If you walk into your favorite cafe in November and find an unusual number of people crowded around tables that seem too small and fragile for the number of laptops, hear the rapid tapping of keyboards, and see a couple people hunched over notebooks with inky fingers, you may have just stumbled upon National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) participants (hereafter referred to as Wrimos) holding a write-in. A second test of whether these people are Wrimos is to look for dark circles under their eyes, perhaps a bit of jittering from a few too many cups of coffee or cans of <insert name of energy drink of choice>, and a certain degree of deadline induced frustration. Wait for someone to shout out an “a-HA” when they figure out a crucial plot point and get to tap furiously at the keys again, listen for someone giggling like mad as they turn to their neighbor to share a particularly egregious typo that changes a character’s motivation from innocence to bizarre fetishest. Watch for the person who stops typing and stares at their screen with an expression of despair, and whose neighbor or perhaps friendly ML gives them a thought about how to move forward.
For me, NaNoWriMo is all about community. There’s something amazingly inspiring about having a group of people who share the same goal, all of them fighting to write a novel in a month. Support is something writers struggle to find in the early days, and while I have a writing community outside of that one month I appreciate the spirit of people gathered who just want to write.
I participated in NaNoWriMo five times, from 2006-2010. I “won,” by which I mean reached 50,000 words in November, four out of those five times. The year I got perhaps 16k written was 2008, right after I moved to Boston. I only got to two write-ins that year, which may have as much to do with my loss as the fact I worked an exhausting retail job that paid very little and came with oddball hours while attending graduate school full time. Having the support of a community helps remind me why NaNoWriMo is fun and that I’m not the only one struggling with a half formed novel that sometimes tries to squirm into a different shape. Attending write-ins also helps remind me that I’m not the only one with numerous non-NaNoWriMo committments and deadlines in November. They remind me that failing to reach 50k isn’t synonymous with “losing.”
I’ll be sitting this year out, though I’ll likely try to attend some write-ins. November, for me, is Thesis Editing Month. Boston participants may find me hunched over my laptop with marked-up papers next to me, cursing at a recalcitrant draft. I fully recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who wants to write a novel, especially to people who understand that winning is really about getting anything written at all. It doesn’t have to be the full 50k. It doesn’t even have to be 1k. The point is to write.