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In Praise of NaNoWriMo
Creativity Under Fire : In Praise of NaNoWriMo

Creativity Under Fire

In Praise of NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers

If my daily life as a writer is an example of creativity under fire, November — National Novel Writing Month — is a war zone. NaNoWriMo is thirty days of all-out writing madness, and only the strong survive. What I love most about November is it gives regular people the chance to write a book — folks who don't necessarily think of themselves as writers. Plumbers and accountants and lawyers, clerks and baristas and secretaries, doctors and bakers and truck-drivers all unite for one month and agree to an insane task — write 50,000 words in thirty days. My banker told me the other day that he's working on his second novel. A chocolatier friend of mine recently confessed that, while he loves making truffles and playing with chocolate all day, he wants to write a book one of these days.

Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I went into it blind, with a basic idea for a book, some characters I loved, and a desire to try something new. I'd never done it before, and I simply wanted to find out how fast I could write.

Ninety-thousand words and thirty days later, battered but triumphant, I turned in my final word count and celebrated with a glass of champagne. I had the highest word count in our region — fastest pen in the Southwest! My average daily output was about three thousand words. How did I do it, you ask? I didn't use anything fancy. I'm a die-hard Luddite, so I kick it old-school with pens and notebooks — lots and lots of pens and notebooks. I wrote like hell, and I didn't look back. I didn't edit, spell-check, or worry about an outline. I simply let my characters run wild on the page, and followed wherever the story led.

That's the true beauty of Nano, in my opinion — there's no time to get in your own way. No time for writer's block — no time for the Inner Editor to trip you up. You just go.

Don't expect a whole novel to appear, fully fleshed out with all its parts intact, in thirty days. If you're lucky, you'll have the bare bones of a story, a few intriguing characters, and a strong start.

What's the number one reason novels don't get published? They don't get started. What's the number two reason? They don't get finished. NaNoWriMo is a great tool for giving your creativity a kick in the pants — it's a great way to get started if you're a procrastinator. It also gets you most of the way through the wastelands of the dreaded Middle, where stories go to die. When you're fifty thousand words into a novel, the end is in sight. This is often enough encouragement to help a writer go the distance and finish a book that might otherwise languish in the trunk for years.

A challenge like National Novel Writing Month really lights a fire under your Muse. Deadlines put the pressure on, and show us exactly what we can achieve if we try. Being a part of a community of writers united in one goal is powerful and inspiring. They are your cheerleaders, your fellow word-warriors in the battle against the blank page. NaNoWriMo events like midway parties and write-ins are a great place to meet other writers, network, and earn fabulous prizes like stickers, T-shirts and tiny ninjas, pirates, and ducks. I still carry a ninja in my purse from last year's festivities to remind me that no matter what my day job is, I am a word warrior who can leap tall editors in a single bound and break creative blocks in half with my bare hands. On days when I'm stuck, blah, bored, and not feeling my best, my tiny ninja is a welcome reminder that I can kick some major asterisk when I put my mind to it.

NaNoWriMo freed my wild mind, and I wrote without restrictions and second guessing or editing for thirty days. It made me remember what I love most about writing — following a character into the dark thickets of a story with no idea where we'll end up. It gave me the courage to trust my instincts — and trust my characters — to lead me through the darkness. I finished my novel a few weeks later, and the ending was a complete surprise. It's better than I could have hoped for simply because it was so unexpected.

This isn't to say you can't write a carefully plotted, meticulously outlined Nano novel. Many writers do just that, and it seems to work fine for them — but that's not how I roll. The way I write is like driving down an unfamiliar highway at night with no headlights, navigating by the moon and the faint light of the stars. It's a wild ride. There are surprises at every turn, and hitch-hiking Muses and road-angels await your arrival. Start the car. It's time. The road to your novel awaits.

Think you've got what it takes to Nano? Check out their website at for all the juicy details. You'll find plot bunnies, fascinating threads and forums, tips on surviving NaNoWriMo with your sanity intact, Nano-bling, a calendar of events for your region, and more.

© 2010 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

Molly Anderson-Childers is a a highly creative writer and artist from Durango, Colorado. More »