Sometimes it’s a lone writer who’s been putting off a story idea for too long, and decides it’s now or never. Sometimes it’s a pair or a group determined to find out what they can achieve by sharing self-imposed deadlines and strong pots of coffee. Sometimes it’s peer pressure or curiosity about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org), that challenge that rallies ever-increasing numbers of writers around the globe every November to band together in pursuit of a 50,000-word “win.”
Book-in-a-month challenges take all forms, fueled by all stripes of writers with all manner of motivations—make the most of that time alone in a borrowed cabin, hunker down for the winter, stop procrastinating, have something ready to pitch at that conference, prove to yourself you can do it, prove to someone else you can do it, get a fresh start—and in this hyperconnected age of 24-hour fingertip resources and networks, of tiny portable keyboards and glow-in-the-dark screens, they’re more popular than ever.
What do writers really glean from these write-a-thons? What have those who’ve set out to achieve the seemingly impossible learned, good or bad, and what advice would they share with others thinking of setting out with that same single-minded focus? We asked the WD writing community, and responses came in waves—with refreshing honesty, admitted mistakes, tales of redemption, palpable pride, self-deprecating humor and, above all, contagious enthusiasm. We’ve collected an array of the best insights here—one for every day of the month—along with a roundup of resources offering more help along the way. Because who knows? It’s so crazy, it just might work.
1. Embrace a new mindset.
After working five years on perfecting a novel, I sent out a round of queries, received some requests for the full manuscript, but ultimately was rejected every time. I’m not one to give up, but I also knew my novel still wasn’t right. I decided to shelve the manuscript and start a new book. That date was Oct. 30, 2010.
For years friends had been trying to get me to participate in NaNoWriMo. I didn’t want to spend five years writing my next novel, so I decided this time I’d give NaNoWriMo a shot, but without putting pressure on myself—either I’d complete 50,000 words in 30 days or I wouldn’t. That November was crazy busy: I was chairing a big awards banquet, raising two boys and juggling a host of other responsibilities that I couldn’t set aside. But writing is my dream. So, on Nov. 1, I set out to write 1,667 words a day.