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My spacebar popped off of the keyboard for the seventh time that night. I snatched it from the floor and rammed it back in place, knowing that it was a futile effort. Apparently, my laptop was suffering from the tribulations of National Novel Writing Month as much as I was.
It was November 2007, and I was participating in a peculiar event known as NaNoWriMo. The official website calls it “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” Participants write 1,667 words per day for the month of November, resulting in a 50,000-word novel by midnight, November 30th. It was crazy, exhilarating, and exhausting—and I did it.
My NaNoWriMo experience was marked by a complete lack of planning and many near-failures. I plunged in without a plot or characters, scorning outlines in favor of whimsy. The first week flew by in a flurry of experimentation as I concocted increasingly outlandish plot twists. By the second week, however, I was scratching my head more often; the first inklings of frustration flirted with my mind. By the third week, I was lusting after a plot much as a zombie lusts after brains. Yet somehow, twenty minutes before December officially began, I stumbled over the finish line with 50,023 words and ninety-five pages.
Unsurprisingly, the final product wasn’t exactly flawless. To this day, I’ve kept the final manuscript private, maintaining that it’s a disgrace to the word “novel.” Still, there are bright spots: fantastic scenes of magical action, brightly chattering characters that actually make sense… Scrolling through the gargantuan document in the following weeks, it occurred to me that I had actually done something.
It was a strange discovery. While I had berated myself for undertaking such a massive project, something had kept me going for all thirty days. It was the ephemeral feeling of delight that somehow sprang forth from my self-imposed torture: the joy of twisting words and letters and phrases into something that was completely, utterly mine, no matter how misshapen. I loved the process; it didn’t matter that the final product was a failure by literary standards.
After NaNoWriMo, I started working on short stories and poems in my spare time, joined deviantART.com’s literary community, and started entering literary contests; I even won a few. And then in March 2009, I landed a post at 148apps.com, an iPhone application review site. A few months later, I’m a senior writer and being paid to write. While I’m not writing fantasy or even fiction, it’s still writing, and it’s one of the best part-time jobs I could imagine.
If the most important thing I gained from NaNoWriMo was a fierce passion for writing, the second was confidence. After climbing the 50,000 mountain, other endeavors seem simple by comparison. Speaking in front of the senior class or co-chairing a blood drive committee is nothing compared to the laughs that follow an explanation of NaNoWriMo.
While I’ve yet to “win” NaNoWriMo again, that first victory was enough to set me on the path of writing. One the surface, it was just one month of writing nonsense. To me, it was so, so much more. November comes just once a year, but NaNoWriMo is an experience that lasts a lifetime.
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