It is fitting that the National Novel Writing Month (NaNo from here on) begins late Halloween night, for at the stroke of midnight, a form of insanity sweeps the world. Fifty thousand words, strung together in a more or less coherent fashion by November 30th.
I say it is insanity for few of us write fifty thousand words in an entire year (and it is likely many first-time participants have not written fifty thousand words of fiction in their entire life.). Also, the majority of participants are not professional writers, yet suddenly creating a novel becomes the central part of their day; more important than family, friends, their real job, and occasionally such trivialities as sleep, meals, and proper hygiene.
During this time, participants can expect to be frustrated (when the words stop coming), panic (when November 30th nears and the 50,000 word mark is still far off), self-doubt (when a friend is ahead of you by 10,000 words), confusion (when you suddenly realize your "brilliant plot" makes absolutely no sense, and you've developed a profound hatred of your main character), and annoyance (partly at the person who talked you into doing this, and partly at those individuals boasting about their string of 5,000 word days).
You can also expect NaNo to infiltrate your dreams. You may dream of writing a incredible passage only to wake up and either forget what that passage said, or (probably worse) realize that passage was considerably less than brilliant, and based on a combination of the fourth season of "24" and the seventh season of "Survivor".
You may also find your characters populating your dreams. If you find a minor character wanting to be in more scenes, pay attention; this may be your subconscious giving some good advice. However if the love interest suggests going somewhere more private, either politely refuse or don't be surprised if the main character doesn't talk to you for the rest of the month.
Then there is the NaNoNightMare. It's 11:00pm November 30th. You are still thousands of words behind and finding even a single sentence difficult to write. Every word takes more strength than you ever knew you possessed. Suddenly the words break loose, and within 55 minutes you have crossed the 50,000 mark. Then you connect to the NaNo website for confirmation, and your ISP goes down.
Above all else, NaNo is about frustration.
Then why do it? Why submit yourself to the insanity?
Writing is a solitary profession. In most cases it is one person, one computer, one concept. Writers are often outsiders, both by circumstance and by preference. This has its own rewards, but can be very lonely at times.
NaNo is very much a community, with its own unique character. Some participants become quite well known from their message board postings. There are also numerous secondary communities, Internet writing groups, IRC channels, even the occasional real-life writing group. During November, NaNo is a common point of reference for many people. We can share our frustrations and occasional triumphs. We can discuss dilemmas we are having with our novel, sometimes finding solutions. And we can be a part of something both as individual as our own writing style, and as universal as the human drive to create.
This is my fourth year of doing NaNo. Every year I can feel a mixture of thrill and dread as November approaches. Yet in all this time, the thought of missing it has never crossed my mind. The challenge is too seductive.
-- Daniel Mulhollen