This will be my eighth year participating in NaNoWriMo. I sort of can’t believe it. I remember so vividly how I found out about it and honestly, it feels like no time has passed… but in fact, seven novels worth of time have passed since that day (and here I am mentally preparing for number eight).
I was at home in my bedroom at my parent’s house. This is really embarrassing to admit, but I had this “friend” on AIM that I had never spoken with, but kept her on my buddy list because I thought her away messages and buddy profile were funny. I don’t even entirely remember, but I think she was a fanfiction author I had admired but never worked up the courage to say hello to. It was 2005; I was 17 years old, give me a break. Around the time of November, her away messages starting referencing this project she was working on, something called NaNoWriMo. After a few days my curiosity got the best of me and I finally clicked the link.
What I found on the other end quite literally changed my life.
I wrote a lot of fanfiction in middle school and high school. I had always loved writing, and fanfiction seemed like the only way to get other people interested in reading your words. People love hearing about what new capers Harry, Ron and Hermione got themselves into – so I wrote my crappy fanfiction – and people read it. It was a beautiful thing. But as I got older, I didn’t just want to use other people’s characters. I tried my foray into fictionpress.com (fanfiction.net’s sister site for original works) and people just didn’t care. It was disheartening. It made me want to stop writing.
But then I found NaNoWriMo. A site dedicated to encouraging writers to do what they were meant to do: WRITE. Constantly. For a whole month.
I will preface this by saying that even after seven novel attempts, I still haven’t shared much of my work with any other living, breathing humans – but that wasn’t the point of NaNoWriMo for me. While I craved the comments and feedback on my fanfiction, NaNoWriMo made writing a whole new animal for me… rather than a solitary task I did alone in my bedroom against the protest of my mom who wanted me to come out and actually interact with people sometimes. Suddenly NaNoWriMo gave me not only a supportive community of other writers to talk with and gain encouragement from, but it managed to somehow turn my favorite lonely solo activity into a sport. One where people root for each other!
It’s been such a positive force in my life, even when it means I am ignoring plans with friends, falling behind in TV shows, or working myself into a stupor. It’s the kind of exhaustion you earn after a job well done, and I look forward to it year after year. I learned that writing is much less about those immediate comments you receive on fanfiction.net, but about cultivating the skills required to take on such a gargantuan task on your own. About learning discipline, and powering through something even when it seems impossible, and how good it feels when inspiration truly hits.
I recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who has ever had even the smalled nugget of an idea for a story in their brains. If you want to follow my progress in the coming months, here’s my profile. And if you’re at all interested in helping out the nonprofit behind this wonderful event, I’m raising money for their annual gala on my personal fundraising page here.