To NaNo or Not to NaNo

November is when people worldwide get together to try and write 50,000 words for National Novel Write Novel Month (NaNoWriMo). The idea is to write a novel, but 50,000 words isn’t the length of a novel, but it’s a damn fine start. This isn’t a required activity to be considered a writer. It isn’t something that all writers take part in. But it doesn’t cost any money either. The investment is time, brainpower, and energy. Recently, I’ve been seeing posts scoffing and putting down this practice. Luckily, I saw Roxane Gay and her lovely wife a few weeks ago, and RG did a great job explaining the value of programs like this.

She was talking about Gotham and similar programs aimed at people who want to write but aren’t necessarily able to participate in an MFA program. Or someone who did an MFA program a while ago and wants to get back to writing. Programs like NaNoWriMo and Gotham may not be necessary or needed by people who have a regular writing practice, which is a-okay. Still, they’re valuable for people trying to work it on around everything else or need that boost to get the words on the page. That includes the voice in their head telling them it’s out of reach.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years and won each year. Now that doesn’t mean I wrote a novel. I’ve written vast chunks of a book and a ton of drafts for essays and stories. Some of which I’ve gone on to publish. I use this as a month to let go of my dyslexia stress, my editor’s brain, and let the words fly. For a considerable chunk of the rest of the year, I spend time cleaning up the words I wrote in November. I may not be someone who needs NaNoWriMo at this point, as I’m an active writer year-round, but I’ve grown to enjoy focusing on these bouncing and floating ideas, capturing them, and pinning them down on the page.

RG spoke to my heart when she discussed programs for the people who aren’t following a more traditional writing route. I didn’t. Even though I’m now in a grad program, I wouldn’t say arriving at 45 constitutes traditional. Another writer I have a great deal of respect for recently talked about a large swath of the writing community as the less literary set. The ones who don’t know The Sun is one of the hardest magazines to get into, most of whom don’t even know The Sun exists. These less traditional programs might speak directly to them. I’ve attended workshops and sat next to people writing mind-blowing books that have become big sellers and become a series for Netflix. On the other side of me sat a person who wants to capture their family history for their grandchildren. There is a large variety of writers out there as much as there is a large variety of readers.

Like so many things, it’s easy for an individual to look at something that isn’t important to them personally and declare it’s not necessary to anyone else. It, unfortunately, happens all the time. But remember, no set structure of writing works for everyone. There is no step-by-step way to be a writer (and if the book tells you it is, don’t buy it). There is also no one definition of what a writer is beyond someone who writes. If you don’t want to do NaNoWriMo, don’t. It’s simply a thing that exists in the world for people who need it.

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