So, the CampNaNo July event is about to kick off, and I find myself preparing to do it again.  Many of the writers I know don’t do these events, although a few folks I’m friendly with do.  For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month (although it’s now a global phenomenon).  The main program is in November, but they have also spun off into a few other events, like this one.  What’s the benefit?  Why do I keep doing it?

A few reasons, for me.  There are probably as many reasons to do this, or even not to do it, as there are writers.  I get the ones who feel they’ve “outgrown” it, I do.  A lot of people tend to look on this as an event for amateurs, and I can somewhat see that.  I, personally, don’t.  My first published novel, In My Brother’s Name, started off as a NaNo project.  The Night Circus, a novel I really enjoyed (and that hit the best sellers’ list) also started off as a NaNo project.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll get another salable novel out of this.  At least not at first.  It’s a very rough process.  You get from the first to the thirty first of the month to get down fifty thousand words of a story.  50,000 words in 31 days.  It sounds daunting, and it can be.

But here’s the thing.  I spend a month really focusing on my writing.  You need discipline to crank out that word count, and discipline is something a writer needs, especially if they are trying to become a professional.  Kevin J. Anderson, an amazingly prolific best-selling writer that I’ve had the good fortune to hear speak and learn from a few times now, calls NaNo a vacation.  For him, it probably would be.  The man eats, sleeps, and breathes writing to an extent that no one else I’ve ever met does.  But for the rest of us, 50,000 in a month isn’t bad, really.

A suggestion I’ve heard from many different professionals is that you should keep a writing journal, and record ideas, or fragments, as they come to you.  I have found this to be a great idea for me, and I do that.  Most NaNos, I go through that journal (a file, in my case) and pull out an idea I want to explore more.

One of the ideas behind NaNo is just get the words down, don’t self edit.  For me, I”ve found that to be a great way to get going on an idea I haven’t really played with.  I don’t always get something I can sell out of it, I admit.  Once, I did a story that was a modernized version of the Lone Ranger, dealing with the cartels on the Mexico/Texas border.  I don’t have the rights to the Ranger, so I can’t sell it, but it was a good writing exercise.  And honestly, I really like how the story came out, as does everyone I’ve let read it.  So this whole thing can get the ideas flowing in an unrestricted way, which is great for creativity.

If you think of yourself as a writer, that’s a good first step.  The next step would be actually writing.  It doesn’t matter how many books about writing you read, or own.  It doesn’t matter how many workshops you go to, or how much you talk about writing.  Writers write.  It’s what makes them writers, and the only way to ever get better.  You might got the full 50.  You might go way over it.  But if you try, you pretty much always learn something.  Maybe about your writing, how you handle deadlines, or what works for you (or doesn’t) when you’re trying to settle down and really write.  But I’d be really surprised if you gave NaNo your best shot and got absolutely nothing out of it.

So, for the next month, I know I’ll be working pretty hard on my writing.

How about you?

About the author

Wayland Smith WAYLAND SMITH is the pen name for a native Texan who has lived in Massachusetts, New York, Washington DC, and presently makes his home in Virginia. His rather unlikely list of jobs includes private investigator, comic book shop owner, ring crew for a circus (then he ran away from the circus and joined home), deputy sheriff, and freelance stagehand. Wayland is a four time participant in, and survivor of, NaNoWriMo, having made the 50,000 word goal each time. A black belt in shao lin kung fu, he is also a fan of comic books, reading, writing, and various computer games (I”ll shut Civ down in one more turn. Really). He lives with a beautiful woman who was crazy enough to marry him, and a goofy dog with a fondness for peanut butter and white wine.