Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

How NaNoWriMo Has Continued to Save My Life

The year I created this blog, I wrote the following post in October. And I feel it is fitting to bring it back this year in honor of NaNoWriMo. I won NaNo two more times since writing this, and I just published that first NaNo novel I talked about here. You can check out Far Away and Ever After here.

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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 Alphasmart 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!! 🙂

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