How National Novel Writing Month Changed My Life

Able to pour my heart and my soul into those 50,000 words, I brought my confused and crazy life into some sort of alignment. Able to pour my heart and my soul into those 50,000 words, I brought my confused and crazy life into some sort of alignment. For the first time in what felt like a lifetime,

How National Novel Writing Month Changed My Life

When my father died, writing became the one safe place in a chaotic world.

NaNoWriMo — the abbreviated name for National Novel Writing Month — takes place every November. During this one chilly month, millions of words written by tens of thousands of people across the globe. The focus of the event? Writing 50,000 words in exactly 30 days.

When I started NaNoWriMo, I was sixteen. I have fond memories of staying up late at a friend’s house on Halloween as we dived into our writing at the stroke of midnight. There is a certain sorcerous power in such a ritual; it was a coming of age ceremony in a sense, the entering of some liminal divide.

The next year, my father died. He was a writer of uncommon skill in poetic language, and I looked up to him as a child, fascinated by how he worked with words.

I remember very little about that year. I have vague memories, only. A sense that I was an unfinished human being, unmoored from childhood before I was prepared to face the challenges of the adult world. It was as Novemeber rolled around that I felt any sense of myself return. National Novel Writing Month gave me focus, for the first time since my father died.

That November, I dove into my project with the reckless abandon of a true novice. I finished my “novel” that year, all glorious 50,000 words of it.

It was an ungainly mess, filled with every bad mistake a young writer could possibly make… but it was also my saving grace. I was able to pour my heart and my soul into those 50,000 words, and bring my confused and crazy life into some sort of alignment.

It took many years more for my skill to advance. I’ve been a slow learner, in many ways, all my life. But, when I set my mind to something, I usually get it done. I just knew that, one day, I wanted to be able to call myself a writer.

I knew that I was on a special path. I had discovered the ability to weave magic through storytelling; I could change my reality, my life — and perhaps the lives of others — through the words that I placed on the page.

I have participated in every NaNoWriMo since, managing to hit the 50,000 word goal most of those years — a considerable achievement when I consider just how incredibly busy I am every time November comes around.

Part of that hectic lifestyle was due to my pursuit of my college degrees. I came from a poor background and never expected that I would be able to get into college, let alone finish it. But I did. First, a BFA in creative writing. Then, an MFA in creative writing. Two degrees that capitalism doesn’t give a hoot about, but which changed my life and worldview forever. Two degrees I never would have felt able to undertake if not for my time with NaNoWriMo.

For many years, I volunteered to work as a Municipal Liaison for my NaNoWriMo region. This is an organizer role, where you set up events throughout your county. Trying to make an entire month of fun happen for thousands of people isn’t easy, but I had a great time doing it. It showed me how much I valued community, and how good I was at helping people come together.

I gave my energy because I remembered how deeply National Novel Writing Month changed my life. Because I knew there were many kids — kids just like I had been — who might find their life changed because a stranger helped set up write-ins at the local library. It’s for those kids — for the kid I once was — that I became an itinerant volunteer.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” I believe this is true. And, I believe that NaNoWriMo is a treasure not meant to be hoarded. This event must be shared, and shared again, until every teenager who has faced homelessness and lost a parent can discover something inside themselves that gives them a glow of pride.

Because what we human beings do is create. The absence of war is not peace. The absence of war is creation. And, as we look ahead toward a century brimming with uncertainty, it is our individual acts of creation that offer a path of hope through the darkest of times.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

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