Last year was the first year that I participated in National Novel Writing Month and the experience totally changed my writing life.
Prior to NaNoWriMo 2015, I had done a lot of writing--even published an inspirational book and four speculative fiction novelettes--but I felt completely isolated. Sure, there was the occasional friend who actually wanted to hear about my latest work-in-progress, but I had given up on the idea that I would really be a "somebody" until that "someday" magical moment when the world realized that I had a meaningful story to offer.
I think I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2015 partly out of desperation; I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.
What NaNoWriMo gave me was so much more.
NaNoWriMo gave me community.
For thirty days, I was thrust into a world of people who thought just like me.
"I had a plan and my main character decided to MacGyver a plot instead!"
"I hit the 30,000 word mark! I feel like a writing ninja!"
"If an alien species lived on a moonless world, how would that affect their planet?"
"Hit the doldrums today. Remind me that my story is worth it. Help."
"Your story is worth it! Nobody can write this story like you. I'm here to brainstorm if you need me."
I had always considered writing a solitary craft and never really expected to find or enjoy a community.
Now I know that community is an author's best fuel.
The connections I made during NaNoWriMo 2015 not only continued past November, but spurred me to find other like-minded writers. (See the end of this post for a list of my favorite online communities and fellow writers.)
In August 2016, I started Caffeinated Bibliophiles, a group of Vermont readers and writers who meet twice monthly at a coffee shop to talk about all things books. The connections I have made there are priceless and have inspired me in my writing journey in more ways than I can enumerate here.
NaNoWriMo gave me confidence.
The biggest "aha!" moment during NaNoWriMo 2015 was the moment when I realized that I was afraid to identify myself as a writer.
"Nice to meet you, Yaasha. What do you do?"
"I'm a secretary at a local office," I reply, but in my heart, I'm screaming: "I'm a writer!"
But who wants to say they're a writer? Might as well say, "Hi, I'm a delusional 'artiste' who wants to live off of imagination and unrealistic expectations, dreaming of a future of fame and fortune while I let everyone else support me and my useless hobby."
When I was in the company of other writers, I could be myself and act like my writing mattered. I identified myself by my writing first and my job second. Because of this, I developed the confidence in my skill and in my stories to take big steps in my writing.
This year, I took steps of confidence.
I had the confidence to submit stories to publishers, with results from "You are talented but we can't use your story" to "We want this! Let's talk contracts."
I had the confidence to tell people, even strangers, that I am a writer, and to feel good about it.
I had the confidence to get out in the community, even appearing as a guest on local television for a show about books and for a read-aloud of childrens' Christmas stories.
NaNoWriMo gave me commitment.
You can gab all day with fellow authors and you can believe in your skill as a writer, but none of it amounts to a hill of beans if you don't actually glue your butt to a chair and write.
Prior to my first NaNoWriMo experience, I wrote perhaps 2000 or 3000 words a week, because I did not know how to prioritize my writing. NaNoWriMo showed me that I can write 1667 words a day; 10,000 words a week; and over 50,000 words a month.
What does it mean to prioritize writing?
It means getting up early and writing before breakfast, before anything else.
It means saying no to mindless browsing on the internet and getting to work.
It means writing despite the flu, despite a busy weekend, despite getting home late from work.
It means committing measurable time and effort into your story.
What are you waiting for?
Now that NaNoWriMo 2016 has wrapped up and I have completed--and won!--my second NaNoWriMo, I am filled with gratitude for all that has happened since my first experience.
For all the writers I have met.
For all the opportunities I've dared to seize.
For all the stories I have written.
I am not afraid anymore. My newest Twitter hashtag is becoming my reality every day: #writefearlessly.
And that is just what I am going to do.
Bonus: My favoriteS
Writers and online writing communities that encourage me