|Greenville NaNoWriMo Write-In, 2009
Not just participated! I have won every year I have participated. That means in November of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, I wrote at least 50,000 words.
As a frequent participant in NaNoWriMo, I thought I'd offer my perspective on this popular event. It might surprise you to learn that I have zero aspirations of being a published novelist. None. So why do I do it?
1. Achievement. Blame my status as a first-born child, blame my "Achiever" Enneagram Type, or call me crazy, but I am completely fueled by accomplishment. Setting goals, meeting those goals, competing, all of these things really drive me.
Some people with this personality type train for marathons. Maybe some day I'll have the physical ability to do such things, but for now, my brain really enjoys the workout. I started thinking about this analogy though, and I find it compelling. I know many people who train to run 5Ks, or half-marathons, or even one crazy co-worker who did a triathlon. These people, I believe, because of the work they have done and the great things they have achieved, deserve the title of athlete/runner. How many 13.1 stickers have you seen lately? Would these same people be able to compete with professional athletes? In most cases, heck no. Are they still athletes? Well, yes. I'm not really caught up in calling myself a writer - in fact, I don't* - but I can understand why someone who has "won" NaNoWriMo might.
Adrenaline isn't just for extreme sports. Any time you challenge yourself to do something you normally wouldn't, it can have a great impact on your life. You have no idea what you can accomplish until you try. NaNoWriMo is a great test case, with only a 30 day commitment!
2. Community. The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, I was only active in the online forums and other virtual settings. The second year, I decided to venture out to some local events. I found people like me, who love to read, who love to write, and aren't afraid to participate in a crazy, somewhat obsessive and all-consuming event such as this. I've made good friends because of write-ins. Some of us even formed a longer running writing group for a while, which was fantastic.
Some of this feeds into my competitive nature too. I'm just more likely to churn out the word count if I'm given 20 minutes and there is a prize at the end. We can encourage one another and challenge each other. Our fearless readers often have ideas for us throughout the month, like emergency plot cards, words you have to try to incorporate, and online word wars. All of it helps.
3. Appreciation. Most people know that I am an avid reader. There is nothing like struggling with writing a cohesive story to make you appreciate a master of the craft. I have realized how difficult it is to truly be creative, to tie everything together, and to remain "readable." Because I understand how far I am from greatness, much less readability, I can more specifically articulate what I appreciate in a published work. I pay more attention to what authors say about their own works as well. How do they come up with an idea? What do they do with the idea once they get it? How do they decide what belongs and what to leave out? How much time do they spend editing?
My skills aren't there. I don't devote the time or energy to getting them there. Even if I did, I'm not sure I have the capacity for originality that I would need. That's okay though, because for 30 days a year, I can pour myself into the attempt.
If you are contemplating becoming involved in NaNoWriMo, it isn't too late. A lot of us don't do any planning the first time around, and just jump in and see what happens. I'd encourage you to try it, or to start planning to do it next year if you want to outline your plot and come up with character profiles. Find a copy of No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, which is useful before NaNoWriMo starts and a beneficial companion throughout the month. Join your local group and reap the benefits of writing in community. Set goals you can achieve, and reward yourself.
*I should say that some people who do plan on getting published also benefit greatly from participating in NaNoWriMo. I'll allow them to speak for themselves; that just isn't my focus or experience.