The Meaning of NaNoWriMo

I first heard of NaNo in October 2007, just days before that years event began. It was on The Fanlistings messageboard. I’d always loved to write but I’d become a bit of a “one day” writer. I would occasionally write some notes on a story but I would never actually start writing. NaNo has a specific quote which targets the “one day” writer, it was enough to convince me. After all, on the surface, what NaNo provides most is a deadline.

I ‘failed’ that first NaNo and at the same time I didn’t. I only wrote 20k instead of the 50k that the challenge sets but I wrote 20k, that was 20k I didn’t have before I chose to try NaNo. Even more than that the reason I only got 20k was because the story I was writing fell apart around me. I learned a lot from the ‘failure’ and so really it wasn’t a failure, as there was a lot of progress.

I won’t lie and say that it was a revelation, that failure and success could be the same. When it comes to writing I understand that but when it comes to applying that to other mishaps in life, well they just seem like total failures. However, NaNo is different, it’s special. I’ve said a few times that it is my favourite time of year and that is true. Every year after NaNo I resolve to try and keep the NaNo spirit throughout the year, so far I’ve failed but the best thing about NaNo is it comes round every year, I can always try again.

Where you start
There’s been a recent minor rule change this year. In the past in the FAQ it rather strictly stated that you had to start a fresh project on the first or you were “guaranteeing yourself a miserable month”. They have essentially reworded it to be less harsh. They still recommend starting a new project but those that don’t, aren’t relegated to ‘rebel’ status anymore. Not that rebel status even really means anything. NaNo is done on the honor system, you get out what you put in. It is a self challenge, if you feel like you accomplished and succeeded then you did. What one person requires of themselves in order to feel like a winner, might be less strict than another but if they are both happy then what difference does it make. You still have to write 50k words in the month, that hasn’t changed.

However, some people don’t believe the same as I do and they think that this minor re-wording is going to be the death of NaNo. They are saying that they will have to rethink their participation, that it changes the whole spirit of the challenge etc. Well I obviously disagree and here’s why. NaNo is more than what it is. NaNo is thousands of writers all writing, no matter what stage of the book, at the same time. NaNo is the community, whatever corner of it you prefer. NaNo is the wacky comments by the staff, the pep talks, the sheer madness of a 30 day deadline.

People approach NaNo differently. Some write 1667 words a day, others write more some days, less others, then there are those who don’t write 50k in the month, they write 100k or 200k or 500k or 1 million. Those people that write a lot more, are going to be at different stages of their books, than those who are writing the set amount. It’s not about where you are in the book, it’s about the act of writing. Plus don’t forget that 50k is a novella, not a novel and if you want to write a full novel then another 30k minimum needs to be added to that word count total. If you also subscribe to the theory that most first drafts get cut by a certain percentage then you need to write even more. Whether you write the extra before November or after, does it matter? So long as you only count the words written in the month in your official word count total, I don’t think it does.

Where you finish
Anyway this post isn’t about the rule change, it’s about the meaning of NaNo. I have taken part every year since 2007, except 2011 and I regret that. That whole month I was wishing that I’d chosen to participate, I had some other stuff going on and I didn’t think it was a good idea but November is NaNo. It’s my favourite time of year and I should have tried to make it work.

As I said at the beginning NaNo isn’t about winning or losing. I ‘failed’ 2007 and I ‘failed’ 2010 but I learned a lot about the story I was trying to tell, and what wasn’t working, each time. I probably should have ‘failed’ last year – 2013 – but I did write 50k, it wasn’t up to my stricter interpretations of the rules but I let it slide, on the understanding that it never happened again. I cheated myself, I didn’t break the rules but I broke my rules and as it’s a self-challenge, I robbed myself of a proper victory. Oh I made my bar turned purple, I even got myself a winners t-shirt but I didn’t feel the win because according to my standards I didn’t deserve it.

However, whether you win or lose, technically or otherwise it doesn’t matter because everyone gets something from NaNo even if it’s just that it isn’t for them. It is elegant in it’s simplicity but it’s impact is huge. Before my first NaNo win in 2008 I had never penned a single piece of fiction that long. It had a beginning, middle and an end, it was also atrociously bad but that was ok because if I can see it’s bad, then hopefully I can improve.

I’ve always dreamed of writing. When I was a young kid I wanted to write for a career but I was eleven when I decided that was unrealistic. I decided that I should get a proper job, something that pays the bills but now all those years later, I’ve come full circle and I’m thinking maybe writing isn’t so unrealistic after all. If it wasn’t for NaNo I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to consider it as I doubt I would ever have tried to actually write a novel, dream about it yeah but not commit pen to paper. In fact I really have no idea what the last seven years of my life would look like if I hadn’t had NaNo. I don’t want to get all dramatic or anything but it really has had an impact.

The End
NaNo is my favourite time of year and it is special, it has one of those really undefinable qualities that transcends explanation. If you haven’t tried NaNo and have ever thought about writing a novel, or just like writing in general, then give it a try. Whether you make 50k or not you will learn something and who knows maybe you’ll get the bug. This will be my seventh actual NaNo, though technically the eighth event since I joined. I’ve never looked back. To me in a lot of ways November starts my year, I practically count down the days.

The website will be relaunching ready for this year next week. I can’t wait! 28 days to go, the next month is going to feel like a long one.