NaNoWriMo: 14 Years Later, Why Do I Still Do This To Myself?

NaNoWriMo Coffee Shop

I just checked my computer and discovered that I first participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) way back in 2002. It doesn’t feel like fourteen years have gone by, but obviously time flies when you’re having fun. When I mentioned this to a friend and told him I was doing NaNo yet again, his response was, “Why do you keep doing this to yourself? It’s not like you need to any more.”

He has a point. When I started NaNo’ing, I was just starting out as a freelance writer. I’d just quit my day job and was transitioning to full time freelancing. I also harbored a dream of writing novels. Fourteen years later and I’m a full time freelancer with two books published and more under contract. I’m a professional, working writer. Why do I still punish myself every November with a lack of sleep, caffeine overload, and word count anxiety? Here’s why.

Community. This is the biggest reason I keep coming back. Writing is an isolating profession, especially when you work from home, as I do. Whole days can go by without talking to another person or leaving the house. But every November, a whole tribe of people comes out to play. You can meet them in coffee shops, libraries, and online. You can go to a write-in, or just share a table and an electrical outlet in Starbucks. Even if you don’t speak to people, there’s still a huge sense of community when you see someone frantically pounding the keyboard at your favorite cafe. You trade a knowing smile and move on. This is what makes NaNo fun for me. It’s one month out of the year when I don’t feel like such a freak! (Over the years, I’ve met people who are still friends and critique partners, so that community can last even beyond the event.)

Sense of accomplishment. Writing’s a career where many goals take forever to achieve, or you’re not even sure you’re making any progress at all. (How many of you have spent months waiting for responses to queries? How many times have you submitted and heard nothing at all?) NaNo gives you something concrete and achievable to shoot for. Fifty thousand words and you’re a winner. You get a huge boost of confidence that, yes, you can accomplish something. You get a certificate for your efforts, plus your friends cheer you on. In a world where feedback is hard to come by and goals are nebulous, it’s nice to get a little pat on the back.

I still surprise myself. Every year something comes out of NaNo that I don’t expect. Maybe I suddenly seem to be writing fantastic dialogue. Or my pacing gets better, my sentence structure stronger. Maybe it’s the idea for the novel itself that’s surprising. Whatever it is, I look forward to seeing what each year brings. There’s something about the crucible (desperation?) of November that brings something new to light. As long as there are surprises and I see progress, I’ll keep NaNao’ing.


My first winner’s icon. Incidentally, 2002 was the first year they offered icons as prizes.


It’s an excuse to write. You would think that a professional writer wouldn’t need an excuse to write. That I write all the time, so what’s the big deal? The deal is that, just like everyone else, obligations and distractions often get in the way of the work I want and need to do. During the rest of the year it’s easy to put off writing for a few more hours while I clean the house or run errands. There’s always something to fill spaces of time. Come November, though, I get to say, “Nope. It’s NaNo time so I’m not doing those things.” I can make others in the household pick up the slack, or just let stuff go without apology. It’s liberating and glorious.

It reminds me that fear is an illusion. When you’re tackling a huge word count in a compressed period of time, you don’t have the luxury of worrying about perfection, publication, payment, platform building, sales numbers, or anything else. All of your fears and anxieties get shoved aside and you just write. It’s nice, during the other eleven months of the year, to look back and remember that free feeling. When the anxieties and fears creep in and threaten to swamp my work, I remember NaNo and remind myself that fear is just an illusion my mind cooks up to keep me from working.

It inspires creativity like nothing else. There is nothing like NaNo for liberating your creativity. You’ve got to keep moving forward so you come up with the craziest things to keep the plot going and the words flowing. And you know what? No matter how bizarre or crappy your ideas seem at the time (“I’ll just throw in a fire tornado, some ninjas, and a talking goat,”), more often than not these weird things actually work. You’d never think of them if you were in your right mind, but NaNo puts you out of your mind and forces you to stop censoring your ideas.

So that’s why I keep coming back every year. It’s an event on my calendar that brings me a tremendous amount of joy and productivity. Even in the years where I don’t write 50,000 words of new fiction, I still participate to move my career forward. This year I’ll be doing fiction again, though, because I really want to finish the next book in the Broken Fate series.


What are you doing for NaNoWriMo? Why do you participate? Share in the comments!


(Photo courtesy of iBrand)



2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: 14 Years Later, Why Do I Still Do This To Myself?

  1. Pingback: Characteristics of Creative People | Jennifer Derrick

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