How I Survived National Novel Writing Month
Write whatever you want. So I did. If I felt like resuming passages about the enemies-to-lovers ballroom scene, I did. | This is a 5-minute read.
Hello and Salaams my friends 👋🏾,
I hope you’re faring well and your writing is going smoothly. If not, our first guest post may be just the motivation you need to help you push through the draft!
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“Words, words, words,” Hamlet despairingly says in Act III of his play. No wonder Hamlet is a tragedy!
It’s a common stereotype that we writers hate numbers. But did you know that numbers love us? Love to see us struggling, rather.
Fifty-thousand words. 100 pages. Thirty days.
That’s the goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a yearly movement that takes place in November. Writers from all around the world set a word count that they aspire to reach by the 30th. The most common count is 50,000, as that is the average length of novels.
I’d first heard of NaNo when I was in 11th grade. I remember struggling in my third month of an advanced residential public school when I overheard my suitemates chatting about how they would attempt NaNo that year. Meanwhile, I was buried in my books—not mine, the ones assigned to me—and told them, “Good luck.”
Thirteen years later, I told myself: “Bismillah.”
Every month leading up to November 2023, there was a new hurdle to overcome. I had my third hip surgery in July. I began working a second job in August. My first one already dealt with a lot of wordsmithing, and I fretted that I’d be too burnt out to perform my own wordplay. In September, I began the process for graduate school applications in (you guessed it) Creative Writing. October was Preptober, but more harrowing than that was the siege on Gaza.
I was emotionally, financially, and physically overwhelmed. How could I manage to write a book on top of that?
I had to remind myself of why I was doing this.
A sadaqa jariyah (perpetual reward) looks different for everyone. For some, it’s a tree. For others, it’s a story they publish. That people, young and old, can benefit from.
I’ve always been fascinated by cartoons and fairytales. I quip that ādāb (literature) is how we learn adab (etiquettes). Adults still remember Harry Potter fondly from their youth. Each one can recount lessons of character, like how “muggle-borns” and “pure-bloods” can still accomplish great things regardless of their origins.
Surely that concept carries over to the “real world” as well. This motivated me to write about a fictional race resisting oppression for the remainder of November.
I didn’t write every day. Sometimes I was too tired to string words together, and others, I tried to work ahead. I took the “NaNo Rebel” route—to resume a document rather than start one from the beginning. I had toyed with my story idea for some time, and was very grateful that I had started a few pages by the time NaNo started. I attended three protests: the national in D.C., the state in Austin, TX, and a domestic in Dallas. Writing was also my main task at my two jobs, and I was commissioned for a Palestine-centered piece for Amaliah.
Naturally, I got behind.
The date-deadline often smiled at me. I swore that I saw the curve of the N at the beginning and the h’s twirl at the end like a Cheshire cat’s grin. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
NaNoWriMo was fun at first. Cut out social media and paste more Google Docs. But then the slump hit; the inevitable writer’s block that left me banging my head against the metaphorical steering wheel. I thought I knew the directions by heart. Why wouldn’t my creative car start again? Why was the engine not engine-ing? (These were the kind of things my exhausted brain would say).
The core advice of NaNo is: “Just write.” Don’t focus on editing. Write whatever you want. So I did. If I felt like resuming passages about the enemies-to-lovers ballroom scene, I did. If I wanted to write about the exhilaration of being in a protest, I did.
Before I knew it, my word count was 50,012. A small homage to the fact I’d heard about NaNo when I was approaching 12th grade.
As soon as I noticed, I darted out of my office into the musallah (prayer hall) and performed sajdah al-shukur (the prostration of gratitude). The carpet wasn’t too wet from tears when I left, alhamdulillah.
Ramadan is a yearly reminder of who I am as a Muslim. Now, NaNoWriMo is a reminder of who I am as a writer.
May this year of Qalb remind you of the same. That you are here to tell a story, and insha’Allah, to sell a story.
Say it with me like I did a few months ago: “Bismillah.”
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Till next time,