I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2002. I avoided organized groups and even the website itself at that time. Writing was a very solitary endeavor for me as a young woman because it was such a personal thing for me. The idea of sharing my work with others at that point in my life was honestly kind of horrifying. I was very particular about who got to read my words—a few friends and my mom. That was it. I had a pretty ugly experience with someone once in high school who stole my writing notebook from me during class, so it made sharing willingly very difficult for me during that period of my life.
In my mid-20s, I went through a bunch of changes as both as a woman and as a writer. I joined a few writing groups, I started lingering in cafes to write and met other writers. I joined the Romance Writers of America (no longer a member) and pursued professional publishing. I don’t regret any of that at all. I had some great experiences, but I also had some challenging situations that taught me about myself as a writer and human being.
I learned to share my words, and I learned the joy of sharing my thoughts and ideas with other writers. Eventually, that expanded to readers—though I admit that took signing a professional contract. The first time I really shared my work with a large group of people is the day my first book came out. It was nauseating. I threw up most of the night and didn’t even get to go to the celebration dinner that my then-fiance planned for me.
Over the years, NANOWRIMO meant different things to me at different points in my life—it was a retreat, a challenge, a job, and a burden. Then I started Rough Trade, which was called Naked NaNo the first couple of years as we only did November challenges in tandem with NaNoWriMo. Our first challenge was in November of 2011, and 21 people signed up. There were 24 in 2012. In 2013, we expanded to the 3 event format we currently have.
These days, my writing schedule evolves around Rough Trade events. At one time, I worried that it would impact my productivity but it’s become a source of inspiration and, at times, a reason to get up and sit my butt down in a chair and write. The biggest challenge every year is November, of course, as it was the one we designed around NaNoWriMo. We introduced lower word counts last year so encourage more participation, which is contrary to the official word count goal, but I think it fits the spirit of what it means to participate in NANO.
For me, NaNoWriMo is the one time of the year when I know I can sit down at my computer to write, and there will be many of thousands of people all over the world writing with me. There is a unique creative energy in November—it feels fresh like some kind of mental renewal. There have been over 200,000 yearly participants in NANO over the last ten years and, in some cases, double that number. Of course, those numbers only reflect those who officially sign up for NANO through the website. Many writers never bother with it.
The knowledge that I’m writing and creating with so many people in November is just damned awe-inspiring. One of the best parts is that NANO has never felt competitive. Well, there was that one time that this woman who signed up for RT and threw down 185k in a month. I wouldn’t say she made me feel competitive, but I did feel challenged, and that honestly had become kind of rare for me on RT, so I wasn’t mad. I needed that challenge because I’d gotten kind of complacent with my own productivity and in my craft.
I’ve learned over the years that I need the challenge environment. I need the stimulation of other writers and the knowledge that I’m writing with others—even when we were writing different things, and we’re separated by thousands of miles. A challenge like NANO makes the distance seem quite small.
As November approaches, I’m starting to get ready to write—checking over my zero draft, tweaking character profiles, staring at timelines, and questioning my life choices. I’m also looking forward to writing with everyone who has decided to participate in the challenge.
I’ve overcome with the desire to sing that Discovery channel song, and I shall not be alone in this. Watch this video: