For those of you who haven’t met me yet, I’m Heather Hayden, writer of fantasy and science fiction. Today I’m here to talk a little about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it is commonly called.
First, I’d like to say thank you to Lidy for hosting me—thanks, Lidy! I’m excited to be here today.
This year marks my tenth NaNoWriMo—I’ve been participating since 2007, and hope to do so for years to come. I’ve seen people come and go from the challenge, either finding what they needed then moving on, or learning that it isn’t right for them. I’ve read and heard many discussions between supporters and critics.
I could probably list many reasons why you should or shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, but as you can find those elsewhere, I won’t. Instead, I’m going to talk about three reasons I participate every year, and if even just one of those reasons resonates somehow with you, then perhaps you too might find this challenge an adventure worth taking.
Reason #1: The Commitment
Since its birth in 1999, National Novel Writing Month has grown in numbers of participants and numbers of spinoffs (unofficial and official). But the core of its November-based challenge remains the same—write 50,000 words in one novel in 30 days.
That number might seem challenging at first, but that works out to about 1,667 words a day, which is generally doable, especially if you do a bit extra on weekends. If, like me, you can write 1000-2000 words in an hour on a good day, it’s not a huge commitment.
Except, it is. You need to write every day (or almost every day) to keep on top of your word count. Leaving everything to the last week (as I have once or twice) means there will be a lot more stress and a lot less sleep as you race toward the finish line, the deadline snapping ever closer at your heels.
Some participants like to finish in the first week. Some like to finish in the first few days. And some—with a lot of time on their hands and crazy-fast typing speed—finish on the first day. They are all NaNoers, just like me—and you, if you are writing this year or have in the past.
The knowledge that I’m writing alongside thousands of other people all across the world, all determined to reach “The End”—or at least word 50,000—before the stroke of midnight on the 30th; that knowledge is inspiring.
When the bell tolls midnight on Halloween, when November first dawns, I’m sitting at my computer, waiting for the moment to start writing. And, like every year, I’m determined to finish.
Reason #2: The Freedom
I am, first of all, a pantser. I tend to pour a first draft onto paper and then revise, revise, revise. But NaNoWriMo isn’t just for pantsers. Planners, plantsers, and all the other types inbetween enjoy the challenge, and they all have their own ways of preparing.
For me, however, the most work I usually do is write a blurb—and obtain a cover, if possible.
This is my blurb for this year’s NaNoWriMo:
Skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony.
Those words have cursed Snow since her birth. Her mother’s thoughtless wish had repercussions she did not live to see—her daughter cannot stand the light of day…and there is only one thing that can stave her hunger.
For sixteen years, Snow’s father has hidden the truth about her from both their people and the neighboring kingdoms. However, by the law of the land, after four times four years of mourning, the king must choose another wife.
Snow’s new stepmother views the princess with suspicion, and all too soon Snow finds herself under a scrutiny she wishes to avoid. When the queen moves from observation to outright attack, however, Snow has nowhere to turn. Her father is bespelled, unable to even recognize his daughter, and she is forced to flee the castle into the frightful Dark Forest.
The queen’s henchmen still pursue her though, and if they do not kill her, the forest might. And this is its cover, created by Perry Elizabeth Design:
That’s all the planning I did. Some years I might have a bit more than that, some years I might have a bit less, but the wonderful thing I’ve discovered is that NaNoWriMo is a magical time to write. Somehow, when I sit down that first morning, the story starts to flow. Sometimes I might hit a detour, or a speed bump, but with gentle prodding the story will continue to move (or I’ll jump ahead and leave a scene in a ditch for a while before returning to dig it out.)
The first NaNovel I ever wrote was also the first novel I ever wrote, and although I’m sure there were times when I was stuck, all I remember is how wonderful it felt to be putting these words down on paper, making the characters come alive.
Reason #3: The Results
Not every NaNovel I’ve written will be published. Some will be, with some editing and polishing. But regardless of whether the story was for my personal enjoyment or to eventually share with the world, I still wrote that novel and learned from the experience. Every year, my goal becomes more and more to produce not only quantity during November, but also quality. Last year, I wrote the sequel to Augment, a book I published in March 2015. Upgrade is in the final stages of editing now, and will be released in early 2017.
Before Upgrade, I spent three years—three NaNoWriMos—working on a fantasy trilogy involving demons and magic. The first of that series, too long neglected, is now also entering the editing stages that will lead to its eventual publication later in 2017.
As for the five or so NaNovels before them? They might never see the light of day, but writing them taught me a lot about the craft and what works and doesn’t work when it comes to writing. They also gave me a consistency for this past near-decade; no matter how busy I was, every year I took the time to sit down and write a novel. Some years I even participated in the now-defunct JanNoWriMo (an unofficial spinoff), Script Frenzy (a discontinued official spinoff), and some of the now-present NaNo Camps (official spinoffs that take place several times each year.)
Most importantly of all, if I had not participated in NaNoWriMo ten years ago, I may not have discovered how much I love creating worlds and characters and stories during a time when I had plenty of free time to explore those worlds. Even when I attended college, and found myself buried under mountains of homework, I still found the necessary time to at least participate, each year, in NaNoWriMo. Continuing to write through those four years showed me that writing is my true passion in life, and now that I am graduated, much of my free time is spent either writing, or traveling to gather new experiences that inspire my writing.
In conclusion, everyone who participates in NaNoWriMo has a different experience. Some love it, some hate it, some view it with indifference. Some are unaffected…and some walk away, like me, forever changed.
NaNoWriMo is not for everyone. Some might try it once, and never again. Others might stop partway through the month, not pleased with their story or their progress. Still others might enjoy it for a few years, then decide that their time is better spent elsewhere.
But for me, NaNoWriMo remains an important cornerstone of my life as a writer. I look forward to its arrival every year, the anticipation of once again dashing for the finish line with a new—or returning—crew of characters.
As of the date of this post, there is still a week left of NaNo 2016. Even if you do not participate this year, you might want to check out the site, and consider joining other writers for a CampNaNo next April or July—the camps have a flexible word count goal.
Though a part-time editor by day, Heather Hayden’s not-so-secret identity is that of a writer—at night she pours heart and soul into science fiction and fantasy novels. In March 2015 she published her first novella, Augment, a YA science fiction story filled with excitement, danger, and the strength of friendship. She immediately began work on its sequel, Upgrade, which continues the adventures of Viki, a girl who loves to run, and her friend Halle, an AI. You can learn more about Heather on Twitter or her blog, both of which consist of equal amounts of writerly things and random stuff she’s interested in.