Every year (or, at least, most years — this year I was happily derailed by my signing with my literary agent, which you can read more about, here), I participate in this little thing called NaNoWriMo, aka, National Novel Writing Month. For the entire month of November, thousands of participants across the globe attempt to write a novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 (or, if not an entire novel, at least 50,000 words of one).
To some, the goal sounds crazy. Who would want to write that much in the span of one month? Who would want to dedicate so much time to a goal during a month of the year that’s, admittedly, already stressful due to the upcoming holidays?
However, for many novelists, agented, published, aspiring or otherwise, NaNoWriMo, while sometimes stressful, is a fantastic experience — and it’s one that any writer can benefit from, whether you’re a freelance blogger, a copywriter, a marketing content pro or anything in-between. Here’s how.
1. NaNoWriMo teaches you to just get. the words. down.
One of my favorite things about NaNoWriMo? The whole goal is to just get the words down. That’s it. It’s not to produce something amazing or wonderful or reader-ready. It’s just to get the words down. Fifty thousand of them.
For some, this is extremely difficult. You have to push your inner editor waaaaay into the back of your head. But doing so is great practice for the rest of your writing. You learn to quiet your inner editor until it’s actually time to edit (so you don’t spend five hours fiddling with that one headline before turning in an article).
If you approach NaNo in this fashion, you’ll quickly see your drafting pace in other areas become faster and faster.
2. NaNoWriMo provides a creative outlet where you might not have one.
Along those lines, because you’re not forced to produce something rave-worthy, NaNo becomes this creative space where you can do anything. It’s a space that a lot of freelance writers don’t have, tied as they are to client assignments. Even for authors who are working on contracted projects, the day job of writing their next novel, or editing it, can become tedious. So with NaNo, you can just do whatever you want.
Write that unicorn erotica novel that will never see the light of day. Write a totally self-indulgent piece of fan fiction with all your favorite tropes. Write a screenplay. Write a novel in verse. Do whatever you want.
For writers who are feeling a little down in the dumps about their current projects — nonfiction, marketing copy, fiction or otherwise — NaNo is a space to make writing fun again.
3. NaNoWriMo makes you accountable.
If your day job or other hobbies are completely separate from writing, but you want to get into freelance writing or even fiction writing, NaNoWriMo can help you hone your ability to stick to a deadline, a skill that’s absolutely crucial in the freelance world.
Sure, you could brush off your NaNo deadlines. There’s no consequence, after all. However, the very social format of NaNo is often (at least for me) enough to keep me accountable to those deadlines. Peer pressure works wonders.
4. NaNoWriMo introduces you to a writing community.
Along those lines, if you’re struggling to find a writing community with any focus whatsoever, you can often find one within NaNo. One of the things I’ve loved about NaNo from the start is the program website’s robust forums. You can literally talk about anything. There are so many different threads, for so many different topics. If you want to find or cultivate a community of other writers, all you need to do is look.
5. NaNoWriMo isn’t limited to November.
A more recent change to NaNoWriMo’s offerings is the ability to create a goal of your own choosing, any time of the year. You still get to make use of all of the site’s awesome tracking, deadline and data tools, just on your own time, when it’s most convenient for you. So, for example, I’m using NaNoWriMo to track the next 50,000 words I need for my next manuscript, by Dec. 15. In the past, I’ve used it to track word counts as low as 25k over two months. There’s no hard or fast rule as to how to use the tools; they’re just there to help.
Additionally, if you do like the social format of the traditional November NaNoWriMo event, but don’t have that much extra time in November, you can participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, which occurs every April and every July, allowing you to set any word count goal you want (or even page count or time-spent-writing goals!). The event also places you in a camp cabin, wherein you can chat with other participating writers.
So, in short, NaNoWriMo can be used in a variety of ways, for a variety of purposes — it’s just another handy little tool to add to your writing resources toolbox. And it’s one that’s suitable for all writers, whether or not you actually want to become a novelist.
Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, lifestyle and food journalist and copywriter who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her Twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.