NaNoWriMo 2020: An Adventure in Virtual Globetrotting

Another 30 days of March pretending otherwise, another NaNoWriMo. This year was my nineteenth, and while I didn’t shatter any records, it was as good a NaNo as 2020 would allow. I wrote the third draft of the Anxiety Girl novel, which was a last minute decision (almost literally, I decided to do this around noon on Halloween, leaving almost no time to prepare). Sure, half the book is out of order and it’s unrecognizable compared to the first draft, but I solved several of the major plot holes hanging in the first two versions. To address what people come here to find out: I wrote 154,594 words and reached 50k on the 11th.

For 2020, that looks something like this:

sushimustwrite's NaNoWriMo 2020 word count chart, both overall and per day. The dip during the US election and soaring during the London lock-in are labeled.

All in all, a good year for words despite having no idea what I was doing, but nothing record-breaking. I’m fine with that.

Every NaNo is a different experience and 2020 is no exception with its unique way of making everything weird. This pandemic has already taken away opportunities to see friends, travel, and continue working at a job I enjoyed, and now it was taking away chances to meet other Wrimos too.

Or was it…

When I heard in August that all of NaNoWriMo’s official events would be virtual this year, I mourned yet another thing that the pandemic had taken away but knew it was the right decision. As the weeks passed and NaNo prep kicked into full gear, I turned this over in my head.

It started as a half-joke but as the weeks passed by, I realized that because all NaNo events were virtual, geography couldn’t stop me from attending write-ins anywhere, making a global tour of NaNo regions possible.

Early October turned to mid-October and I started browsing regions where I had friends or regions that would simply to be cool to visit. I had two hard-and-fast rules. First, no regions I’ve already visited in person. The point is to visit new regions, after all. This eliminated about ten regions. Second, no regions where English isn’t a primary language spoken in the region’s NaNo community. The second rule is why I never visited Central America, South America, or continental Europe outside of a global Discord crawl mid-month. I put a lot of thought into the second rule and decided that visiting all the continents would be cool, but not at the expense of making local communities bend to a possibly unannounced visitor’s will.

It was a blast.

NaNoWriMo 2020 saw me visiting 84 new regions across 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 13 countries outside of the United States. I attended Melbourne’s Cup Day write-in, London’s all-nighter (which lasted only until 2 AM for me thanks to the magic of time zones), and a NaNo trivia event in New York City that wasn’t all about NaNo but did reveal how little everyone knows about lakes. (Lake Victoria is the second-largest freshwater lake, not the largest.) I wore silly hats in El Paso, listened to island-themed music in Naperville (western Chicago suburbs if you didn’t know), won a duck sticker in Seattle, and discovered the cheese mystery in Glasgow. I rolled out of bed early to visit Yorkshire and Edinburgh and Northwest Ireland and South Africa. I kicked word count butt in Boston, Salt Lake County, and Las Vegas, but definitely not everywhere else. I sneaked into friends’ write-ins and waited for them to notice.

I intentionally sought out big and small regions alike because NaNoWriMo doesn’t exist solely in these large mega-regions. NaNoWriMo connects Wrimos in small towns and in regions consisting of entire states and countries, in communities where Wrimos feel like they’re the only creative person in town. In fact, finding some of these smaller regions became my mission during the last week of November when I plotted out my states visited on a map and realized that with some scheduling Tetris and luck in existing events, visiting forty states could happen.

And it did.

In fact, the medium and small regions were just as fun and engaging. Tallahassee encouraged me to get that shiny Lugia after a sprint. (It was not shiny, but I did eventually get one.) We discovered that it really is a small NaNo world in Nashville. Billings challenged us all with word sticks, Box of Doom style. Mississippi had a grand old time in an old school chat room. As the last week arrived, we celebrated winners crossing the finish line, Wrimos coming back from behind, and writing The End.

This virtual world tour provided something else I didn’t expect: something to look forward to when the world is determined to rob us of joy. As my calendar filled up with write-ins from around the world, I got excited about going to Spokane, Washington; Melbourne, Australia; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — all in the same week. This never would have happened if we could travel safely or attend in-person writeins. Every write-in added to the calendar was a concrete event to look forward to with real people, often on voice or camera. I never would have crossed paths with many of you otherwise, and my life is better for it. All of them — all of you — make NaNoWriMo what it is.

Thank you MLs, Wrimos, and NaNoWriMo staff for making this NaNoWriMo a light in the darkness that was so desperately needed last month.

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