National Novel Writing Month, known as “NaNoWriMo” for short or simply “NaNo” for shorter, is a month for aspiring and accomplished authors to push their body and creativity to the limits every single day in November.
In an effort to hit the daily word count objective of 1667, and ultimately log a staggering 50,000 words by month’s end, November usually passes in flurry of great ideas, frustrations, engaging dialogs, tears, and breakthroughs. The month also includes an extra dose of friendship and support in the form of local write-ins and 10-15 minute word war battles with other participants.
There are more than a few NaNoWriMo forums, including some with tens of thousands of members. This means that when writers are not busy typing away at their keyboards, they can be found logging their daily word counts in tracking software on the official NaNo website and cheering each other’s small victories in online support groups.
In 2015, after participating in a few years’ worth of NaNo’s, but not “winning” by hitting the required word counts at the end of the months, I felt the need for some additional nuanced solidarity from other aspiring and accomplished Muslim authors.
Before the month started, while searching for this needed support, I discovered there was not yet a Facebook community for Muslim authors and NaNoWriMo participants. Last year, I started a small group that’s now grown to over 175 aspiring and accomplished Muslim authors and NaNo participants, mostly women, from all over the world.
Last NaNoWriMo, I also participated in two local write-in meet-ups here in Karachi, Pakistan where I’ve been living the last three years. I had a great time meeting other NaNo participants, even if we were all busy typing away with our brows furrowed in thought.
This growing international NaNo community has attracted Muslim participants from all walks of life. Many join eager to learn more about what the month means and how to do it.
I recently touched base with a handful of newbies and former participants to get their thoughts on what NaNo is and how it’s helping them grow as writers.
Pakistan-based, Iqra Asad, blogger at IqraWrites.com, first learned about NaNo in 2010 from Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s site, Inky Girl. NaNo was a baby project then, having only started with 21 participants the year before. However, in its third year, helped along by niche bloggers and a new website, it ballooned to 5,000 participants and even made headlines in the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. The NaNo website now boasts over a million visitors a month.
Asad has yet to participate in NaNo proper due to the fact that the month has always coincided with her annual exams. However, she did make time to participate in Camp NaNo in July 2015. She set herself a goal of 10,000 words of Islamic teen fiction about a girl’s experience during the holy month of Ramadan. She also put her finished excerpt up on the story-sharing site Wattpad: readers loved it.
“Camp was a nice way to keep me going,” Asad explains, “and Wattpad was a wonderful way to get feedback from readers.”
The novel-writing month, now in its 17th year, has grown into an international sensation with groups in most, if not all, countries. It’s also attracting more Muslim writers as well – those eager to add their voices to the published novel landscape. Writer K.T. Lynn, of YankeeDoodleSaudi.com, who plans to participate for the first time this year, is aiming to use the month to set aside other projects and start something different.
Lynn is currently in late revision stages of her first novel – a work of literary fiction that’s heavily influenced by her time in Saudi Arabia. “I plan to start fresh and begin working on my second novel, Lynn says, “I’m a ‘pantser’ style writer and I would love to see if I get different results from a more structured writing regime.”
The Spirit of the Month
Brooke Benoit, an online-magazine content director living in Morocco, founder of Fitra Journal – a Muslim homeschooling quarterly, and also mother to seven unschooled children, describes herself as “an excruciatingly busy person.” She has multiple novel ideas percolating but no time to write. That’s why NaNoWriMo appeals to her – it forces her to carve out the time needed to get a rough draft finished.
Benoit explains that it’s been a struggle to choose which responsibilities to neglect in order to make the personal time needed to write a book. She was originally attracted to the spirit of the month, and the online forums. “This idea of joining a great big supportive collective with similar goals – to write a novel – intrigued me so I tried it,” Benoit says.
“Some years I work on prior novels, some years I start another one that I would ultimately really like to ‘get out’,” says Benoit. She adds “though I have never met the 50,000 word finish line or even completed any of my novels, every year in November I do get a lot more done than during the rest of the year, which is a huge relief.”
Asad writes that NaNoWriMo Muslims offers a “sisterhood of people who ‘get it’ when you talk about writing, instead of brushing off the fact that you write with a cursory, ‘That’s cute!’”
Asad mentions the thrill she gets from writing. “The most exciting thing about the writing process is feeling alive,” she says. “That time when I am ‘in the zone’ and I can feel the energy pouring from my mind and through my fingers onto the keyboard.”
The Ongoing Process
As they embark on their novels, new writers and authors need the support and help that a group of fellow writers and beta-readers can provide. When dealing with uniquely “Muslim” themes, or when writing for a Muslim audience, it can be especially helpful to have a group of like-minded writers to consult.
After NaNo ends, the rest of the year is spent either planning the next year’s novel, or keeping busy with revisions and rewrites. NaNo participants slowly edit their novels – refining them to perfect the message and make them publication-worthy.
This is when the even harder work happens, and some don’t make it that far. Writing a novel and getting it all out is challenge in and of itself, but becoming a published author takes more effort than a few hours a week just one month a year. However, the various aid built up around the event also allows authors to continue to share advice even after the month is over. They can also access services unique to the different stages of their writing journeys.
It’s a full-time commitment to succeed, and the NaNoWriMo Muslims Facebook group and other NaNo author support groups and programs, aim to give Muslim writers the support they need to continue working on and revising their novels. The work extends far past the curtains of NaNoWriMo close at 11:59:59 on November 30th.
Though it can be difficult for some, the long and arduous revision process is one that many writers enjoy just as much as flow of writing their first drafts. “Going back and reading old pieces of writing is exciting,” Asad says. “It’s like going back in time to a forgotten part of [my]self, and getting feedback is a thrill.”
Benoit is already pumped to work on her new project for NaNoWriMo 2016 and is thankful for the push that the month brings to busy multitaskers like her. “I hate to imagine if I wasn’t NaNoing and just never got around to writing anything,” she worries.
Lynn is excited to start fresh armed with new knowledge and prior experiences. “I had a very difficult time getting my first novel out,” says Lynn. “I welcome the challenge to face my second novel with a clean slate and a new battle plan.”
The month puts us all closer to our dream of sharing our unique voice and story with our new fans – often shattering pigeonholed stereotypes in the process. What remains is that no matter how writers choose to use the month, they’re able to make progress in their own goals surrounded by a writing glow of international camaraderie. Whether they’re working on an old project, or starting something new, the energy and power of the month of 50,000 words drives countless Muslim authors one step closer to finishing their novels.