November 2000: I remember my first NaNoWriMo as a haze of Pacific Northwest autumn rain, deep financial stress, and the early, wild, mostly-uncivilized life of a nineteen-year-old young woman on her own, desperately trying to carve out a safe space for herself out of so much uncertainty and unresolved/unexplored childhood trauma.
And there, in the middle of all that, I found a local group of writers on LiveJournal talking about their NaNoWriMos. I was confused, at first. Did they perhaps mean nainamos, the delicious cookie bar? Why were we naming a writing event after cookies? Intrigued, I delved deeper and learned that there were so many others out there like me, who had words to share and a million excuses not to.
I dived in and did some terrible writing. It was a fantasy novel with a fairy queen who was also a thief, and someone was challenging her reign. I did not write 50,000 that year, nor most of the years that I’ve participated.
But what I did get from that first time I participated, and every time I jumped in after that, was a rekindling of that inner spark. The nurturing of a fire that crackles with possibilities, with a promise that says yes, you are still a writer. I’m still here, your inner fire, whenever you’re ready to come back to me. No matter what the world throws at you, you still have this hearth. You can still warm your fingers against the keys of your laptop. You can keep going.
My participation record in any organized event is always spotty, at best. I can’t say that I’ve done every single NaNoWriMo. I definitely can’t say that I’ve won each NaNo I’ve participated in. But it’s become a touchstone in my life, a vital piece of each year. With November comes cold winds, hot drinks, dark nights, and a lot of hours with my fingers pressed to these keys, embracing that rebellious little spark in me that continues to fight against so much personal darkness.
I’m dedicating this year to that little spark and I’m giving it my all. Good luck to all of you out there participating this year. 50,000 words, here we come. And here’s to twenty more years of keeping our fires burning through every dark winter.