NaNoWriMo is an event that keeps getting larger and more popular each and every year. And it's no wonder. There's something romantic and wonderful about writing a novel. Most of the times I've told people that I've written novels, the conversation inevitably turns toward how they have an idea for a novel as well, if only they had the time to write it. And it's true that the writer's greatest enemy is making the time to write. Writing a novel takes creativity, persistence, timing, and commitment.
Enter NaNoWriMo. Every November, this worldwide event opens its doors to allow a seemingly endless community to gather online and support one another as they trudge their way through an average of 1,667 words per day, hopefully crossing that finish line of 50,000 words. After that, it's official: you've written a novel. What a great feeling. Mission accomplished.
Except, every year, the same problem keeps arising. Only about 10% of those who sign up for NaNoWriMo actually cross that 50,000 word mark and "win." So what happens? Why are nearly 90% of potential novelists "losing" NaNoWriMo? I'd say it's because of one great problem: writing a novel is quite difficult.
Of the people I've spoken to who have tried and failed, the reasons they have failed have been either one of two things: 1) they did not actually have the time, or 2) they got caught up in a snag in their story and quit, because there was no way to finish after running into such a block in progress. Perhaps these are common problems, the excuses of the 90%. If so, then I'd like to do something to correct this, because getting a "win" during NaNoWriMo is a personal accomplishment. There's no reason why every single person with the urge to write shouldn't be able to cross that finish line and get the "win." So, let's address these two major problems that keep people from winning.
First, if you do not actually make the time to write, then you will not be able to write. That sounds silly to say because it's obvious. Of course, things happen that we cannot foresee that steal our time. If any of these things happen while you are on your way toward 50,000 words, then forgive yourself. But keep your head up and keep moving. However, if nothing out of the ordinary happens during your month and you simply do not make the time to write, then perhaps your heart wasn't in your material to begin with. But this also does not mean you should quit.
If your difficulty in finishing falls under the second category, that you reach a snag in your story, then you are hardly alone. Actually, you are in great company, because just about every writer I know hits several points during the process of writing in which the words simply do not come. Carrying a story across a few hundred pages is no easy task, and even without writing, most of us experience plenty of self-doubt within a month's time. So, what is a writer to do with such great odds against them but a drive to finish something as great as a novel?
My solution: don't worry about the "No" in NaNoWriMo. The novel part is sitting there, just telling you "No" right in the title. If you're struggling to produce the word count this November, then just forget all about the novel. Make it National Writing Month. Write about anything. Write down your own stories. Write poetry. Write lyrics. Write down everything you know about any subject you consider yourself an expert in. Write a series of love letters. Write down a list of everything you want to accomplish between now and next November. Write down everything you ever wanted to say to someone but never had the courage to. Write about your favorite day ever from top to bottom, with as much sensory detail as possible. Write a long-winded explanation of why people who eat pickled herring are wrong for doing so. Write down a collection of all of the great recipes in your family. Write about all of the above.
You get the point.
Whether a lack of time or a problem in your story is your excuse for not finishing, I believe that the real problem is the novel. It's difficult to write a novel, to commit that amount of time to creating, developing, and finishing a story that was born of your own imagination. There's plenty of self-doubt to get over and commitment to make in order to cross that finish line. I've "won" NaNoWriMo for the past few years, and it has yet to produce a grand career as a novelist for me. I write a novel because I love writing stories. I'm driven toward writing stories. When I'm deep into NaNoWriMo, I'm getting up at 5am and writing until everyone else wakes up. And then I'm sneaking off to write little bits here and there until I'm either too tired to write or otherwise committed. It takes a lot of energy. And it also takes a willingness on my part to keep pushing forward, even when I know a story is "bad."
But if you're drawn toward NaNoWriMo, then I believe what you have is an urge to write. It doesn't have to be a novel. Perhaps it shouldn't be a novel. Perhaps it should be fifty different versions of the prologue to the novel you will eventually write. The point of NaNoWriMo is to accomplish something, to get something down that bears a part of who you are. Isn't that what we're all striving for when we want to write a novel? So maybe, if you're struggling this NaNoWriMo, you should push the novel aside for a while and write something else. Get it down, whatever it is. Just write. Put yourself out there. And win.