I can't recall precisely how many years I've been doing Holidailies, but this must be at least my 6th year. When I first started, Holidailies was basically just "another month of blogging," because I was already managing daily blogging just fine on my own, thank you. Over the years it's become something more like "my one good month of blogging out of the year." Which is kind of sad, but it's also better than just letting the blog shrivel up and die (I think). There's something about this sort of challenge, this sort of community, that helps me to stick with it.
A few years ago now, I seem to remember someone in the blogosphere trying to rebrand November--which you may or may not know is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in some corners of the writing world--as a month to blog daily (NaBloWriMo?). I'm pretty sure I blogged my way through that November, but it also served to put NaNoWriMo on my mental map.
Last year, I went so far as to register an account at the NaNoWriMo.org website, which was exactly as far as I went with it. This year, however, I went ahead and did it. I started writing a novel on November 1.
Just prior to that, I went to a kick-off meeting up in South Bend with a group of fellow "NaNoWriMos": for many of them, it was the first of a number of Sunday evening meetings as well as "write-ins" on Saturday mornings and periodically throughout each week. I live too far from South Bend to make that happen, but since that first meeting was on October 28, which was the Unitarian Church's Halloween party, I was able to go to the meeting while Lauren took the kids to the party. To be honest, it surprised me how helpful that meeting was. I basically took away three things. First, a veteran of NaNoWriMo advised us to treat this not even as a rough draft, but as Draft 0; the point was: there's no pressure to get this "right," to write the perfect novel that you're going to send to a publisher on December 1: the point is to get writing, to put words on a page, and just get started. I already understood that, but it was a timely reminder. Second, just being around so many people who wanted to write, and talking to them about books and about why they wanted to write and about our story ideas, that energized me to get writing. Third, and I feel like a jerk saying it, but a certain competitiveness and, let's say, sense of my own self-worth (yeah, that sounds better than "dickishness") left me thinking: if this group of socially awkward people with all sorts of weird ideas (which is to say "writers") can do this, I can do this.
"This," I should add, is not, in fact, to actually write a novel. And I don't just mean that in the sense of finishing a novel by editing, rewriting, etc. I mean that the actual goal was to write 50,000 words, a number which could be a novel, if you're writing YA fiction or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. I averaged somewhere over 1667 words per day, which got me past the 50,000 word mark, but if I had to guess, I would say that I'm about halfway done.
I say that, you should understand, with no clear idea of the plot ahead--just a vague sense of where they are in some imagined story arc. Which means that if I did another month at the same pace, I could very well have a draft of a novel done before the end of the year.
Except that I haven't written a word since November 30. C'mon people, it's Holidailies time. Move on.
As I was saying with Holidailies, the strength of these sorts of group writing endeavors is the sense of community, the sense of commitment, and perhaps also the sense of "I can do anything for a month!" The weakness is that we have a tendency to fall off the wagon once it's over. A month is about enough time to establish a new habit, but it's easy to find ourselves moving on to another habit. That said, just writing about writing that 50k last month has me wanting to dive back into the book and finish telling that story. I've invested in these characters, and they're never going to get any resolution unless I give it to them (at least, I don't imagine anyone will find this on my computer after I'm dead and decide "you know, I think I'll finish this novel."). So yeah, I should get on that.
I should add that NaNoWriMo and my virtual friends who were also doing it were not my only motivations. I've wanted to write a novel (okay, novels) since maybe 4th grade, but I've always found other things to do instead. So what got me over the hump? A couple books I read over the summer pushed me in that direction. One was Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding, both because it's a pretty amazing book and because it gave me some thoughts about where I wanted a novel idea (not the one I wrote) to go (I thought it was a baseball story, like Harbach's; turns out it's not). The other was John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. It, too, is excellent. But the inspiration it gave me was less direct than that--it was more about the fact that John was a classmate of mine in college and I'm totally envious of the writing career he's in the midst of. And there's really no answer to that but to start writing. You can't publish a book you haven't written, and you probably can't write a decent book until you've written some terrible ones (that whole 10,000 hours to mastery idea), so I decided I just needed to get started. Also I should publicly thank a blogging friend who encouraged me directly to get writing. And my wife, who made some significant accommodations to help me find the time to write 50k last month.