I started doing NanoWrimo in 2010. I was working as an IT and graphic design instructor at a local technical college. My Dean had recently tasked me with overseeing and advising the creative writing club at our school. Having had much experience and a college degree in writing I knew that often, creative writing clubs rapidly devolved into support groups. I had been there and it’s okay, it just wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I advised the club as I was asked to but I was taciturn and not terribly excited by the work that the students were bringing in and even less interested in being a psychiatrist.
When October rolled around, I was still rolling my eyes at yet another student writing their horrific life story except that they were a billionaire, cowboy, spaceman with laser eyes. (I should note here that I have no problem with billionaire, cowboy, spacemen with laser eyes. It just gets a little tiresome after reading hundreds of them - I digress...) A friend of mine and fellow writer suggested that I look at NanoWrimo. He told me that he had done it once and thought it was great fun. I looked and I signed up. The following week I challenged the members of my writing club to join with me. I deemed that each club meeting in November was to consist of at least one “word war,” that we would bring coffee, pizza, snacks, etc. and that in November we would NOT read each other’s material. We would only concern ourselves with the novels at hand and commiserate. Plot talk was fine, brainstorming was fine but no one would be “grading” anything or giving a shit whether something was spelled wrong (sorry, it was college, I was allowed to curse.) I created a poster that listed each member, including myself, with a spot for a daily word count post-it note and hung it in the commons for all to see. I, further, threw down the gauntlet to our Associate Dean who I knew to be an amazing writer in her own right and she took up the challenge with us. A few other instructors followed along with other students. The build-up was incredible with lots of tongue-in-cheek, trash talk between us all about who was going to “out-write” who. I loved it. They were finally getting excited about writing.
What an amazing month it was. I saw such growth in my students. When they would previously lament for days over a single paragraph or even sentence or character name, I could now say “There’s no time! Just write it!” It was like they all turned the corner from taking themselves so seriously and just wrote for the fun of it, or wrote to beat me, or the A.D. or something. I didn’t care what they were doing it for, it was just awesome to see it happen and be a part of it.
I don’t remember if they all won or not, I know that some did and are still in contact with me because of it. I do know that everyone came out of it a better writer. I found a new interest in the craft that had been lost to me for decades. I found that I was a much better advisor and mentor to the club after November. I also found one of the dearest friends I will ever have in my life in my associate dean that year. We have both long since left those jobs but are still close and always will be. Also, I wrote my first novel and it wasn’t terrible. I continued to challenge students in the years following and it was always positive but it has never been quite as fun and exhilarating as that first year.