Around this time every year I wake up with a flutter of excitement in my chest. There’s something in the air. It’s thick with honeysuckle and jasmine, the sky is a bright cornflower blue, birds are singing.
Yes, it’s springtime.
It’s also almost time for NaNoWrimo.
It is widely said that everyone has a novel within them, waiting to be written. A group in the US took these words to heart. They figured that if one were to write a few pages every day for an entire month, and dedicate oneself wholeheartedly to the task, one would have a novel written by the 30th. It’s what they call the “seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” Out of this idea rose an annual international month-long festival of writing.
All over the world, including in your home town, people will get together to write novels this November. Volunteers, called Municipal Liaisons will co-ordinate meet-ups, hand out incentives, host parties. People who have never put pen to paper and published authors alike (such as Neil Gaiman) will hunch over laptops or PCs churning out 1667 words a day in a desperate attempt to complete a novel of 50 000 words by the last day of the month. Friends will compete for the highest word count, the forums on the NaNoWriMo website will come alive with writing advice and resources, and dreamers, with their busy schedules and other priorities, will finally have the much-needed excuse to follow their hearts.
You see, it’s not just about choosing to write a novel and sitting down and getting that done.
That you can do at any time of the year, alone. It’s about being part of one gigantic writing marathon, running towards the finish-line hand-in-hand with other writers around the world. Even if you don’t go to the meet-ups or chat on the forums or IRC channel, you will receive emails every week from famous published authors egging you on, giving you advice relevant to that particular part of the novel. Even if you don’t reach the word count, you have a legitimate excuse for trying, for putting writing first, for saying “I’m sorry I can’t come out tonight, I have a novel to write,” without sounding insulting.
I did my first NaNo in the middle of exams in my third year of varsity. I didn’t finish. I didn’t come close to finishing. But it didn’t matter. I had a taste of being part of something greater. The next year was my first true NaNo and it was one of the defining moments of that year. I met amazing people, I discovered what writing techniques work for me and, best of all, I defeated procrastination.
That’s right. After 12 years of school and four years of university, all it took me to learn time management was a month of novel-writing. I thought that perhaps it was a fluke, that I was attributing too much to the NaNo process and not enough to the fact that I had just completed what was essentially an Honours degree. Last year, my dad took part in NaNo for the first time, though, and he sounded like an echo of myself over the phone when he said, “It’s amazing, I never waste time any more, I’ve learned to get things done.”
Time management was not the only benefit I picked up from NaNo. Last year, NaNo was the highlight of my year. Partly because, yes, the year had been sad and I was a sad individual at the time. For the greater part, though, because when I hit those 50k words at the end of the month, I had achieved something. In a year when I had otherwise been a complete failure, I had done something amazing. I had written… well, half a novel. It’s a pretty long novel. But I had hit that word count, I had reached my goal, I was not useless.
Another thing I learned from NaNo last year was the reason why I write. In the middle of November I was denied acceptance to a Masters course in Creative Writing. I would have expected to be put off, to have stopped working on the stupid novel and face harsh reality. Instead, I carried on merrily, realising what otherwise I may have never admitted: I write because I love writing and it doesn’t matter at all whether anything ever gets published, whether it all comes to nothing. The glory is in the process.
For the past three years Amazon’s CreateSpace has offered the incentive of a voucher for one free proof copy (plus shipping) of your finished book if you reach the 50k . Holding that novel, that you’ve written, in your hand, has to be one of the best feelings in the world. It doesn’t matter that you published it yourself, the fact is that your hard work has become something physical.
It was because of the desire to have a row of published works of my own on my bookshelf with covers I could be proud of that I started working on digital art, that I started taking art seriously. Perhaps I have not become and never will be a famous web cartoonist or renowned artist, but I have a new skill now and it feels wonderful.
If you are even vaguely considering taking part in NaNo this year, do it. Honestly, give it a go. You’ll never regret it. At worst you’ll give up half way through and simply go on the way you always have. At best… it will change your life.
And who knows, you might even write a best-seller.