A soft throw blanket bundled around me. A steaming mug of decaffeinated tea. The main light in my room shut off, with only the fairy lights twinkling above my head and the lamp on my desk beaming brightly beside me.
Ever since the start of November, I often find myself escaping to this writing spot, curled up against the soft backrest pillow on my bed. As I open up the Word document of my project, I click play on relaxing music that will help me prepare for my nightly writing session. Sometimes, I spend a good five minutes staring at the screen, looking at the last paragraph that I wrote, hoping that inspiration will hit me. Sometimes, I dive right in, hoping that my future self will forgive me for the stream of incoherence I am spewing onto the doc. This has been my first experience with NaNoWriMo so far.
National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, challenges writers to write a 50,000-word novel within the month of November. This past Sunday, Nov. 1, writers all around the world opened up their notebooks and laptops and ventured into their new projects for this year’s challenge.
I first heard about NaNoWriMo in middle school, when I stumbled across a bunch of videos of writers vlogging their NaNoWriMo experiences. As a writer, the concept of writing an entire novel within a month seemed both exhilarating and incredibly daunting; I was only used to writing small scenes of stories that popped into my head. I had never fully committed to writing a full-length novel before; I had tried once before, but I gave up after writing the first chapter. So, for years, every time November rolled around, I either completely forgot about NaNoWriMo because I was too busy with school, or I was too intimidated by the idea of writing so much in such a little amount of time.
I would have completely forgotten about NaNoWriMo again this year if it hadn’t been for a conversation I had with my friend Emma Sagerer ʼ23 in late October. Sagerer, who has participated in NaNoWriMo since middle school, had been telling me about preparing for the event this year. As we talked, I began to think about all of the times I’ve wanted to participate in the writing challenge but never did. I started to realize that this year would be the best time to jump in and do NaNoWriMo. I have spent most of my semester in my room, so the thought of carving out some time to write every day seemed more attainable than in the past. Plus, the week-long break at the end of the month provided a good opportunity to catch up on my novel if needed.
This semester, I have already gotten into the habit of journaling every night. All of my feelings and anxieties build up so that, by the end of every day, I start instinctively reaching for my pen and floral-patterned journal, eager for a way to release all of these pent-up feelings, to vent about all of the things that are pulling at my thoughts or causing a lot of stress in my life. Journaling is a way for me to work through my emotions. But sometimes, journaling can be hard; at times the thought of confronting all of the anxiety that has accumulated over the course of the semester, with classes and the pandemic and the election, is overwhelming and difficult.
NaNoWriMo has been a different kind of writing. Being able to open up my laptop after a long day and escape the world around me, to let my imagination take over and steal my focus away even for a few minutes, has been emotionally relieving. It has allowed me to take back control of what is happening; being able to slowly yet steadily build a story and a world of my creation has been empowering.
Sagerer also expressed that participating in the writing challenge was a good way to escape the stress of everything going on in the world. “Everything is so weird right now. And usually, I write kind of emotional stories, very heavy things,” Sagerer said. “And this year I was not willing to be so vulnerable and be so emotional. So, I decided to write something fun, and just forget about everything, and that has really helped me just relax, [to] stop focusing on everything bad right now.” With everything going on in the world, I had a hard time bringing myself to write during quarantine. But now, NaNoWriMo is pushing me to jump back into writing and helping me to rediscover my creativity. While I am definitely behind on my word count (by a lot) being able to have a new creative outlet has been really empowering, and has allowed me to be more productive with all of the time I spend in my room.