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NaNoWriMo is about trying, and it’s worth it even if you fail

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for those who like fun acronyms, is every November. It’s when writers all over the world lose their minds trying to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It’s super fun, I swear.

I’ve participated three times, and “participated” (aka written about 500 words) another three. I wasn’t going to try this year, because I was in the middle of revising an entirely different novel, but somewhere in June, this idea popped into my head.

It was a scene, really: a girl walks down a street in New York City. It’s summer, the air is thick and condensation drips off air conditioners above her. I knew she was headed toward an important interview.

Halfway down the street, the girl stops and has a panic attack.

That image stuck with me. I’m really big on writing stories about mental illness, in fiction and nonfiction alike. And this character, I quickly learned, had OCD, something I’ve never officially been diagnosed with but that several mental health providers and I agree I likely have a version of.

So this story, this image, it stayed in the back of my mind while I worked on my other book. It wouldn’t let me go. 

Writers all over the world try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s super fun, I swear.

But I was committed: I needed to finish the novel I’d been working on since late 2016! Until one day halfway through October, I was eating Dunkin’ Donuts in Central Park with a writer friend, and mentioned I’d thought about trying to finish my book before November 1st so I could start NaNoWriMo.

Long story short, my friend encouraged me to do just that, and somehow a week later I found myself done with one book and diving into preparing for the next.

It was a daunting task, honestly, because I had so much ground to cover and I’d been working on one draft of this book since February 2018. For 20 months, I slogged over one book, rewriting word after word, trying to make it perfect, trying to make it enjoyable and amazing and the kind of book I can eventually publish someday.

I just couldn’t motivate myself. Which — what an awkward thing to admit right as I’m talking about doing NaNoWriMo, which requires so much motivation. Even though NaNoWriMo is a whole nonprofit organization, and they provide a lot of support to writers throughout the month, there’s no one forcing me to write the book. 

The burden is on me, the writer, to sit down and make time.

When life gets busy and it feels like there isn’t time to do anything, NaNoWriMo gets cut.

Which is where I’ve gotten into trouble in recent years, and especially this year. Because the truth is, no matter how much the organizers try and encourage writers — through authorial pep talks and community events and little badges on your profile essentially saying “you’re doing great” — when life gets busy and it feels like there isn’t time to do anything, NaNoWriMo gets cut.

It’s really easy to just shrug and say that since no one’s expecting a book, I’m not going to finish it. If there’s no one to disappoint, what’s the problem?

Well, that’s the thing. I’ve held this story idea in my heart for close to five months now, letting it percolate, and I’ve grown attached to it. I’ve grown attached to my main character, who just wants to go to the school of her dreams and tells one lie, which leads to another, which leads to a whole summer full of lying. 

I think this story can be really good and important. So as hard as it is to sit my butt down and write when there are a million other things to do, including just wasting time watching YouTube videos, I’m going to keep writing. Whether I make it to 50,000 words or not is an entirely different question, but I’m not going to give up before Nov. 30

Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about: trying. Maybe you fail, maybe you succeed, but no matter how many or few words you put down, you still wind up with more than you started out with.

By Karis Rogerson

Karis Rogerson is a writer and blogger in New York City. Raised in Italy and schooled in Germany and Kentucky, she proudly (and sometimes fluently) speaks 2.5 languages. Karis writes about books, interviews authors and cabaret artists, and explores topics of mental illness for various sites as well as her blog.