The benefits of participating in a speedwriting endeavor such as NaNoWriMo go beyond the drafting of a manuscript. I know—I’ve participated several times and won a few, too! I feel extremely positive about my NaNoWriMo experiences, partly because when I “won” I accomplished a very difficult thing that I wasn’t sure I could do, but also because I learned valuable lessons throughout the thirty-day “seat-of-your-pants literary adventure” as Executive Director Chris Baty calls it. Here are my top 5 reasons why you should join me in trying NaNoWriMo this year.
1. Freedom Opens Your Creative Floodgates
If you end up with something publishable, good for you! But that isn’t the point of the exercise. NaNoWriMo is “permission” to write 50K words of what may be total crap, and it’s extraordinarily freeing. I don’t have to—in fact, can’t—quibble with my editor-brain over which phrasing sounds better, or whether my protagonist should be a tall brunette or a short blond. All I have to do is keep those fingers moving. If you’ve ever struggled with writer’s block, insecurity, or finding the time to write, committing to NaNoWriMo could change your writing life. And you may be surprised by what you end up with when you give yourself the freedom to just create.
2. 30 Days Helps Make a Habit
The very act of sitting down to write on a regular basis helps train your brain to write more, better, faster. It also helps strengthen your ability to defy emotional reasoning (i.e. “I really don’t feel like working today, so I’m not going to.”), which in turn encourages discipline. Moreover, experts often say that it takes the average person 21-28 days of repeating a new activity before it becomes a true habit and thus easier to maintain. Research suggests this is an underestimation, but certainly doing something daily for a whole month will go a long way toward cultivating a new habit, even if it isn’t completely automatic at that point! To take maximum advantage of this benefit, choose a time of day you can stick to once November is over. That way you won’t upset your new routine.
3. Annual Event = 1 Novel Per Year
Again, you’re training your brain to be creative on a constant basis. It’s essentially practice in churning out a rough draft quickly. You may take another year or more to revise it into something great, sure. But that’s better than spending a year on the rough draft and THEN another few years on the revising. Imagine that you draft a new novel every November. If you diligently maintain your new writing habit and revise your manuscript throughout the year, you’ll easily be able to take advantage of the “three drawer system.” This is a method by which writers manage their revision process so their brains don’t lose their objectivity or get bored. How it works: When you’ve finished a complete first draft (note that NaNoWriMo produces a rough draft, which will need some work before it can really be considered a completed first draft), you put it aside and start on your next one. When you’ve finished with that, start a third. After you’ve drafted your third, return to that first manuscript and start a round of deep revisions. Continue to work in this cascading fashion until you have a draft ready for workshopping or for an editor.
4. NaNoWriMo Makes Accountability Fun
Many people have what they feel is a great idea for a book, but can never find the time to work on it, either because they’re truly busy or because they’re afraid. NaNoWriMo is the literary equivalent of Weight Watchers: When you join NaNoWriMo, you’re making a more solid commitment than just saying you want to write a book. The NaNoWriMo website offers an array of tools and toys to help you stay on track with your word count goals including downloadable widgets, a word progress function so you can compare yourself to your friends, regional competitions, and more. And, since writing a novel can seem so daunting, committing only 30 days to the effort makes it seem less scary.
5. A Robust Community Offers Support
One of the benefits of registering with the NaNoWriMo website is creating connections with Writing Buddies. These are Wrimos with whom you link up and then monitor on your dashboard. Seeing how your progress bar compares to theirs, especially if these are real-life friends, can give you a much-needed boost when you’re falling behind. For example, one year I buddied with my friend and colleague Angela Render who is a very prolific writer, while I tend to write slowly, so competing to stay on par with her word count or even ahead helped me stay focused.
The robust NaNoWriMo website also offers community online and offline. Online you have forums based on everything from region to genre. When I need a break, I enjoy chatting with other local writers. I also enjoy checking out the kinds of obstacles others are facing (and the advice that the friendly Wrimo community shares in response). Offline, many regions offer “Write-ins.” These are organized by volunteers. A “Write-in” is where local Wrimos gather at a designated place, typically once a week for a couple of hours, to socialize and hammer out some words. I typically add at least 1,000 words to my word count every time I attended a Write-in.
Stay tuned to our public Facebook group, The Writer’s Allies, throughout November for updates on our community’s NaNoWriMo experience. I hope you’ll join the group and join in the fun!