On Novel Writing and Writing in Community
If you didn’t know, last month hundreds of thousands of people around the world joined together with a common goal: Write 50,000 words during the month of November.
This month-long event, called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, began in 1999 with about twenty people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s since grown to become a global internet-based activity drawing nearly a half a million official participants every year.
The idea is to write every day, hitting a daily target of about 1,667 words per day. If you miss a day or two, it’s not impossible to catch up, but the more days you miss the higher that daily word target climbs higher and higher and higher... until it's no longer realistic.
What NaNoWriMo looked like for me in 2022
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo most years since 2015, but I don’t always accomplish the traditional NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in a new novel that you start on November 1st. This year was no different.
I’d started a novel a few years ago, then abandoned it for different reasons, none of which included not wanting to write. Life simply seemed to keep putting things in the way that forced me to choose between writing this project and other things.
Yet the main character stayed with me, visiting me in my dreams and walking beside me on my morning hikes. Showing up in poems or in journal entries. Bringing me vivid scenes and begging me to help get her story out. After months of listening to her and visiting with her, I knew I had to write the story I first thought of back in 2018 and started writing in 2019.
So in May of this year I began again. I revisited the premise and story line, making changes based on the new information I’d gathered over the years from my persistent main character. Finally, I ditched the 30,000 words I had already written and started over on page one.
Happily, I made steady progress with the story…until a series of health issues struck and slowed me down. So when I started getting reminder emails that NaNoWriMo was coming, I signed up, determined to make November a productive novel writing month. I set a goal: Write 50,000 new words in my existing novel draft.
On October 31st, my rough draft stood at 17,659 words. During the month of November, I spent time writing this story every day, though there were two days later in the month that I did not hit my daily word target (Thanksgiving was one of them). That meant that going into the final week, I had to write over 1700 words per day.
I pulled it off somehow, writing 50,272 words during the month of November. That made me an official NaNoWriMo winner. Woo hoo! It also meant I finished the month with almost 68,000 words in my novel draft. Double woo hoo!
The draft is by no means complete. I’m someone who tends to write “more,” then whittle down during revision. I work this way with my poetry (usually) as well. But NaNoWriMo helped me take some big steps forward, and for that reason, I’m celebrating.
Key takeaways from NaNoWriMo 2022
While the word count goal is helpful, however, it’s not what I’m taking away from NaNoWriMo this year. Instead, I’m coming out of the writing month with two major realizations:
1. Working on my novel-in-progress novel every day WORKS
This may sound simple and obvious. But it hasn’t been for me.
I have a daily writing practice, which includes journal writing, reading, observation recording, and practice or prompted writing. This is what I consider the heart and soul of my creative life, and it's what makes me an everyday writer.
But I don’t always work on my writing projects every day. My writing projects include things like poetry packets or collections, short stories I’m revising and polishing, and novels. It might also include submission work and other behind-the-scenes things essential to specific projects.
I’ve wanted a daily project practice, but because (like everyone else) I have to choose where to spend my time each day, I often let it slide to the back burner. This needs to change. NaNoWriMo helped show me that I do have time to make this happen.
I was able to write 50,000-ish words in about an hour a day. So what I’m taking away this NaNoWriMo is that one hour a day on my project—whether that’s generative writing, editing, brainstorming, etc.—will help me achieve my project-based goals. It’s how I can make steady, reliable progress.
2. I need a writing community
The best thing that came out of NaNoWriMo this year—and in the other years I’ve participated—is meeting and talking with other writers. I joined in virtual events like writing sprints through my local region’s online presence. But I also ran an in-person writing meetup each week during the month of November.
Every Friday at a local cafe, I offered to hold tables for writers who wanted to gather. We met at 10:00 AM, started writing at 10:15 AM, and wrote without stopping for an hour. And what a difference this made—not just to my writing, but to my mental state. Instead of feeling tired and wrung dry after an hour of sustained writing, I felt invigorated and excited.
It may seem odd to sit with other writers when writing is a solitary endeavor. But there’s a shared energy that comes from gathering, and it helps motivate you. A “we’re all in this together” feeling rises and sweeps over you, and you find it easier to keep going, even when it’s hard. When you feel like you can’t write, you see the others sitting there, supporting you, and you find a word. And then another. And then another.
What’s more? In the minutes before and after the hour-long writing session, you get to know other writers. You talk (as much or as little as you want) about your project. People share their wins. Their struggles. Eventually you share. And before you know it, you’re part of a community. You want to show up the next time and write not because of the writing, but because of the people.
And you leave feeling more excited and confident in your writing—no matter what kind of writing it involves. People who showed up at my writing meetings worked on every kind of writing under the sun, including:
Memoir pieces and projects
For these reasons, I’ve decided to keep the weekly writing meetups going after NaNoWriMo. So every Friday between now and my birthday month of June, I’ll be showing up for an hour of dedicated writing at a local cafe. If I’m sick one week or have to travel, I’m hoping another writer will hold the fort for me until the next week.
If you’re feeling slow and unmotivated in your writing, I recommend trying a writing group. It doesn’t have to be a group focused on a particular genre or one that has any agenda. While poetry circles and feedback groups can be helpful, sometimes you just need a place where you can show up, sit down, and get some writing done. Having other people there helps keep you accountable. And you never have to share what you’ve written.
Many groups like this exist. You can find many of them on MeetUp. I’m organizing my writing meetings through Shut Up and Write, a national organization with writing meet-ups all over the country—both in-person and online.
If you’re in the South Bay region of the SF Bay Area, here’s a link to our group! Simply RSVP to a scheduled session, show up, and write! If you don’t see one listed that works for your location or time, consider becoming an organizer. There are writers everywhere looking for support and community—you won’t be alone for long!
Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? Tell me about your experience! And if you’re part of a writing group, I’d love to hear about that, too. Let me know through the comments on this post or by contacting me directly!