I've completed NaNoWriMo three times.
I first learned about NaNoWriMo my freshman year of college, but I didn't attempt it until I was a junior. I think this is partly because I was too shy of my writing until I was over the age of 21 and because I always had intensely grandiose plans for novels that never came to fruition (but I was more competent in terms of writing after my sophomore year, so the plans seemed in line with my abilities).
The first year I completed NaNoWriMo, I wrote a tepid novel called Cut that focused around a girl named Monica. I don't even remember the plot and my feelings of intense embarassment for 21-year-old me prevent me from opening the file on my computer. It just sits there, an embarrassing reminder of everything stupid I've ever done.
The second year, I was prepared and ready. I wrote a novel called Succotash (a title I stole from our literary magazine name suggestions, that I liked and was mad we didn't choose). Succotash was about a girl named Erin who attended college in Idaho and hated her life. There were several characters based on my favorite musicians (deeply embarrassing) and other characters based on people I knew (including my future husband). The novel is boring and has no plot, consisting of mostly vignette-length character studies repeated over and over again. If I'm good at anything, I am amazing at character studies. I've reread this novel a few times and while it pretty much sucks, it's not horrible and I could probably dig out some good passages for future writing if I had the motivation.
I skipped a few years after college. I vaguely remember starting novels, but not finishing them. In 2011, my grandfather died in November and I don't remember writing anything for a long time after that. The next year, I was working full-time and couldn't make time in-between my work day and crushing depression.
Last year, however, I completed NaNoWriMo for the third time. I wrote a novel called Runner's High, that is as silly and stupid as it sounds. I wanted to write a typical crime/mystery novel, but I ended up circling the drain about two weeks in. My idea was simple enough -- a competitive runner witnesses a murder in the woods and helps police track down the killer -- but my lack of research, combined with how bored I became with my main character named freaking Aurora (why, Michelle, why!?), led me to, again, write bored character studies over and over again. The most interesting part of the novel became the fact that the murder victim had an identical twin sister. Really, she should have been the main character, but I was stuck with boring, lame Aurora. I haven't looked at the novel since early December last year and I hope to never have to again.
So what's on my plate this year?
Every year, before the start of November, if you register with the NaNoWriMo website, you're encouraged to "create a novel" -- basically, to cement down an idea, a title, a plotline to encourage you to actually, you know, finish. The years I've done this have been a tremendous influence in whether or not I actually finish.
This year, my novel is titled Buffalo. It's about a girl named Lily whose girlfriend, Autumn (I know, I'm sorry) commits suicide -- or is murdered. Lily moves back home to live with her brother, Andrew, and, through flashbacks and phone calls, unravels Autumn's real life.
Here's the uncomfortable truth about NaNoWriMo.
Every year, I know my book is going to be horrible. I know I'm using the worst ideas I've got. I know I'm going to end up getting bored or being too busy and having to write 5,000+ words in a day. I know those things are going to happen, but I do it anyway. And at the end of the month, I'm always elated that I've finished.
I mean, I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. That's insane. To me, it's proof that I can do it. The writing might be bad; the plot might have disappeared halfway through; but damn, I wrote 50,000 words which means, someday, when I get a good enough idea, I can do it again. I can.