Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

How NaNoWriMo Saved My Life

Many of you have heard me mention NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.  As November approaches, I felt it necessary to talk a bit about this crazy event and to tell you that as crazy as it sounds, it can save lives! 🙂

In 2006, I was still a few years south of 40, and feeling very unsettled.  I felt as though something was missing in my life.  I had a wonderful husband, the love of my life, and a job that I enjoyed, but something, somewhere, was missing.

It was my dream.

I had always wanted to be a singer, a vet, a writer, a musician, so many things that I was not, and at the rate I was going, would never be.  I went to college for music and business (by the age of 18, the vet dream had already been buried deep inside), and was a voice major.  Somewhere in my early 20s, while at music school, I developed a fear of performing.  Though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time, I started to pull away from the singing and performing and focus more on the business side of things.  Once out of college, I stopped singing altogether.

This fear of performing has filtered into other parts of my life.  In taking away all the musical performance outlets that made this fear thrive and revel in making me crazy, I opened myself up to having it invade other areas that I never thought were at risk.  Over the years, I began to like drawing attention to myself less and less.  I became quiet, especially in social situations.  I lost my voice, or rather, allowed my fear to silence it.

By 2006, I think the little voice deep inside had pretty much had enough.

I had read many books about writing, but found myself even floundering with a journal.  I wouldn’t even allow myself to write the fiction that I enjoyed reading.  I certainly could not imagine letting anyone read anything I had written.

Then I found a book called, No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty.  I initially picked it up and started reading because I thought it was going to tell me how to find ideas and write even in the absence of them.  In a way, it did just that.  I had never heard of NaNoWriMo.  But the more I read, the more I knew I had to check it out.

I lurked in the forum in 2006, unable to sign up for fear it would draw attention to me.  I didn’t know that the experience can be as anonymous or social as you make it.

In 2007, I finally pulled the trigger and signed up for NaNo.  I followed Chris’s advice on how to prep (or not prep, as the case may be) and only allowed myself the merest of character sketches and plot outlines in the final week of October.  And on November 1st, I started to write.

What a rush!  I didn’t tell a soul, except my husband.  I didn’t let him read a single word until well after a couple of edits in December.  I came home from work every day, grabbed my Neo, took a deep breath and let myself drop back into my story. It was the greatest form of escape I have ever experienced. The entire world fell away and I was swept up in an epic adventure only I was privy too! What an exhilarating feeling it was to find that voice again and let it shout as loud as it wanted!

I won that year, reaching 50,000 words around Thanksgiving.  I went on to win again in 2008 and 2009.

In 2010, my day job interfered and I thought it was best if I skipped NaNo.  So many major changes were occurring at my office and I was in charge of making them all happen smoothly.  I didn’t think I would have the time or energy to dedicate to my daily word count.  I am here to say that skipping NaNo that year was not the right choice.  If there was ever a time I needed the pure escapism that writing a novel at high speeds can bring, it was that year. 🙂 Looking back I realize that a better choice would be to try a half-NaNo.  Hey, if people can run half-marathons, I can do a half-NaNo!

In 2011, I won again, and managed to convince my husband that there was something to be gained in attempting the feat.  He won, too. 🙂

If you have ever wanted to write but haven’t tried, or have tried but haven’t finished, sign up.

If you have ever wanted to do something completely frivolous for no reason other than to prove to yourself that you can, sign up.

If you don’t think you have time, or worse, don’t think you have anything to say, sign up.

NaNoWriMo is not so much about writing a novel as it is a lesson in letting go.  The novel you produce in the month of November will be nowhere near publication-ready.  It will have plot holes big enough to drive a semi through.  Your characters may be limp and have no skills and your dialogue may be flat.  But that is what rewrites are for. NaNo is about letting go of the uptight self that has to control everything.  It is about writing even when you have absolutely no idea how it will end.

NaNo is about learning to just sit back and enjoy the ride, to let your imagination run amok for a few hours and realize the world will not end because of it. It is about learning to just get the hell out of your own way.

So, run, do not walk, to the NaNoWriMo site (I have linked it again so you won’t even have to scroll back up the page!) and sign up!! 🙂


  1. phoenixrisesagain

    Seems like this is exactly what I need 🙂 my nick on NaNo is Morgaine620 ~ I can’t wait…..

    • I try not to hang out on the forums much once Novembeer starts- too much of a time suck! But i get a kick out of the dares and adopt a plot threads. Will look for you there and add you as a writing buddy!!

      • phoenixrisesagain

        Thanks a lot. I have not made it yet to the forums as I am so occupied with getting everything sorted for November (and there is the minor fact that I get married at the end of October as well 🙂 )
        But I would like to read some of the prep people ~ will see what is possible!

        • Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!!

          • phoenixrisesagain

            thanks 🙂

  2. I have participated twice in NaNo, and I agree it is a wonderful way to kickstart a story. I plan to do it again this coming November. Just got to get convince Life to hang out on the back burner for a while. 🙂

    • Why is it that there seems to always be at least one crisis in November? 🙂 this year it will just have to wait til I finish my daily wordcount!

  3. Daphne Shadows


  4. Excellent post about NaNo…I’ll be there…already looking forward to it…I think you’re right, it allows you to escape from the stress of your every day life.

    • Thanks for the pingback!! I am starting to realize how close we are to nano and I have not prepared at all… Looks like I may be pantsing it this year! 🙂

      • Pantsing it will work too…who knows, it may even take your story in a direction you couldn’t have imagined while planning.

        • True – though usually pantsing makes me write right into a corner. 🙂

          • We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed that that won’t happen…

  5. Wonderful post! 🙂 I’ve only just been introduced to NaNo in 2011, and it was so amazingly fun that I have to sign up again this year.

    “NaNoWriMo is not so much about writing a novel as it is a lesson in letting go.” ~ this is exactly why I love the idea of NaNo. I write like a fiend, and for once I don’t let myself worry about how I’m writing. I wish I could write like that all the time, with that same carefree attitude.

    Thank you for sharing your NaNo experience! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping in, Beka! I am so glad you found NaNo! I have a difficult time writing with any regular schedule in non-NaNo months. NaNo lets me put my writing ahead of everything else. 🙂

  6. I found NaNo through Baty’s book, too, last May. I really didn’t think I had the imagination for a novel – I’d tried to think of stories before and they always petered out. Then, in my short time of NaNo planning (I took his advice on that, too) I realized that I CAN come up with a story, just not the way most people and books tell you to. Mine almost always start with a place, not a plot or character. Since then… Well, a fire was definitely lit! 4 novels and a screenplay, and 3 published. 🙂 And I’m still having a blast.

    • Congratulations on your pubshed books! That is awesome! The most important part is to keep having s blast -write for the love of it, not for the accolades. 🙂

  7. katblogger

    This is such a great description of the experience! I’ll have to refer people next time someone asks me why I’m crazy enough to do this year after year.
    Thanks for stopping by and following my blog! Yours looks great too!

    • Thanks for stopping by! I am so glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  8. Great post! I’m trying NaNoWriMo for this first time this year. It’s about twice the pace as I generally write, and I’m finding it frustrating. Apparently I liked my natural rhythm for a reason. :-S I’m about 4000 words ‘below par’ at the moment, but I have 14,000 more words than I had 11 days ago! 🙂 Wish me luck getting back up to par!

    • Welcome, Shawn! I am so glad you found NaNo! Just remember it is not about quality, but quantity. It is a way to get those words onto the page. If you are feeling frustrated, read my 11/11/12 post about losing everything on day 10!! Never had that happen before, and plan on it never happening again. My new November challenge is writing a novel in twenty days. 🙂

  9. This is a great post about NaNo. And thanks for reminding people that this is a first draft, LOL. A lot of folks don’t realize how how far a first draft is from a finished, polished, published book.

    You don’t even have to sign up; I didn’t. I’m just using the concept to help me finish my WIP.

    Also, yay voice majors! I was one too! 🙂

    • Music majors RULE! 🙂 Glad you liked the post. It is hard to turn off that need for perfection and just write, but it is the only way to approach a blank page. Otherwise, you never reach the end. 🙂

  10. Bob

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