What the hell is NaNo anyway?

An honest account of my first Nano, on the eve of my second…

This time last year I had barely a clue what “NaNoWriMo” was (I think I’d heard about it in passing about ten years ago and laughed at the idea) let alone the “indie writing” community. I certainly didn’t understand the whirlwind I was about to unleash or the incredible people I would later have the honour of calling my community…

I, like a lot of people, had fancied myself a writer—more, I fancied the idea of being a writer, as I really had no clue of what being a writer entailed. I’d previously dabbled. I used to have a blog and I had written an extremely short screenplay a few years back, but I really hadn’t taken it that seriously. I was watching some YouTube videos and listening to a couple of podcasts very sporadically, but that was about it. I was basically clueless.

Now, a couple of things happened last year that led me to where I am today. Number one, I had decided to take a step—nay, leap—back from pursuing my acting career due to my minor debilitating mental health and so had been musing about what I could do to replace acting as a career option. My criteria were simple:

  1. I must be able to do this in my pyjamas from my bed (non-negotiable)
  2. I must be able to interact with real-life, in-person people as little as humanly possible
  3. I must be able to interact with people of any description as little as possible.

Naturally, my brain dropped on writer—more specifically, author. I figured I could stay in bed, eat, and type…

Really, how hard could it be? 

Number two, while I was fancying myself an author, making money from my (obviously) brilliant and hilarious works of fiction (which were themselves still very much works of fiction), I promised my niece I would write her a novel for Christmas.

I vowed this in June. Six months to write a novel. How hard could it be?

I got to planning. I enjoyed that part, making pretty vision boards and character concepts for a couple months before patting myself on the back for a job well done.

Well, I patted myself on the back and put my feet up for two months.

The final part of the puzzle was when I saw an interview with Daniel Willcocks on Youtube and, intrigued by the fact he was a British indie author, I went to his website. I saw that he was running a NaNo Boot Camp and I decided to join (I’m pretty sure it was around three days prior to November 1st) as it seemed like a good way to, you know, actually write the thing I promised. 

So, the first thing I went about figuring was what had I actually just signed up and paid for. NaNoWriMo (or “NaNo” for short) stands for National Novel Writing Month and it is an event that hundreds of thousands of writers embark on each year hoping to net their 50,000 words and bragging rights. It runs from the 1st of November to the end of the month and has recieved a less than 20% completion rate since its inception 20 years ago. There is a lot more to it than that though, including the fact it is a non-profit dedicated to helping creatives “find their voice, achieve creative goals, and build words—on and off the page.”

To find out more visit their official website: https://NaNowrimo.org/ 

So I had the basic gist of what lay ahead of me: I had to write 50,000 in 30 days in order to be crowned a winner…

…and I wanted that crown—not that I’m competitive…

But then I started to panic, thinking that maybe NaNo (as well as Dan’s Boot Camp I’d just signed up for) was just for professional writers.

Well, thankfully it didn’t matter. Turns out it doesn’t matter if you’ve never written a word of fiction, or if you have hundreds of books under your belt, NaNo is for everybody and, I’m happy to say, so was Dan’s Boot Camp. His attitude is very simple, do you want to write? If the answer is yes, then you’re welcome

At this point you might be thinking, “why would you pay real Earth money to participate in a challenge that is free?” and you’d be right to wonder, because it is a point I also went over and over… and over.

I’m a single mum on disability benefits, so you best believe I take where I spend my money seriously, and for me the answer was this: I know that, by myself, I will not only not hit 50,000 words, but I won’t even attempt it—I just wouldn’t.

More than that, I wanted to learn from an actual author who was doing the work, day in, day out, and who had already made it their full-time career. I also wanted to be surrounded by people who were serious enough about completing the challenge they, too, had put their money where their mouth was.

The hardest part, for me at least, was getting over myself.

Seriously. I have the world’s largest saboteur living rent-free in my noggin, and she’s a BEAST. She will constantly ask me:

“Who do you think you are?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“You are embarrassing yourself.”

“They will all find out you are not a real writer.”

So, getting her to shut the hell up long enough for me to get the words down was tough. Oh, yeah. Andthen there’s my chronic mental health issues, including (but not limited to) acute social anxiety, so that was kind of tough for the first session…

…more on that later.

In the end, I won NaNo. Smashed it, actually. I hit my 50,000 words in 14 days, and I finished the entire first draft of the book by the end of November. I’m not saying this to brag (well, okay—7% to brag. I’m proud, okay?), but I’m saying it because it was not what I think of when I look back to last November.

The community. That’s what I remember. The camaraderie, the pure writerly joy and encouragement. Dan’s daily messages of encouragement, the long weekend sprints where we would be left cackling like maniacs. I remember the feeling of belonging, of home, and that was, without a doubt, my favourite part.

On top of everything I’ve just mentioned, being a part of the community during NaNo gave me a few things.

Firstly, incredible advice. I credit my NaNo success to Dan telling us all the night before we started to give ourselves permission to write “shit,” to not labour over each word, and to not edit as we went along—seriously, that permission had me flying.

The group also gave me access to so many different writers from around the world and their perspectives.

Most importantly, it gave me the beginnings of my self-belief and confidence in my ability. I started publishing poems on my Instagram account. I started a new blog and I have a few other exciting things planned before the year is out.

It helped me find out who I was and what I was capable of.

But, lest you think I was predisposed to such things, let me assure you I was not. In fact, I have struggled my whole life with not fitting in and I can still remember the terror I felt going into that first session. I barely remember most of it, apart from me asking a question and feeling like I was talking for waaay too long. There was even a picture taken on that first day that captured my terror.

Don’t believe me? 

Take a look.

See what I mean…No? Let’s go in for the close up then, shall we?

Thankfully, after I had that first session under my belt, the panic quickly subsided. I was in such a warm, welcoming group, and I started to feel very quickly like I fit there—that’s something I haven’t felt before.

Anyway, let’s move swiftly away from THAT face (although I still see it every time I blink…) and get back to NaNo.

How hard is writing 50,000 words in 30 days?

This one’s a bit trickier to answer, and the simple reason is that we are all different. Some people write like the hounds of Hell are behind them, and some people struggle more getting the words down. Some people have all the time in the world, others have day jobs and families.

The real truth is: it’s work. There is no getting around it and there will be days when the thought of writing makes you dry-heave. But I can promise you this much, if you turn up, sit your butt down, and write, then no matter how many words are on the manuscript after 30 days, you’re a winner and I will grease up and get in the ring with you to defend that point.

NaNo is about more than words, it’s about showing up for yourself and proving to yourself that you can do hard things. That you aren’t crazy. That this is possible and it’s about shutting up that brain goblin that won’t leave you well enough alone. 

Before you know it, November will be over and you will be sitting on the field of victory, with the rubble of doubts lying smouldering around you, a book in your hand and, honestly, that feeling is priceless.



If you do want to check it out (again I gain nothing either way) then the link for the boot camp which starts TOMORROW (eek!) is this – https://www.danielwillcocks.com/nano/

until next time,

lets get creating worlds!

2 thoughts on “What the hell is NaNo anyway?

  1. Hahaha I love your voice. And your pace of storytelling, even. Reminds me a bit of Allie Brosh. Writing is as simple and as hard as putting one word in front of the other. You’ve got that totally right. Thanks for this post! I enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

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