Image from Stocksnap.

I’m a reasonable person. I’m just a reasonable person who did an unreasonable thing.

The madness struck during National Novel Writing Month, or November, as some people call it. Writing a novel often gets relegated to people’s “someday” lists. They swear they’ll write a novel when they’re older and wiser, when they have more time, when the kids are in college. But too often, someday never comes.

That’s where NaNoWriMo comes into play. The name is pretty explanatory: You have a month, just thirty days, to write a novel and to win. According to NaNoWriMo.org, you must write at least 50,000 words to win.

The first few days of November, I flipped-flopped between wanting to do it. I’d do it next year, in college, when I was older and wiser and had more time. See a pattern? I was falling into the someday trap.

By the tenth day, I decided I was going to do it, for better or worse. I’m glad I did. NaNoWriMo taught me things you can’t learn in a classroom. By deciding to do it, I was setting a long term goal (long term at least to a high school senior.) Every day I had to write something or I’d fall behind my expected word count. There was no one to nag me about writing (except me.) Even on days I didn’t feel like writing, I had to suck it up and do it or have a doubled workload for the next day.

And honestly, I didn’t write every day. I did have a life: mock trial, college applications, tests, quizzes, scholarship applications. Sometimes I had so much homework that I slept as soon as I got home, giving my novel nary a thought. But that’s okay. Having other commitments taught me how to work around them and find time. It made me realize that if you really love something, you’ll make time to do it, no matter how hectic your life is.

NaNoWriMo also taught me about giving myself freedom. I love writing, and as a writer, I’m often pressured to find the right words. Sometimes I put off writing something important because I don’t know what to say. NaNoWriMo wasn’t sympathetic to my self imposed plight. I couldn’t find 1,667 perfect words; I just had to find 1,667 words that moved the story forward. Every day I was delighted anew to see where my words took me. I gave myself permission to write badly.

Then came the end of the month. More than 250,000 people embark on this perilous noveling quest, but only 14% emerge victorious. When I rose above the pile of neglected homework, unshed tears of frustration, confused family members, and welcomed the light, I had somehow come up with 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo.org does offer prizes for winners, but what I treasured above everything else was intangible. I had created something, not for a grade, my family and friends, or because it would look great on my resume. I wrote simply because I had a story I longed to tell. Also, writing so many words made me realize that it wasn’t as nerve wracking as I made it out to me. Before, the thought of 400 word blog posts paralyzed me with fear. Now, it’s no problem at all. 500 words? Sounds like fun. 1000? We’re just getting warmed up!

I also learned was that it’s okay to take time for yourself. Senior year was stressful, but being with my novel made me happy. Sure there were moments where I wanted to burn my computer, delete everything I’d written, cry give up, but I didn’t. I kept swimming. And in the end, I emerged a stronger person because of it. I became someone who could balance both what was expected of her and what she expected of herself.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your pen and start writing.

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  1. Andrew Warner on September 7, 2015

    I did NaNoWriMo back in eighth grade! When I was done, I felt the exact same way. Even though I knew what I wrote was awful (I still have a copy of it, and I look back and laugh at some of the terribly written scenes sometimes), I was proud that I told the story I wanted to tell.

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