In 2012, I was struggling to find my footing. I had moved back to California after a very disappointing work experience in France that left me deflated in every way possible. I was working, but it certainly wasn’t a dream job, and I was still figuring out how to rebuild a life somewhere I hadn’t lived since high school.
Discouraged after my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing (for many reasons, which I won’t get into here), I hadn’t written in a long while. I had heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) previously, but I’d never thought to add it to my whirlwind schedule, nor had I thought a novel was something I could write—not since a failed attempt, also in high school.
But there I was, back where I had been the last time I’d considered it possible—at least geographically. Someone mentioned NaNoWriMo to me around the same time that an idea for a story cropped up and wouldn’t let me go. Plus, to be honest, I needed a way to meet people since working from home isn’t exactly a social activity.
So, I made an account on the NaNoWriMo site, joined my regional group, and was promptly overwhelmed by the list of write-ins and the activity on the forums. And yet, somehow at midnight November 1st 2012, I started writing.
The idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a little bit crazy. The idea of doing so with no plan—i.e. pantsing a story—even crazier. (Planners may disagree here—if so, I’d love to hear your thoughts!)
National Novel Writing Month is a personal challenge. It’s terrifying and difficult. And in my experience, very rarely is it as exhilarating as other people say. It means sacrificing sleep and sometimes personal relationships (which do recover!), and it’s definitely a battle—not to give up when you don’t meet a word count goal, to push through inevitable bouts of writer’s block, to make those necessary sacrifices. To reach 50,000 words.
But part of the beauty of NaNoWriMo is knowing your battle, personal as it is, is in that moment not unique. Both virtually and with in-person events, this absolutely crazy challenge allows you to surround yourself with other equally crazy people from all walks of life doing this pretty-sure-I’m-crazy thing, fighting their own version of that same battle.
I don’t like failing (who does?), and after the disastrous way my job in France ended, failure here wasn’t an option—even though the many late nights struggling to write something tried to convince me otherwise. For me, NaNoWriMo 2012 was a constant struggle.
But I did it. By December 1st, I had written 50,000 words of a story—of a novel. Now that was exhilarating. If I could do that, I could certainly write the 25,000-ish words I needed to finish the draft. I refused to let those 50,000 words go to waste.
It took longer than 2 weeks to write those final words, of course, because for us mere mortals, the grueling pace of NaNoWriMo isn’t sustainable. But with one novel drafted, I revisited that old high school attempt during a Camp NaNo session and managed to finish that before diving into my third novel the following November.
NaNoWriMo 2013 was more difficult for me than 2012, possibly because of the subject matter of the book or maybe because by then I’d started a blog and created social media accounts which had to be maintained. Still, I pushed myself to the finish line, struggling every step of the way.
Like a relentless physical therapist, NaNoWriMo bullied me back into writing shape.
In December of 2014, my first ever novel—the one from 2012—was published. A novel that wouldn’t exist without this crazy challenge which gives us both the determination and the freedom to focus on our writing, which forces us to put down all those nagging things that have us convinced they can’t wait, even though somehow they do. Which reminded me that other people saying I shouldn’t write didn’t mean I couldn’t.
NaNoWriMo 2012 started me on the path to becoming what I am today: a published author. Most importantly, it proved that this crazy, unthinkable, incredibly intimidating thing—writing 50,000 words but also writing a novel—was something I could do.
Now when I hesitate, when I struggle, when I feel stuck and hopeless in the middle of a draft, I get to look back and rely on the fact that it’s something I’ve already done. And even though each time is its own struggle, I’m freed from the doubt that the challenge itself is something I am incapable of doing. That doesn’t mean every year or every attempt will be successful, but absolutely each of them could be. And that knowledge, that undeniable fact, is the marvelous gift of completing NaNoWriMo.
Aria Glazki is a romance author who also dabbles in poetry and flash fiction. Her latest novel, Mortal Musings, explores the complex relationship between a writer and his muse. Learn more about Aria and her books on her website.