This month, I’ve been working on a project: writing a novel in 30 days. I promise it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Every year, beginning Nov. 1, thousands of writers all over the world try to pen a 50,000-word novel before the stroke of midnight on Nov. 30. To finish on time, participants have to pen about 1,667 words per day.
My desktop background is a candy-colored calendar announcing what word count goal I should reach each day. It looks friendly at first. Cheerful, even. But the more I stare at it, the more I feel like those bright little squares are taunting me. They look sort of smug, with their steadily-increasing numbers. Sometimes that calendar starts to resemble a glass mountain—once I get close to the summit, my idea will wither up, I’ll slip, and it’ll all be downhill from there.
Well, you know what, candy-colored calendar? Challenge accepted.
Some people shut down when they’re given a deadline. I am not one of those people. In fact, I sometimes think that I do my best work when it’s coming down to the wire. It’s not that I’m a low-level thrill-seeker who likes the uncertainty of procrastination. It’s that a looming deadline causes me to roll up my sleeves and attack my task with renewed vigor.
During last year’s NaNoWriMo, for instance, I’d fallen behind considerably. In addition to being swamped with school and other obligations, I’d been stuck on how the plot should continue. Suddenly I was staring at the calendar and realizing that, if I wanted to reach the goal, I would have to write over 10,000 words in just a few days.
I sat down at my keyboard, expecting the weight of that task to crash down on me—but it didn’t. In fact, in that moment when I understood just how much work I had left to do and how little time I had to complete it, it was like the fog cleared. I knew exactly what should happen next in the story, and exactly how I was going to get there. The words flowed and I hit 50,000 words with time to spare. There’s nothing like a seemingly-impossible deadline to motivate a girl to—well, do the impossible.
I think we can all learn something from NaNoWriMo. These 30 days and nights of literary abandon aren’t just about writing a novel: They’re about challenging ourselves to try something new and seemingly-unfeasible, then rising to meet that challenge.
NaNoWriMo is about testing the limits of our dedication, creativity and resourcefulness. It’s about facing a problem, then wrestling that problem to the ground, hog-tying it and moving on to the next. At its heart, NaNoWriMo is a chance to try something new.
Every year, I use NaNoWriMo to test my skills as a writer. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three times before, and “won” (that is, reached 50,000 words) twice. I may have hit the 50,000-word mark two years running, but that doesn’t make the task any less daunting when the next November rolls around, and it certainly doesn’t mean that I have nothing to learn or gain from the experience.
With that said, I think I’ll take a few minutes to work on my NaNo novel. At the time of this writing, I’m ahead of where I should be, and I plan to keep it that way.
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Take that, candy-colored calendar.