NaNoWriMo is a rollercoaster, an exhausting rollercoaster that you have to power by a stationary bicycle set at a steep incline. One drop in pressure, one lazy day, and you are stuck in a sinkhole of deep doggy doo-doo. With a 20% success rate for participants, it’s pretty clear that most people get tired of peddling up and down that ridiculous rollercoaster. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. It is a challenge for people of all ages to write a 50,000 word novel in November. 1,667 words for 30 days. Approximately 2 ½ single spaced pages. Every. Single. Day. On top of whatever else you are supposed to be doing in your busy life. Break out the coffee and chocolate. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
I have completed NaNoWriMo three times now. Well, I suppose that is a bit of a lie, since two of those were outside of November, but they still count. The first novel was during my sophomore year at Whitworth (2011), which was the first time I had even heard of NaNoWriMo. My English major friends were all doing it, so I decided to give it a try. I started prepping my plot and character in September, giving them personalities and outlining all of the plot developments that would crop up throughout the month. I was pretty stoked, but also extremely nervous because November is the last full month of fall semester classes leading up to finals. Regardless, I took the plunge and waited until midnight on October 31st with my friends in the dorm lounge, waiting with our humming computers to start writing as soon as November began. The anticipation was thrilling. 12:00 a.m. All at once it began, the sounds of clicking keyboards and soft nature music playing in the background buzzed around us as we tried to write as fast we could. Occasionally someone would ask a question, or make a joke, but it was pretty smooth writing for everyone.
After that, every day I would wake up early, around 5 or 6 a.m. and go to the lounge with my computer, notes, and headphones to write my daily 1,667 words. I got tired, and some days I wanted to get off that rollercoaster and just take a nice long nap, but I kept going. I didn’t want to give up. But I noticed, as the days went by, that my friends started to stop writing. One by one, they each gave up, choosing homework over their novel, which is a pretty reasonable choice. By the middle of the month, I was the only one left.
What kept me going was the challenge. It was a training exercise, a way to stretch my writer muscles. I had let my creative writing fall by the wayside for so many years; it was exciting to write again, but even more than that I wanted to finish. I craved validation and accomplishment. I wanted to finish this arbitrary rollercoaster and beat this test against my own inner critic telling me that I couldn’t do it. I wanted the prize. I needed the prize. My novel wasn’t so much a masterpiece that would revolutionize the writing industry as much as fodder to keep my creative juices flowing. My novel, to be frank, was and continues to be a piece of crap. This is because NaNoWriMo is not meant to create bestsellers, it is meant to inspire people to write outside of NaNoWriMo. Novels written in a month are the roughest rough drafts anyone will ever write. They are not ready to publish and sell to the general public. They need severe editing to make them decent to see the light of day. This is a “do what I say, not what I do” moment, since I did end up self-publishing my NaNoWriMo novel (Idonea), because that is the “prize” that NaNoWriMo offers its winners. But that was only after 6 months of editing, and even then, it is still a piece of crap. It is still a rough draft, and I am still editing it.
NaNoWriMo is tough, with the valleys of the writing rollercoaster sometimes greatly overshadowing the mountain peaks. It is exhausting, and it makes you want to give up. But if you want to finish, there is nothing keeping you back but you and your priorities. This is a writing exercise, and nothing more. And you can rise to meet the challenge. Step on that rollercoaster and start peddling that stupid stationary bicycle, because that is the only way you will reach the end.
Rosie McFarland is currently a senior English major who is torn between visual and written narratives. After graduation, she plans on backpacking around the UK before finding a job in the film industry. Check out her tutorial “How to Finish NaNoWriMo.”
Also, don’t miss Poetry and Pie hosted by Westminster Round THIS Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Mind and Hearth coffee shop.