You have 50,000 words to write, and only thirty days in which to write them. To anyone not already familiar with National Novel Writing Month (known by its participants as NaNoWriMo), this sounds like an unbelievable task, and one made all the more incredible by the fact that nearly 1500 Houstonians volunteered to see it through last year. I was one of those participants, as I have been for a while; I had made faithful, yet doomed, attempts every year since I first learned of NaNoWriMo in 2009. Year after year, my total word count would fall far short of that lofty goal of 50,000, and yet, I kept coming back every year to try again. Why?
Part of the draw to NaNoWriMo is the love of the challenge: in order to complete the challenge, you have to average about 1,667 words per day, which is no mean feat. Even so, NaNoWriMo is more than a competition against the march of time; its structure also spurs writers on in its own, relentless way. The demands of the word count also help you stick to the point of a first draft: it may not be readable, it’s definitely not elegant, but it has the basic idea of your novel, and it’s much easier to edit your work for grammar, spelling, and overall flow when you’ve already got a huge chunk of the basic idea out of the way. Writers are notorious for getting so hung up on editing as they go that they end up hitting a wall, but NaNoWriMo’s rushed pace demands that we put the editing process on hold and focus on the storytelling. It also forces writers to get creative; time waits for no writer’s block, and if you hit a wall several thousand words in, you have no recourse but to launch your characters over said wall and keep going. During the month of November, the backspace key is not your friend!
Though it may be a strong motivator, NaNoWriMo is a fight to the finish, and as such, can be incredibly stressful to face alone. The beautiful thing about it, though, is that you don’t have to; on the NaNoWriMo website for the Houston region, you can find a list of ‘Write-Ins,’ which are social gatherings akin to study groups, but set up specifically for participating writers. Common locations include late-night restaurants (with the festivities traditionally beginning at midnight on the 1st at a 24-hour dining establishment), coffee shops, and your local library! HPL locations across the city, Central included, will be hosting Write-Ins throughout the month of November.
Writing has always been a social activity for me; I began writing in middle school, and my friends and I spent our every spare moment collaborating on our latest ideas. Even in college, I wrote my best work when I was able to do so with a few fellow students. But when I graduated and came back to Houston, I had to find another group. I turned to Write-Ins in search of the sense of community that helped me focus and keep writing. In November of 2014, I was desperately seeking employment and was under almost constant stress, but I was also just under a mile's walk from Hillendahl Neighborhood Library, which just so happened to be hosting Write-Ins that month. When I saw their announcement on the NaNoWriMo website, I decided to go.
Ours was a small group, but a supportive and genuine one. We talked at length about our ideas over snacks and drinks, and sometimes we even got some actual writing done! The weekly meetings gave me something to look forward to every Thursday, as well as the motivation to keep writing and to get out of the house every now and then. By the end of the month, not only had I made a couple of new friends and learned that I, too, could become a part of the library, but I also managed to break 50,000 words for the first time. I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t end up furiously banging out about 12,000 of those words in the final two days of the month, but for me, the final moment has always been my finest moment. The Write-Ins at Hillendahl motivated me to the point where I could throw those final 12,000 words into my story, but they also got me to where I am today: proudly working for the Houston Public Library.
Needless to say, I’m planning on participating again this year; NaNoWriMo is a relentless but rewarding challenge, and we'd love to have you join in, as well! Come visit any of our participating locations, make some friends, and write to your heart’s content—just don’t forget to post your results to the NaNoWriMo website before the 30th!
Good luck, and happy writing!
-Ashley E., Community Engagement