Surviving Twenty Something

NaNoWriMo: What it is, and why you should spend your November writing garbage

Books, Life AdviceDanna Rowan
NaNoWriMo: What it is, and why you should spend your november writing garbage


You might have heard of it.

If not, here's the gist: 30 days. 50,000 words. 375,000+ participants. 

NaNoWriMo is when thousands of writers from all over the world get together in November to produce what is usually epic crap (and I mean that lovingly, NaNoers, I do. You know how it is).

I'm gonna tell you why you should do it.

My first NaNo was in 2004. I was 13. The website looked something like this.

Super kool, rite?

Super kool, rite?

The website and branding has since had a makeover, but the joy and madness remain the same. 

To my complete surprise, I actually finished the full 50,000 words. And I bet you're thinking it was an amazing novel filled with prose that would make the muses swoon.

No? No?

It was hot garbage. But it's still one of the accomplishments I'm most proud of, even after more than a decade of writing, a few more NaNos, and degree, and a successful design business.

You should do it, too.

Here's why (and it's not because you might get published).




Because good writers are good readers.




1. It pushes your comfort zone

But I don't waaaaant my comfort zone pushed, you think. I know. Me either. But it's one of those things that's always super rewarding when you're on the other side of the uncomfortable and often steep journey up. The years I got the most out of the NaNo experience were the ones when I said I was too busy, and I couldn't do it. The ones when I had to use all my wily know-how to wrangle writing time into my schedule.

The truth?

There's always time if you want it badly enough.

My NaNo progress in 2012. Who waited until the last minute? Oh, me. That's right.

My NaNo progress in 2012. Who waited until the last minute? Oh, me. That's right.


2. Amazing community

I've met and bonded with some of the best people I know through NaNoWriMo (Fran, if you're reading this... 'wassup?). There's nothing like 30 days of late nights and frustration to bring people together. The NaNoWriMo website itself is host to many incredible forums where you can race for your daily word count with fellow writers, or crowd source really sketchy information you might need for your crime novel (like this, or this, or this).

Even better, there are tons of local NaNoWriMo groups. Just check out the website and see if there is one near you! What's better than suffering alone? That's right, suffering together in a coffee shop.


3. You build indestructible habits

If you divide 30 days by 50,000 words you get, roughly, 1667. So every day for the month of November, you write 1667 words (or, if you're anything like me, you write 1667 a day for the first week, nothing for the next two, and then throw away all other responsibilities during the last four days of NaNo to hit your word count).

Here's the thing: a writer is someone who writes. Not someone who is published. Not someone who has a bestseller, but someone who writes— even when they're not inspired, even when they don't have the best idea, even when it's hard (especially when it's hard).

They sit down and they commit to writing every single day (or thereabouts). Participating in NaNo? That gets you 1667 words a day for 30 days and the foundation for a serious writing practise (plus, the know-how to build basically any other habit). It gives you to the tool to make shit happen in your life, day by day, one tiny step at a time.

Building discipline (AKA: good habits) into your life is a practise— the more you do it, the better you get at harnessing the power of habits to change your life. All those successful people you see out there?

Good habits.

Need some encouragement?

4. It's a stepping stone

Sometimes we just need to prove to ourselves once that we can do something we thought we never could.

Write a novel? Ooh, I've always wanted to. I wish. Someday. Maybe next year. 

These are things I hear people say every single year when I mention a) I write, or b) I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (yes, again). And my response is always the same:

So do it.

Do the thing. It will not be any easier or more convenient next month, or next year, or when you're done school, or when you have a different job, or a better baby sitter, or the perfect desk, or a fancy pen. The work is still the same. 

What will be easier? The next time you need to do something you thought you couldn't do— because you've already done one impossible thing.

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Alice in Wonderland



5. It's great practise

Getting started with a new hobby or skill can sometimes be pretty disheartening. You want to draw, but the awkward scriggles on the page just don't match the beautiful art that's in your head. What's the point of putting in hours for something that just doesn't seem to be very good? (Fact: everyone starts out as complete shite.) 

Deliberate practise aside, it seems to just be the case that everyone has within them a relatively large number of crappy words, and it's your job to get them all out on your journey to becoming a better writer. No one's first ten thousand words are great. Or even hundred thousand.

The good thing about NaNo? The pressure to write anything absolutely amazing the first time is off. Everyone knows they're going to churn out 50,000 of some of the worst words ever set down to paper. The point is that you get them out. You get started on that path to becoming a better writer (though the principle applies to music, visual art, jogging, etc), and you're already leagues ahead of all the people who never got past that first sentence.

Plus, when you're done, you'll now have a shiny first draft you can get to work revising. Has anything ever been more exciting?

6. Why the shit not?

No, seriously. Why not?


"Everyone has a story to tell. And everyone's story matters."

Grant Faulkner


If you're reading this far, I'm sure you've been convinced, and I can't wait to hear all about it. Join me in the Facebook group where we're absolutely going to be talking about NaNo, and be my NaNoWriMo buddy over on the NaNo website.

To NaNoWriMo 2017! All hail the winners!


NaNoWriMo: What it is, and why you should spend your November writing garbage // I completed my first NaNoWriMo challenge back in 2004. If you've ever said to yourself you wanted to be a writer? Now your chance. Here's why I think you should be a participant this year.