I first hopped onto the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) bandwagon over ten years ago, during my final year of high school. It was a wild experience that taught me both the perils and benefits of writing so much, so quickly. I loved it so much that I did it again a year later in college, and again and again until I finally failed while foolishly trying to do both NaNo and write my thesis at the same time.
After graduating, I only did NaNo a handful more times before I had a falling out. I thought – erroneously – that I was above and beyond NaNo. In a way, I was – I was already writing every day, even if it wasn’t in great 2k+ bursts. I focused on rewriting and editing what I already had and steered further away from the NaNo community. I even got into a little bit of NaNo bashing, back when that was in vogue. NaNo encouraged shitty writing! NaNo wasn’t conducive to editing and rewriting! NaNo was a celebration of amateurism!
I’ve since moved on from such sentiments, realizing – in part – that NaNo never aspired to be anything more than writing and writing quickly. Some people can actually write a decent book in a month. Some people can’t. All NaNo cares about is that you try. At the end, you’ll have 30+ days of effort, a greater appreciation of authors, and either a will to keep going or an understanding that writing isn’t your thing. And that’s more than enough.
But there’s something else NaNo teaches writers that I think frequently gets glossed over or outright ignored because it’s not sexy or exciting enough: the beauty of a word graph.
Just. Take a moment. Picture a graph. Picture your projected final wordcount on the y-axis. Picture time in days on the x-axis. Imagine putting in your word count at the end of each day and watching the bars or the line slowly rise. Now, picture missing a day. You don’t want to, do you? Picture missing two days – oh god, that’s awful. Look at that sad line. All you want to do is write 50 or 100 words just to make that line move towards it’s goal. So you do. And it does. And you write a little more.
Word graphs are simple but powerful tools. They’re like that little story Seinfeld would tell about his own writing process, where he buys a blank calendar and makes a big red X on every day that he writes. Soon, it’s impossible to break that long streak of X’s. I propose that word graphs are better, because it’s a reward for writing, not a punishment for not writing.
I’ve come back to NaNo in recent years just for that word graph. I made my own, of course, using an excel sheet, but – while it helped me tremendously to stay on track – it lacked that sparkle of magic.
Unfortunately, NaNo right now lines up with my editing and rewriting months. But there’s this thing called Camp NaNoWriMo that’s smaller and takes place in July. Even though there are far less participants, you still have that camaraderie, that social push to write, and – yes – that beautiful graph.
Anybody else going to participate in Camp NaNo this year?