went for it. All in. Pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were). I have now written a first draft. NaNoWriMo is helping me realize my dream. After years and years of doubting myself, I'm actually writing a novel. And, I’m telling my friends and family about it, something I was never brave enough to do before because I thought I was alone in my dreams, which seemed silly and frivolous.

First of all, if you love something, it’s never frivolous — it’s something that brings you joy and a sense of accomplishment. Second of all, I’m not alone in my dream. Not by a long shot. Last year, half a million people participated in NaNoWriMo. I am now in a NaNoWriMo writing group that gets together once a week to share progress and write in the same (virtual) room together. I can reach out to local participants to talk to people in my area about our projects. I am updating my progress on the website and validating that the work and time I’m putting into this project is worth doing. I’m following authors I respect on Instagram and Twitter who are talking about their progress or frustrations as they write alongside me.

It’s only midway through the month, so there’s still time for any aspiring writers out there to get in on the fun and community. Honestly, if I can do it, anyone who wants to can. I’m a single parent to two little kids, with a job and a house and a dog — and a pandemic still threatening to shut everything down. I wrote while my kids played, while they were at school, as a reward for finishing chores or work assignments, late at night, and early in the morning. I wrote myself voice memos while walking the dog as ideas struck me. I talked through plot problems with a friend.

I don’t know if it’s going to be a bestseller. No one can know what’ll happen when they take a big, creative leap. I do know I wrote a novel this month — 60,000-plus words of my own — and I’m pretty proud of it.

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