I've been participating in National Novel Writing Month now for about seven years – NaNo 2014 will be my eighth, in fact. Since I penned the first words of my first ever NaNo novel back in 2007 (it was called Trinity and it was awful), NaNoWriMo has become a huge part of my life. I've won five out of seven attempts - in 2008 I gave up about 4000 words in because of college work – and the event is now one of the highlights of my year.
I've never been able to donate, though, which has always bugged me. Back in 2007, I was in my last year of high school and had literally no money, not even a bank account. Then I was in college, with a bank account but hardly any money to live on. And then I was either on Job Seeker's, which barely allows you to feed yourself, or working temp jobs on minimal hours at minimum wage.
Lately, things have been better. My job is secure, I'm working hard. I've treated myself to a Kindle, which will be an excellent back-up writing device should my laptop fail me (which it inevitably will, this November). I've been faced with a succession of vet bills in this past month, mostly unexpected, which I've actually been able to cope with. I have a small amount of savings – I've never had savings before!
So today I decided that I was finally going to get myself that halo. And I've decided that it won't just be a one-off donation of $10, I've set up a $10 monthly donation.
The thing is, I owe NaNoWriMo, and the good people who run it, a lot. They've taken a hobby that's pretty solitary and turned it into something social, and made it so much more fun. I've made some wonderful friends through NaNo who I see throughout the year; brilliant, hilarious people who I never would have met otherwise. People to laugh with, word sprint with, celebrate with, share advice and support with. Plus I get the chance to read the embryonic work of some truly excellent writers, which is a rare and amazing thing.
I've learned a lot about discipline. I've learned a lot about myself as a writer; I can comfortably hit 2000 words a day, my all time record has been 10000 words, and I've learned that I also burn myself out when I push myself and do that much. I've come to understand the benefits of writing every day, even if it's just a little bit, and I've discovered the joys of hitting those targets early in the day and realising that I actually have a few hours to push myself even further. I've learned to seek out those little pockets of dead time to turn into writing time; waiting for appointments, bus and train rides, the half an hour or so before I head to work where I can't really do anything else.
Plus, without NaNoWriMo, I don't think I'd still be writing The Great Couch Happening of '69 today. It would be sitting, long abandoned, in the 'old stuff' folder in the writing section of my Google Drive. There have been times where I've gone weeks or months without writing a word but I've always been able to count on NaNo, its people and its support network to give me that much-needed boost. I sometimes think that NaNoWriMo embodies the spirit of 'Couch' a little bit; that freewheeling craziness, the pretty personal mad humour that comes from me just letting go and expressing myself. Without NaNoWriMo and everything it's taught me, 'Couch' wouldn't be what it is today. It's a rubbish book, but it's mine and I'm oddly proud of it so far.
So that's why I've decided to donate $10 a month to The Office of Letters and Light. They've given me so much over the past seven years; it's about time I gave something back.
If you'd like to take part in National Novel Writing Month, you can sign up to the site here. If you're under eighteen and would rather set your own word count goal, then maybe their Young Writer's Program is the thing for you! There are also two Camp NaNoWriMo events in April and July, for those of us who like to catch some sun while we write. You don't have to donate to take part, but that halo on your avatar does look pretty damn awesome... just saying!
It brings out my eyes.