NaNoWriMo: Why I Did It

This is the NaNoWriMo post I wanted to write last week, but I was just too tired.

And I think this will be my last post dedicated to NaNoWriMo until next November. I’m still not recovered enough to regain my regular writing “discipline.”

At the end of my NaNo presentation, I have a slide that asks:

NaNo Madness

No one forces you to do NaNoWriMo. You don’t win money or even much recognition. Nothing bad happens if you don’t do it. It’s stressful, and it can take its toll on your relationships, your housekeeping, your work, and your sanity. So why do I keep going back?

When I gave the presentation, I said it was because there was something magical about the immersive experience that comes from working on the same story every day, and carving out time for writing when you wouldn’t in your “normal” life (sneaking away from Thanksgiving socializing, for example). I said it was because I don’t like writing first drafts, and NaNo allows me to write them quickly and just get them out of the way so I can spend the rest of my writing time revising, which I like more.

But it wasn’t until about halfway through the month that I started to gain a deeper understanding of what NaNoWriMo really means to me.

I started NaNoWriMo because I was in need of a new writing project in 2005, and it was so exhilarating to learn that I could actually do it that I did it again in 2006. That was a hard year, but once you’ve done something twice, it has the makings of a tradition. And so I found myself sometimes yearning for it in much the same way one yearns for Christmas dinner with the family the first time it snows every year.

Although I don’t do NaNoWriMo every year, I do it enough that it’s becoming embedded into the normal flow of my life. And like any tradition, it helps me remember who I am. NaNo Logo

When I was a child, I hated change. I resisted the transitions in identity that came too often and too fast and without my consent (ahem, puberty). But one part of my identity that hasn’t changed since I was 10 years old (not even with puberty!) was that I consider myself a writer. I went from being a student to a full-time employee to a freelancer to someone who lived alone to a girlfriend to a fiance to a wife. Other identities have endured, of course, as I’ve remained a friend, a sister, a daughter, etc. But those identities feel like defaults, like givens. My identity as a writer, like my identity as a wife and as a freelancer, is a chosen identity. And I choose it again each time I make a new commitment to my writing.

Much in the way a married couple might celebrate their anniversary, NaNoWriMo gives me that yearly reminder that, yes, I’m still in this. My life keeps changing, I may be living in different cities, living with different people, working different jobs — but November reminds me that I am still a writer in spite of that. Each year that I take on NaNoWriMo, I remember every year that I’ve done it before, and I can’t help but reflect on all the places and situations NaNoWriMo has found me in.

  • In 2005, living in a huge apartment converted from classrooms with my best friend and two cats, working a traditional 9-5 job and squeezing in writing sessions before I went to work in the morning and again when I came home at night.
  • In 2006, the same apartment, the same job, the same cats, the same roommate, but a better laptop, which allowed me to write in cafes and on my bedroom floor rather than just at my desk. This was the year I learned that 2005 was liberally infused with beginner’s luck and that NaNo could be damn hard. It’s also the only year I’ve taken a vacation day for NaNo.
  • In 2008, living alone now, my first month as a full-time freelancer. Those long days with tense shoulders from hunching too many hours over my computer, learning to live with the insecurity and freedom of doing something I had always dreamed of. I thought the flexibility would be good for my writing, but I worked so many hours that first year as a freelancer that I still use it as my benchmark whenever I feel stressed out now — at least I’m not still THERE. This was the first NaNo I revised extensively, and I still hope to find it a home with a publisher someday. It is also my only NaNo novel that is autobiographical.
  • In 2011, giving in to a friend’s pressure at the last minute and deciding to write a November novel even though I was also planning my wedding. I wrote this novel in my step-grandmother’s house, which I moved into after she went into assisted living, and in the library where I worked, and in my fiance’s half-finished house. I had left my beloved Duluth and was back in my hometown, with a dog and a clothesline and an engagement ring. This was the year my soon-to-be-husband saw the reality of NaNo for the first time — a reality he will continue to live with for many years to come.
  • In 2012, I was married, living in yet another house in another state. This was the year that doing NaNo felt the most affirming. Going from single to married was the biggest shift my identity had undergone since I went from girl to woman, and doing NaNo was a way that I proved to myself that I was still ME underneath it all. And what’s more, that I could bring ME to this new relationship, frantic novel writing and all. I am still revising my 2012 novel, which was a retelling of Rapunzel, and I am happy with what it was and what it is becoming.
  • And that brings me up to 2014, my second novel as a married woman, in the same house as in 2012, but working a different job. And this was the first time I really took part in a local NaNoWriMo community, and spent hours with a couple friends doing write-ins. That is what will mark this year’s memories of NaNoWriMo — the fact that I did it with friends, friends I had not met nor even dreamed of the last time I wrote a novel in this city.

From a productivity perspective, I’m also so glad that I wrote Ice Eternal, the sequel to Rumpled, for NaNoWriMo, because I know it would have taken me years to get to that project otherwise. Now a novel exists where there wasn’t one before, and all it took was a frenzied month to make it happen.