Why I Participate in NaNoWriMo

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This will be my 6th year in a row participating in NaNoWriMo (if you haven’t heard of it, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.) I’ve been asked a few times over the past couple of years why I participate, since I’m always writing anyway.

For me, NaNoWriMo is a time to play. It’s a time to mess around with one of those dozens of little  “side project” ideas I have, a chance to see if it goes anywhere. Sometimes, my NaNo project ends up being something that I work more on, revise, edit, and eventually publish. Almost as often, though, it doesn’t go very far, and I know it’s an idea that maybe didn’t have much merit to begin with. I can happily abandon those ideas, knowing that I at least gave it a shot.

NaNoWriMo: A Personal History

I was looking over my novels on the NaNo site for the past six years. Here’s what I found:

2011: I had a book tentatively titled “Guardian.” This ended up being the second draft of the book that became Lost Girl and was published first on my blog and then as a book in 2013.

2012: I worked on Broken, which was a first draft to the follow-up for Guardian. This title stayed the same, and Broken, book two in my Hidden series, was also published in late 2013.

2013: I worked on a project called “Last Chance.” This project went nowhere, and rightfully so. It was my first attempt at a contemporary romance, and it was terrible. But I learned a few things, such as what definitely does NOT work for me in writing contemporaries!

2014: My project that year was just called “Copper Falls 1.” It eventually became Shadow Witch Rising, which is the first book in my Copper Falls paranormal romance series.

2015: The “Untitled YA” I started last year went nowhere. My heart wasn’t in it, no matter how much I wanted to write something my daughters could read.

And this year, I’m working on the first book in my Paradise Bay contemporary romance series. I’ve been playing with the idea for this series for a while, writing notes, writing bits of dialogue and character bios and all of the other fun stuff I do to prepare for a series, and so far, I’m off to a decent start.

But here’s a dirty little secret. Well, not so secret if you look closely at my NaNoWriMo profile page. I have never won NaNoWriMo.


Even though my writing pace is usually somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words per month, I’ve never managed to complete 50K of my assigned NaNo project. Part of this is my own work process: I’m almost always working on a  couple of scheduled books, things that I know I want to release soon. And before I was actually publishing, for those first three years or so of participating in NaNoWriMo, I was working as a web content writer, editor, proofreader, and garden writer. So I just didn’t get it done. And I get that, really, that’s the whole point of participating in NaNo: starting something, and finishing at least a loose, rough draft of it.

But one thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that the best thing we can do as writers is find our own way of doing things and then honor that. Don’t compare  your way to mine or anyone else’s.. just do what feels right. For me, these past few years of NaNo have been periods of stealing time for side projects, for playing, for making myself stretch beyond my schedule and grow as a writer. I’ve tried genres I don’t ordinarily write in. I’ve made myself work that extra time in.

No time spent writing could ever be considered wasted. You’re always learning something, either about writing or about yourself. At best, you’re doing both.

So as we begin NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to be unapologetically yourself. To write the things that make your heart beat a little faster. To work within even a rigid framework like NaNoWriMo, and make it your own. This is a time to have a deep and obsessive love affair with your story. I do my best writing when it feels like I’m almost having too much fun, like this can’t possibly be work that people will someday, maybe pay me to read.

So that’s my NaNoWriMo story, and it will continue this year. If you’re participating and want to be writing buddies, you can find me here, and I will cheer you on.

And if Paradise Bay ever becomes something I release into the wild, you’ll be the first to know.

(I’m also participating in NaBloPoMo this month, which is National Blog Posting Month. My goal is to post something here every day. I find that writing begets writing, that the more I make myself write, and the more varied the writing is, the more fun I have. So if there’s something you’ve always wondered about in regard to my writing or my books, this is a good time to ask — I’m still looking for post topics for this month. Feel free to leave a comment below!)

One thought on “Why I Participate in NaNoWriMo

  1. Jo Dawson says:

    Thank Colleen, I learned about NaNoWriMo through your blog a few years back. I love knowing that books you’ve written, books I love, were hatched through this crazy process!

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