Commit to your creativity by writing a novel in a month


As a writer, the single best thing I do for myself every year is participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who haven’t heard of it)—it’s how I write every first draft of my Young Adult novels (this year will be my fourth!). For the NaNo newbies, the rules are this: over 30 days in November you’ll write 50,000 words, which is an average of 1,667 words per day (about 4 pages). You will not edit any of the novel, you won’t even look back at what you’ve written until the very end.

There’s no denying that it’s a daunting task, and writing a novel is hard under the best of circumstances. But adding in work schedules… childcare… hobbies… friends… Thanksgiving?! It can seem downright impossible. Here’s why you should take the plunge and prioritize your creativity for one month this year.

If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike, you might wait forever

If you have a brilliant novel idea kicking around in your head but don’t know where to start, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to show yourself (and the world, if you choose) how committed you are to getting it written.

No ideas yet? Even better, because you’re not attached to an outcome. Peruse the internet or the unplumbed depths of your own mind for a good “what if” scenario that you’re drawn to enough to explore for 50,000 words. Trust me, you’ll find the compelling storyline within any idea that excites you.

In either case, you don’t need to know every detail of the circuitous path that your novel will take; in fact, I find that it’s better if you don’t. Mapping every scene out can slow down your word count as you try to mold your ever-evolving story into a framework that it has likely deviated from. And leaving space for characters to surprise you leads to plot points that you never would have come up with if you had figured it all out in advance.

You already have the tools

Before I started doing NaNoWriMo, I was wary of attempting a novel. I obsessively read books about the craft of writing, thinking I’d hit some magical point where I finally had the skills to write a perfectly-formed first draft. Sadly, that does not exist!

Eventually, I realized that by just starting, my skills would build along with my with word count. Turns out, over decades of reading stories, I’d internalized more about the way that stories are structured—and what works—than I could possibly imagine. Chances are, you’ll find the same. As long as you continue to follow whatever story element feels most interesting to you at the time, your reader’s instinct will help you come up with something worth writing.

Don’t underestimate the power of ‘The End’

It’s easy to begin a new project, and even easier to abandon it once it starts throwing up roadblocks. Despite desperately wanting that final product, many people have a mental block against finishing. Whether the cause of that mental block is fear, intimidation, laziness, or just your inner perfectionist taking over, the result is the same—you start new projects when things get too hard, or worse, never start at all.

NaNoWriMo helps you write through those roadblocks. There’s something about the combination of competition (“look at all those other people keeping up with their word count”), accountability (“I already told all my friends and family I was doing this”), pure passion (“this story deserves to be told”), and a framework for success (“the rules say I’m not allowed to edit”) that results in something magical:

It turns off your inner critic, and gives you permission to get more done than you ever thought possible.

Added bonus: I’ve found that the afterglow effect from setting out to write a novel in a month—and actually doing it—extends into every other creative arena of my life. Start another novel? Get into painting? Finish writing that song I got stuck on? Sure, why not! I just wrote a novel in a month—I’m invincible.

The first step is simply deciding to do it. Start your account on the NaNoWriMo website, pick a working title for your novel, and utilize the great community that undertakes this crazy feat every year. The bottom line is: there are a lot of reasons to put it off. Instead, make a commitment to your creativity and find your own reasons to write an entire novel this November!