Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResI love the concept of National Novel Writing Month. I would love to write a full novel in 30 days. Sadly, I think it’s only officially happened one time, and I barely remember the circumstances around that line instance.  Oh, I’ve signed up several times. Sometimes, I never get off the ground.  Day one rolls around and there’s always something more important to be done. (I do have a job, even if it is contract and working from home.)

More often, I get the first few days out of the way and then something comes up. By something, I mean work, or a life crisis, or just about anything that eats so much time that honestly, writing even a few hundred words would be nearly impossible.

I know. It sounds like excuses.  Trust me, I’ve beat myself up over this more times than one.  Hundreds of writers do this every year, but I can’t seem to pull it off even once.  So, why do I always fail?

It’s simply distraction. Yes, some of the distraction is legitimate. Some of it is really not important, and it could be put off, but is not. I do have work that is a real distraction.  One year, I signed up and then spent most of the month working on-site with a client anywhere from 8-12 hours a day.  I should have been able to get some writing done in the evenings, but honestly, when I was writing it was work-related and the rest of the time I was just too dang tired to think.

I actually had one NaNoWriMo where I got about two-thirds of the way through before I blew it out.  I was proud of myself! Still, something (and I can’t even remember what) came up that pulled me away, and I didn’t finish.

These days, I don’t even sign up for the challenge. I still “kinda” participate, I just don’t do it officially.  In the weeks before the challenge, I’ll start preparing something to work on.  Sometimes, I’ll even start writing. Once the challenge kicks off, I’ll try to make it a point to write daily, even if it’s not always on the project that I planned to write.

The distractions still get in the way, but by not officially participating, the guilt of not finishing doesn’t become such a distraction that I quit writing.  Yes, I’m that writer. The one that can be completely grounded by not meeting a deadline.  Even a self-imposed deadline.  It’s one reason that I almost always hit my deadlines in my non-fiction career.

The discipline of actually making myself participate, even if it’s unofficially, seems to work for me. It gets my writing habit jumpstarted, and by the time a distraction rears its ugly head, I have a physical need to write. I need to feel the keys under my fingers. I need to hear the weird little squeak of the keys as a pound on them. I need to know what’s going to happen next in the story.

So, distractions may be the reason that I consistently fail at NaNoWriMo, but NaNoWriMo is the reason that I keep writing. I just had to learn to use the system in a way that works for me.  I’ll never be the writer that slides into the last week of November posting in social media that I’m actually going to do it this year – I’m going to finish a whole novel in one month.  That’s not me.

I’ll be the writer that is quietly plugging along, being pulled in different directions by distractions, but still making progress.  Even if it’s not a whole novel in one month.  It’s writing. And it gets done. And eventually, it leads to a finished project.

Tell me, how does NaNoWriMo work for you?  Are you the stick-with-it writer that makes it through the whole month? Or have you found another way to use the challenge to push your writing outside the rules of the competition? I’d love to hear what works for others with this challenge.