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Op-Ed: National Novel Writing Month

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

This is the first in a series of weekly editorials in which our Marketing and Communications Manager Erika Heck chronicles her participation in the globally recognized National Novel Writing Month.


Erika’s Participating Word Count: 5,452 words out of 50,000



Everyone has creativity waiting to burst inside of them in any medium they wish. Some people paint, some people sing and some people write.


National Novel Writing Month was started in 1999 with a simple, yet challenging prompt: write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. In the present day, the endeavor begins on Nov. 1 and ends on Nov. 30; thousands of people sign up on NaNoWriMo’s website to participate.


NaNoWriMo, the nonprofit organization hosting the event, "believes in the transformational power of creativity."


“Whatever you thought NaNoWriMo is, it’s more than that,” their about me page declares.


You could write a poetry book for National Novel Writing Month, and all your poems combined to be 50,000 words. You could write a collection of short stories, of varying lengths, and have your 50,000-word goal at the end. The most creative part of this exercise is the ability to use it to write whatever you want or feel like you need to.


“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen was written as a National Novel Writing Month project, which was then published. It was adapted into a 2011 film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.


There are benefits to using the website: you can document your progress with the NaNoWriMo 2020 progress bar that shows you how many words you have out of 50,000. The region section can help you connect to other writers who are using the website that live in your area. You can even have “Buddies,” helpful for connecting with others and hyping them up on their projects.


You even have access to the organization’s writer resources where you can prep for writing your novel and watch pep talks from great authors like Jason Reynolds and N.K. Jemisin.


You can even sign up for their other programs such as Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July and their Young Writer Program, supporting creativity through writing for under-18 students and Kindergarten through grade 12 educators.

There are more chances to connect with other writers in the community tab through forums and taking part in “Write-Ins” at participants’ local libraries and bookstores. However, due to COVID-19, a lot of their in-person events have gone virtual, with Write-Ins now being hosted by either YouTubers WordNerds or NaNoWriMo interns.

Until this year, I had never considered signing up on the National Novel Writing Month website. I always thought I didn’t need to sign up to make sure I could write 50,000 words. I’d written creatively on my own before; I always thought I could do it on my own, without the website.


This year, I changed my tune and signed up for the website.


To start, I should confess I am at a slight disadvantage to the other NaNoWriMo participants: I signed up on Nov. 2 and I did not start writing until November 3rd.


At first, I thought writing would be strenuous and make me more anxious than I am. Instead, I found writing comforting. With social media off, I submerged myself in a world I had been dying to crawl into: a fanfiction I’ve been wanting to write since season seven of Game of Thrones.


It is a prequel, set before the events of “A Game of Thrones,” the first book in the show’s source material “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Plenty of fan theories and George R. R. Martin’s expansive worldbuilding will be touched on in writing I do and there will be a lot of point of view chapters from characters who have chapters in the source material and characters that fans will know are dead before the series begins.


There is a lot of lore to be worked with and while Martin has opposed modern-day fanfiction (“Don't send it to me and expect me to approve it or something.”), I never intend to publish it for monetary value.


My participation in National Novel Writing Month this year is not about my own story, but unlocking a creative part of myself that I have not been able to unlock in a very long time. I have chosen to try to do this through a fantasy world I love very much.


Since I began, writing creatively for NaNoWriMo has become a source of self-care and a way for me to keep writing even after my workday is done. I have a designated two hours every day to writing, no matter how late or how early I do it. If I had a hard night sleeping or a hard day existing, I know I can dive into my story and try to get out as much as I can.


When you do the math, one should be writing 1,667 to 2,000 words every day to achieve the goal of 50,000 in 30 days. For some though, a numeric count can be stressful and put a lot of pressure on someone, so someone like me tries not to concern themselves too much with the result—I try to focus more on the product of my project instead of how many words I’m writing a day. If I reach 1,700 words that’s great! If I don’t, I make sure not to beat myself up about it, something I have a hard time doing.


Signing up for the website has been the difference for me in previous Novembers and this month. With the resources of NaNoWriMo’s website and the word progress bar, my anxiety about finishing is minimal. You even receive badges on your progress (I don’t have many of these yet) which has given me positive reinforcement, like unlocking achievements in a video game.


Keeping coming back to the website every week in November to keep up on my progress. Keep writing and stay inspired!

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