I have participated in National Novel Writing Month every year since 2003. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a crazy attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. There are no judges; there are no prizes; it is the biggest un-contest of them all.
So why bother? Why spend thirty days slaving over something no one will see but myself?
I believe the self-challenge is the key to NaNo's success. We all have things in life we would like to do, but oftentimes they remain empty dreams. NaNoWriMo comes with an international audience. People from around the world watch to see if you actually complete your novel. At the same time, you watch them and cheer them on. It is, in fact, the world's largest accountability group.
I wrote my first stories when I was in elementary school. With the encouragement of my middle school English teacher, I started an historical romance series. It was then I decided I wanted to be a novelist when I grew up. However, I approached this as if it were some kind of airy, theoretical future. I wrote fun stories for my friends, and, when pressed, I claimed these were practice for my "real writing."
NaNoWriMo taught me to take my writing seriously. When I told people I was going to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days, all of a sudden I had a deadline. The theoretical future was now.
I won that first year. Even though the 50,000 words became 24,000 upon editing, I still look back on it as the turning point in my career as a writer. Since then I have had three false starts and written three more novels. Two years ago, I wrote the start of Mr. Darcy novel called His Good Opinion. I recently completed the rough draft and hope to be ready to send out queries by the end of next year.
This year will be my eighth NaNoWriMo, and it will also be a first: it will be the first year that I attempt to do more than one story. I know, I know. If 50,000 words this crazy then surely 150,000 is purely insane. Why am I doing this to myself? It will take a trilogy to tell the story, and that's part of it. However, there is another secret part of me which simply wants to see if I can. And that, my friends, is what National Novel Writing Month is all about.