Why to Write a Novel in a Month

National Novel Writing Month is upon us, as of November 1st! And while the internet is full of advice on how to write a novel in a month, it’s also worth considering why you might want to do it.

In 2011, I wrote a novel in November, though that’s putting it a bit loosely. The truth is that I drafted a good deal of my third professional contracted novel that November. I completed the monthly 50,000 word count required to officially succeed at NaNoWriMo, though the novel was closer to 90,000 words in the end.

Why did I do it? Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote that December:

So here I am, three days from my deadline for my third novel. I have one chapter left to write.

I have officially survived the deadlines. And I feel like a warrior returning exhausted but victorious from a battle with some horrifying mythical creature.

I participated in the experience known as NaNoWriMo out of  simple, terrifying necessity. I was a professional writer on deadline. I had no choice. It just so happened that the pace of writing required for NaNoWriMo coincided with my deadline.

I found great comfort, however, in writing during NaNoWriMo that year.

Finding community

NaNoWriMo, an online portal and forum, is first and foremost about creating community for writers. Community is a precious thing, and can make the difference between eyes bleary from writing, with pages puddled on the floor, and eyes bleary from one too many martinis, with writer puddled on the floor.

Writing is usually a solitary act. Sometimes, people are lucky enough to find compatible critique partners in their own cities or towns who meet regularly to share writing samples and serve as encouragers and constructive critics. But not everybody lives in an area rich with other writers, and even those who do can find it hard to make the right match given the challenges of differing genres and personalities.

That’s why it’s quite a relief to have an online source for writerly support. The thrill and misery of fighting writerly demons to produce 1667 words a day will send you on an epic journey. Only another WriMo knows the moments of despair, frustration, and occasionally, euphoria, that spring from struggling to overcome your own limitations. So community alone is a strong reason to write in November, if writing a novel is on your bucket list.

Overcoming writerly anxieties

Here’s another reason you might want someday to try NaNoWriMo: you can blast through fear by writing as fast as you can, no matter what, no matter how good or bad the first draft may be. The greatest fear most aspiring novelists face is their fear of the unfinishable project. Many talented writers who have never finished a long writing project secretly fear they can’t.

Giving a book talk in 2013. That book on the far right is the NaNoWriMo book.

In my twenties, I feared I would never be able to finish a novel. What got me over it and convinced me I could write a long work? A different but equally intimidating long writing project: my doctoral dissertation, which I wrote in one- to two-hour time blocks from 4 am to 6 am for months, while my newborn baby was still sleeping. By accumulating small chunks of writing each day, I was able to see that yes, I could slowly finish what seemed like an overwhelming task. And I was later able to apply that confidence to finishing my first novel.

Finishing NaNoWriMo can do the same for your confidence. But be careful! Don’t jump in just yet this year before you consider how your own writing process may work. Some people can write without planning. I’m not one of them—I’m a “Plotter.” And if you find out that you’re a Plotter too, you’re going to need some prep time before you start into NaNoWriMo. That’s why there’s a whole resource section on the NaNoWriMo website that is devoted to prep, and the timeline for prep begins in September. If you’re a systematic Plotter rather than an improvisational “Pantser” (short for “seat-of-the-pantser”), you don’t want to end up feeling bad because you don’t finish. Some people need at least a loose outline and character sketches to be able to work on a long project. I’m right there with ya.

If you have a longtime dream of writing a novel and you’ve never checked out the site, try visiting nanowrimo.org. Set up an account. Go sign into the community discussion forums. It doesn’t cost anything, and you’ll get to check it all out and see if it’s for you. And whatever you decide this year—happy writing!

CALS Fletcher Library will be hosting NaNoWriMo “Write-Ins” every Saturday in November from noon to 4 p.m.

Article by Rosslyn Elliott