Jo Sisk-Purvis

​writer of fiction and music for children, young adults, and ​dreamers of all ages


NaNoWriMo and me

Happy NaNoWriMo halfway point, writers! For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month,” a concept created by a group of writer friends in San Francisco in 1999 that has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit organization serving tens of thousands of writers around the world, from young students to retirees. It still revolves around the original idea: writing 50,000 words in 30 days (the month of November).

I’m not writing a NaNo novel this year, since I’m finishing up edits on THE WATCHERS while also writing THE KNOWERS (book 2). But even in the years I don’t take on the challenge, I am so inspired by the writing community that comes together for the month and beyond. The pep talks, the lively forums, the free sharing of ideas, the 100% civil (well, as close to 100% as is possible on the internet) debates… I love it all. And without NaNoWriMo, I likely would never have written my first novel, much less THE WATCHERS (my fifth).

As a kid, I was an absolute bookworm and avid writer of short stories. Had the internet existed, I probably would’ve latched right on to the Young Writers Program or a fan fiction site like AO3. Instead, my writing fell to the sidelines as I became more involved in musical performance (though I never stopped reading, not even for a day). I dreamed of writing novels and even filled notebooks with maps and character descriptions and systems of magic for my hypothetical fantasy series. But it wasn’t until 2010, at the age of 35, that I discovered NaNoWriMo and began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could actually write a novel start to finish.

I “won” my first NaNo that year, and wrote the entire first draft of a middle grade fantasy novel about a musician girl in a town that had forgotten music. And that changed something in me, just like the wonderful folks at NaNoWriMo had described in themselves. I COULD write a novel, even if it wasn’t yet a GOOD one (more on that in another post, heh). I made writer friends and kept up with them through the year, and “won” two more NaNoWriMos with my second and third novels. In the meantime, I joined SCBWI, attended workshops and conferences, read loads of books about writing, and joined a critique group. Lo and behold, each novel got a bit better, and in 2015 I landed my first professional publishing credit, a story in Cricket Magazine called “Bully.”

Querying my novels was a whole different quagmire of frustration, but NaNoWriMo was always there to remind me that I was writing because I had a story to tell—and that I loved to write. Camp NaNoWriMo helped me write THE WATCHERS (twice! Or was it three times? Camp NaNo allows for a lot more “cheating” than the original), and one and a half additional novels.

And FINALLY, over a decade later, I will be joining the list of authors whose published novels were drafted during NaNoWriMo!

TL;DR: If you’ve ever thought of writing a novel, consider NaNoWriMo!

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