Once a year, writers from all corners of the world cancel their plans, stock up on a month’s supply of coffee, and dedicate themselves to the challenge of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). This program exists as a personal challenge to yourself to write and is intended for writers of any skill level or aspiration. Signing up for NaNoWriMo is free and all you really have to do is pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days (about 1,667 words a day). This composition marathon can be a daunting task for any writer and I personally have tried and failed several times in the past. To be honest, my lack of success put me off writing for years. I looked at my computer screen one day and said “No more”. I didn’t write any other stories after that. It is embarrassing to say that I saw a challenge, I tried, and in my failure, gave up on something I really wanted to do.
Recently though, I read several articles published by writers I respect. They talked about their own challenges, be it writing, exercising, or just bettering themselves. It really made me stop and think about what steps I had been taking in my own desire for self-improvement. I work out, I try to eat healthy (cookies are a health food! Cookie Monster tells me so), I strive to be a good person all around, but there is always something you can do to be better. For me, overcoming this fear of failure and just trying again to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge made sense this year. Failure is a scary thing, but I have to accept that I have changed as a writer over the years; going from fiction to journalism. I write more every day now than I did in a week, and even if I’m not working towards a book, it’s all good practice.
NaNoWriMo is a fantastic example of how to challenge yourself. It is a short time goal with a strong support structure in place to help you get to that scary 50,000 word total. The program offers resources such as advice on outlining, coaches, pep talks with famous authors (like Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, or Neil Gaiman), writing buddies, and local groups that hold write-ins. A write-in is an event held by volunteers to get writers working together. My local group in NYC holds events every day of the week, so no one ever has to feel alone while they crank out their story.
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In the end, NaNoWriMo is a solitary challenge though. When I commit myself to write 50,000 words, I’m saying that I will give it my best effort. I will not have someone else write it for me. I will not succumb to excuses and distractions. The only person counting my words is myself and if I cheat, the only person I will be cheating is myself. In that way NaNoWriMo is like a lot of other self-improvement endeavors. You are making a promise to yourself. If you want to get in shape, read more books, draw better, or learn how to play an instrument, the first step is to commit. Do not let your fear of failure stop you from doing something worthwhile. If you have trouble, reach out. There are thousands of clubs, support groups, and fans of whatever you want to do out there. Let them help you through the hard moments and cheer them on through theirs. Together we can all be better than we were yesterday and even better tomorrow.
Hopefully by this time next month I’ll have hit my word goal and my desk won’t look like such a battleground. You can learn more about the NaNoWriMo program and join me on my quest at http://nanowrimo.org.
What kind of challenge would you like to undertake? What groups do you use for support? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Antonio Litterio