It’s less than three days until November, or as many like to call it, “National Novel Writing Month” (NaNoWriMo). During this month, writers from around the world get to work on banging out at least 50,000 words by the 30th. That translates to about 1,667 words a day, or about 3 pages depending on font and spacing. I have completed NaNoWriMo three times, and have started and failed more times than I’d like to remember.
I wrote my first manuscript for NaNoWriMo 2010 while I was still in high school. The book was about a man cleaning up the messes his late brother left behind, only to realize at the end (spoiler) that his brother is still alive. I printed the manuscript and held onto it dearly, but never took it further than that.
After that, I went to college and wasn’t able to really focus on writing a novel until after I dropped out. In 2014, I completed my second book, Thomas, a story about a man being haunted by the ghost of his mother in rural nowhere. I lightly edited this book and hired a friend to design the cover. I took the text and the cover art to a printing service and managed to get a couple copies on the shelves at Powell’s Books. They all sold!
My third NaNoWriMo happened the very next year. In November, I wrote a frenzied memoir about living in Portland, Oregon. I was very proud of this piece, and found it to be my most cathartic work. My friends liked it too, and they in turn helped me format and design the book for publication through Amazon CreateSpace. You can buy it here!
Each time I finish writing one of these books, I get better and better at the process of getting it published, and I think that’s what brings me back each year. Writing a novel is daunting and requires so much mental effort that it feels impossible to get it right the first time, which is why you might as well get started. I once met young adult author Christian McKay Heidicker when he came to Powell’s Books to sign his newly published Cure For The Common Universe. He told me that he had written several novels before this one, none of which saw the light of day. However, the work that went into all of these unseen manuscripts helped him refine his craft in order to produce his debut Cure For The Common Universe.
My mantra when it comes to writing is to “make a mess, then make a better mess,” a term I’m sure I’m borrowing from Austin Kleon. There is no better time than November to make that mess, especially with an enthusiastic online community of writers at NaNoWriMo.org. On this site, I track my word count, cheer on my writing buddies, and also get pep-talks from published authors who support the project. I go to write-ins around town, which are events in cafes and libraries where authors get together for set periods of time to work on their word count. The camaraderie is so strong that you get swept up in the fervor of it all and it makes your novel that much more likely to getting done.
Writing books for me is about creating a profound connection between author and reader. There is nothing quite like the experience of reading a book. When you are immersed in an author’s text, you get a focused taste of what’s going on in their brain, which is one of the most intimate experiences I can think of. This one of the reasons why people love books so much, because it offers the opportunity to get lost in someone else’s head. And while keeping this connection in mind, it motivates me to be part of larger communities, like the one I find every November on NaNoWriMo.org. And so! If you have always wanted to write a novel, I invite you to join me and hundreds others in getting 50,000 words out of your head and onto paper. It will be a mess, but I’d rather a messy experience than none at all.