Last year, I said it was my last year.
And then October 31 happened.
I completed my first NaNoWriMo in 2008, and went on to win nine more years after that. For me it became an annual tradition — something I actually looked forward to, like Christmas or the end of the school year.
But after 10 straight years, I (supposedly) decided I was done. While I was 16, bored in high school and still unsure of my career goals during my first run, by year 10, I had a full-time writing job, a fairly successful (?) blog, and very limited time to spend rushing through the first 50,000 words of yet another book I might not finish.
I was completely OK with this decision. I was prepared to focus on unfinished projects, take my time, and work on my fiction when it suited me.
And then I was sitting at my desk on Halloween and I thought: “What if I just did it one more time?”
You see, I had this idea tugging at the back of my mind. It had been there for at least six months. The more I thought about it, the more something inside me begged me to start writing it.
I attempted to shrug those temptations off. Then I realized I couldn’t. NaNo had become something so critical in the course of my year that not beginning a new novel on November 1 would have felt, somehow, wrong.
So I decided — yes, the day before beginning — that I would try to win again.
Except I wasn’t going to announce this fact to anyone. After all, I’d said plenty of times already this year that I was overwhelmed with work and barely had time to do, well, anything.
So I started writing. And I told no one. and immediately I felt happier. Less stressed. More fulfilled.
Almost as if writing was something I, like, enjoyed. Who knew?
But if the whole point of NaNoWriMo is social accountability, why did I keep my participation secret for a month? Why not announce my word count, tweet about my progress, roam the forums?
The answer is simple: Distractions.
I love NaNoWriMo and everything it stands for. Even if I never actively participate again (at this point, who knows what next year holds?), I will always support the organization and other participants in any way I can. On the surface, it encourages people to sit down and write. On a deeper level, it embraces creativity and drive, and lets people of all ages see the vast array of possibilities their ideas may become.
But I had precisely an hour, maybe 90 minutes, per day to write. I didn’t have time for coordinating word sprints, answering questions, or even posting on social media or my blog (or YouTube channel) about my progress.
Could I have not even bothered with the site at all and just kept track of my own word count in a spreadsheet? Yeah, sure. But to be clear, accountability is NaNoWriMo’s most attractive characteristic because it works. I WANT that badge for hitting 5K. I WANT to get an email congratulating me for hitting the halfway point.
I want to feel proud that I made progress — or that I won. Hitting that daily word count is what keeps me going.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in NaNo forums, getting to know fellow writers in my home region, and even serving as a municipal liaison (region leader). What I learned — and the reason I actually thought I was done after year 10 — was that these extra things were causing unnecessary stress.
For me personally, they were making the experience more distracting and less fun.
They are great features for writers who want/need to connect with other participants. I just decided that I wanted my main focus to be working on a book and not worrying about word sprints or answering messages.
And do you know what? I had a great month. I averaged just 1,700 words a day (all I honestly had time for — another reason I almost didn’t do it), I fell in love with my story, and I have plenty of energy and motivation left to hopefully finish a first draft by the end of the year.
My only goal for 2018 — the only one I could afford to have — was to write 50,000 words of a story I really needed to write. And I did that without needing to announce it to the world.
It’s kind of fun to keep a secret, even if it’s not really a secret that needs to be kept. I really enjoyed getting to know my story and characters without feeling like I had to talk about the experience when I really wasn’t ready to.
Social accountability helps many writers make progress on their projects and reach their goals. I’m not against it at all. Sometimes, I simply focus on and accomplish much more when I’m on my own.
Once again, NaNoWriMo has given me the time and space I needed to tell a story I truly care about. I probably would not have begun this project if I hadn’t had a reason to work on it for 30 days straight. Now, my next step is to finish it, revise it, and see if anyone wants to turn it into a real book. I guess we’ll see what happens.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.