Here we go again. 30 days. 50,000 words. My sixth Nanowrimo. If you’re not familiar with the concept, National Novel Writing Month is a worldwide competition where people pit themselves against the calendar and try to write the first draft of a novel in a month.

It has its detractors (obviously, this is 2016, try and name me anything that doesn’t). It encourages bad writing, it’s led to a glut of terrible books being self-published, it makes most writers around the world insufferable for 30 days and, oh yeah, 50,000 words does not a novel make. There is merit to all of the above, but it somewhat misses the point.

Nanowrimo is a wonderful thing, because it encourages writing. The sheer number of people out there who fancy themselves a writer is roughly equivalent to the amount of people currently existing on the planet, going off the fact that the first thing anyone says if you tell them you’re a writer is ‘I’ve always wanted to do that.’ But the mythos of ‘the writer’ perpetuated by the industry is that only a select few, a merry band of joyless scribes, can be that mythic thing… The Writer.

It’s a nonsense, of course. They want you to think that because it elevates the work they put into the world, and their place in selecting it. It was the same for journalists, for musicians, for artists of all stripes, until the internet came along and broke all the models, and showed everyone that they could be a creator.

The joy of this worldwide phenomenon is that it proves that, yes, anyone can write a book. Or at least, anyone can write a first draft. All you need is to put your bum in a chair, and your fingers on a keyboard, and crank out 1,667 words a day. Easy. The bar for entry couldn’t be any lower. That may sound a horrifying prospect to some, but think of all the voices who we might never hear, given permission to take flight because of an online competition where the only prize is your own self-improvement.

This is the key to Nano, for me. If I hadn’t found it, back in 2005, I doubt very much I’d still be writing. Until then being a writer was a nebulous, half-formed thought that only had a few scattered chapters and discarded screenplays as any kind of proof it existed. I don’t even know where I heard about Nano. I was barely on the internet back in those days, but I figured I’d give it a go. To my surprise, I even completed the challenge, and was fairly happy with my story. It needed work, obviously, as all first drafts do, but I’d done it. I’d written a story, start to finish.

It was a feeling quite unlike any other, and it gave me a shot of confidence that I maybe, just maybe, could be a writer. It took a decade longer for me to realise the next part of that dream, and have a book in the hands of readers, but without that first step, I doubt I’d have landed any of the others. In the intervening years, doing Nanowrimo has in itself become a more rewarding experience. I’m lucky to live where there is a thriving support group, and the forums remain both an excellent resource and a horribly entertaining distraction throughout November. Oh, and there’s stickers, too.

So, have you ever dreamed of being a writer? Met another writer and uttered the immortal ‘Oh, I’d love to write a book, one day’? Well, here’s your chance. You don’t need anything other than an imagination, a keyboard, and a willingness to try. Just go to nanowrimo.org and sign up now.

Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides.

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