Every year on November 1st, I take out my laptop and open a completely new document and begin to write a novel. Throughout the month, I sneak writing in while getting ready for work, on the Metro commute, during my lunch hour, at cafes with friends, and in bed late into the night. I use my novel as an excuse to shut the world out and create something, to tell a story that hasn’t been told yet but which yearns to be heard.
Every year in November, I take part in a ritual called National Novel Writer’s Month. NaNoWriMo, as it is affectionately called by those who participate, is the pushing of anything and everything unnecessary out of the way in favor of writing a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. NaNoWriMo, however, is about more than just the act of sitting and typing at a keyboard, it’s about the audacity to create something that no one has ever created before; it’s about making your own story a priority; it’s about telling truths that otherwise are never told for fear of not measuring up in length or beauty to someone else’s tales. In short, NaNoWriMo is an exercise in the human condition, in the preservation of ideals, an act of oral history and collective consciousness.
It’s all very exciting, this grand writing adventure, but it is not without it’s pitfalls and gaping holes and terrible faults. NaNoWriMo forces the novelist to make some potentially unhealthy decisions (for instance, should I stay up and drink more caffeine and write all hours of the night or get sleep so that I will be awake for work/school/insert activity here?), push friends and family away with cranky retorts and excuses such as “I must make my word count for the day,” “Not now, I’m writing a novel,” and “Mommy needs to finish this chapter first.”
What most people never realize until they have finished an undertaking like NaNoWriMo is that, just by attempting the feat, the experience inherently changes you. Of course, I’m a completely different person than I was before I started writing novels five years ago, but the wonder is that my writing has changed me. I have written spirituality-centered fiction, mystery, literary fiction, and will be writing in the fantasy and horror genres this year. I have expanded my horizons in terms of what I read based on the books others recommended during NaNoWriMo and have incorporated aspects of these real-life characters into my writing.
In the exercise of writing fiction, as in journaling, painting, or meditating, I have found a strength I didn’t know I had. After all, if I can write 33,000 words in one month (my personal best), what else can I do that I didn’t think was possible? I have looked at characters I created and found parts of myself in them or the best traits of my best friends rolled together with the worst flaws of people I know to be bad influences on me. And most importantly, I have learned how to shut out the bad, to learn from the good, and what exactly the difference is between fiction and reality.
And so, I leave you with these words of wisdom, from the great author Neil Gaiman:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”