After contemplating participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I have finally taken on the challenge of writing 50,000 words by November 30. I started my novel just as the clock hit midnight and November officially began, and I am already at 8,936 words. I have come to obsess over the number 1,667 (the average number of words needed per day to stay on track), and I find that my mind is immersed in the fictional world I’m creating even when I’m not sitting at my computer.
I have always had a hard time prioritizing my fiction writing. It tends to be at the bottom of my list, and that means it’s often the thing that gets cut when my other work exhausts my energy for the day. NaNoWriMo is forcing me to make my writing one of my top priorities, and I am enjoying the push from chasing the 50,000-word goal. What I’m writing in this frenzy will not be a masterpiece on November 30, but for me, participating in NaNoWriMo is about the process of writing.
Claire Fallon recently wrote a piece for The Huffington Post on how not everyone has a novel in them. She addresses the NaNoWriMo tagline, “The world needs your novel.” Fallon argues that most of us do not need to participate because the world actually needs more readers than it does hastily written novels. She talks to several people in the publishing industry who believe NaNoWriMo encourages bad writing habits. One industry expert says it would be better for writers to put their time into developing characters and honing their craft. Fallon does acknowledge the value of the writing community created during NaNoWriMo, but she ultimately sees the time spent writing a novel in a month as a waste.
While some of Fallon’s arguments may be valid if we assume all novel writing is for the purpose of making money from publishing, I think she misses the point of NaNoWriMo and why many of us write. I do not have any grand delusions that my fiction writing is going to bring in millions of dollars for me. It is rare to have a Stephen King or JK Rowling who makes a sizable income from their books. I write because the stories compel me to. If life gives me the opportunity to share those stories by publishing them, even better.
I really like the story I am creating, but I know that when I’m done with the first draft, it will need a huge amount of revision if I decide to continue working on it. It’s almost as though I’m setting up the framework for a story that I can later work on and develop. Given what I’m reading in the NaNoWriMo forums and social media as well as the NaNoWriMo organization’s own push to start off the new year with revision, I do not think anyone expects to have a perfect, publishable novel on November 30.
When we are young children, we are all artists. It is not until someone starts putting the idea in our heads that we are not painting correctly or our drawings are a little messy that we stop believing that we are artists. I think the same goes for writing, and somewhere along the way many of us lost faith in our ability to be storytellers. And we also forget that being a writer can simply be writing a story for fun that no one else reads. I think NaNoWriMo is a reminder that we all have a novel in us. It’s not about the finished product; it’s the process and what we find out about ourselves along the way.
Back on New Year’s Day in 2011, I completed the first draft of a novel that has officially become my trunk novel. Maybe one day I will dust it off and set to work on the mountains of revisions it needs. But for now it is a reminder to me that I am capable of writing a novel, and that’s enough. My NaNoWriMo novel may end up serving the same purpose, but it will still have been worth it. Even if the world does not really need my novel, I need it.
Now, if you’ll forgive me, I need to end this post here. I have 1,667 words to write today, and somewhere in all of that I have my regular work to do!