November All Year Long

Yesterday was the big day, the beginning of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you're a writer, you've surely heard of this challenge to write a novel -or at least the first 50,000 words of one -during the month of November. Maybe you've even completed it a time or two or maybe you're participating for the first time this year. Whatever your NaNo status for 2011, you'll probably be hearing about it online for the remainder of the month. I completed NaNoWriMo in 2006 and 2007, meaning I got at least 50,000 words on paper in each of those years. I finished a "complete" novel the first time, and got more than three-quarters of the way to a clear ending on one the second time.

The benefits of NaNoWriMo were clearly evident to me both times I particiapted, but they aren't limited to the month of November. In fact, they are aspects of the writer's journey which could be called upon all year long.

1. Community: There is a huge NaNoWriMo support group - online and off - to cheer you on. Having the support of others dealing with the same situation is key to success in any big undertaking, and the NaNo organizers understand this. Having a cheering section, and also a group of people to whom you are accountable is a powerful incentive.

2. Deadline: I work best when I have a clear deadline, and you can't get much clearer than the  30 days of November. I metered out the number of works I had to write each day in order to cross the finish line, and I made sure I got them done. If I fell too far behind, I knew it was "curtains."  Steady and sure was the best method to finish the race, so I made a schedule and stuck to it. Committing to a schedule for 30 days isn't nearly as difficult as commiting to it for a lifetime, but I'm convinced you must have that kind of grit to succeed as a writer over the long term.

3. Goal: The goal was also clearly set - 50,000 words. Knowing exactly how much is expected of you seems to make it easier to stick to the task. You can track your progress and see an end in sight. Similarly, you know right away if you're falling behind, and can do whatever's necessary to catch up.

4. Freedom: NaNoWriMo participants are encouraged to "write shitty first drafts," and there's nothing more freeing than knowing it's okay to just write and worry about editing later. In fact, you're forced to "just write" because if you stop to edit too much or too often, you'll never complete the aforementioned goal on the aforementioned schedule! Ann Lamott knew it, and after finishing two NaNo's I know it too - it's okay to write things that aren't perfect. The important thing - at least initially - is that you Just Write.

If you're participating in the challenge this year, I hope you're successful. But even if you don't complete the challenge, the NaNoWriMo experience can be a positive influence on your writing practice all year long.

How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you participated in the past? What lessons have you learned that have helped you with your current writing practice?