As you probably already know, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, held each November – since 2011. What you may not know, however, is how greatly the NaNo Young Writers Program (or YWP for short) has affected me.
I never really got interested in the main/adult NaNo site, but I’ve participated in (and won!) the YWP for the past four years. My writing skills have slowly but surely improved thanks to that program.
I think the YWP website itself is wonderful, too – I’ve made a number of great friends on the YWP’s forums, and we talk about everything under the sun. Books, movies, school, writing advice, ridiculous story ideas – you name it, we’ve talked about it.
And now it’s time for me to leave the program. Members are allowed to participate until they turn eighteen or graduate high school, whichever comes second. And, well, that’s me.
Truthfully, I suppose I left the program back in January – my participation on the site has been rather sporadic since then. I’m now in contact with many of my YWP friends via email or Facebook or blogging (or whatever), so there just isn’t as much of a need to check the site as often as I used to.
BUT. But. This program, and the kids/teens who took part in it alongside me, did influence my high school years in a variety of ways. So I’d like to thank the YWP for, well, existing and being awesome. I’d like to talk about its influences on my years in high school.
Prior to taking part in my first NaNoWriMo (in 2011), I didn’t really think too much about writing. Oh, I definitely wrote stuff, and I enjoyed doing so, but I didn’t do it that often. Writing was one of my hobbies, but just barely so. I mean, I enjoyed it – I put together a little infrequently-published newspaper – but I can’t truthfully say I LOVED writing.
And then I participated in NaNoWriMo, and writing became one of my passions.
My 2011 novel is too embarrassing to even describe at this point, because I can write so much better than that now, but… at that time in my life, it was the longest story I had yet written. And I enjoyed creating every word, sentence, and paragraph of it, even if racing against the clock was stressful.
Anyway, from then on I participated in NaNoWriMo each November, and I’ve taken part in two Camp NaNoWriMo sessions (June and August 2013) and one Script Frenzy (April 2013, before that particular program shut down).
Eventually, writing became more than a passion – it became my LIFE GOAL. I’d fallen in love with writing, and I’d improved my writing skills with regular practice. And I had realized, thanks to the website’s “pep talks” feature written by various noteworthy authors, that writing was a completely valid career choice.
In November 2011, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Now I know that I want to double-major in creative writing and journalism! This fall I’m headed off to the University of Iowa, where I’ll continue to study my passion – and hopefully write for the school newspaper as well! (And maybe I’ll participate in NaNo once again while I’m there!)
OH MY GOD. I met so many amazing kids and teens thanks to the Young Writers Program. YOU PEOPLE ARE THE BEST. You’re funny, and talented, and weird, and kind. (And you offer such good writing advice.) Some of the best friendships of my LIFE came about through this website.
Additionally, the YWP indirectly introduced me to many other people. I first heard about Teens Can Write, Too! from a fellow NaNoer, and then I found a TON of awesome bloggers through participation in that chain. So even if I didn’t meet them on NaNo – even if they’ve never ever ever participated in NaNo – those bloggers are indirectly linked, in my mind, to NaNo.
And that’s pretty cool. Nearly ALL of the bloggers I interact with on a daily basis are either people I met through NaNo, or people who are somehow indirectly connected to it.
Let’s be honest: Very few of my IRL friends/acquaintances are into fandoms. A lot of the teens I know don’t read very much. A lot of them don’t have time to read very much. And they don’t get nearly as excited about movies and TV and BOOKS as I do.
And that’s OK. People have different interests. But it can be really lonely when everyone around me IRL is talking about, say, sports or cars or farming. (I live in a fairly rural area.) Because I don’t know much about those things. I don’t care much about those things. (With the exception of Calvinball, of course. #theonlysportilove)
Having friends who share my interests makes a huge difference in my life. They recommend awesome books to me. They send fangirly emails to me as we watch a show together. Sometimes they even draw fanart for me!
I have a passion for stories, and on the YWP I found close friends who share that passion. Finding a story that BLOWS MY MIND is lovely, but you know what’s even lovelier? Talking about that story with other people who’ve already read it, and convincing those who haven’t to do so.
A children’s writing website is an unlikely place to discover/accept one’s identity, but honestly? Without the YWP, my life would be SOOOOO different now. Way back in November 2011, I was miserable. For the last few years I’d suspected that I was gay, but I was still in deep deep denial about the whole thing. I basically just ignored that part of me and tried my hardest to tamp down any thoughts about it.
About six months later, I discovered the website’s LGBTQ+ forum group and THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING. I met a ton of queer kids and teens, and learned a lot about sexual orientation and gender identity. I met people who said, “Who you are is just fine” – something no one else was telling me, either IRL or online. I finally became comfortable with who I was.
If not for the YWP, I would not be who I am today. I wouldn’t be nearly as self-assured, and I probably wouldn’t even identify as a lesbian at all? I’d probably still be trying to pretend that part of me didn’t exist, and that would SUCK.
When I look back on it, it seems incredibly unlikely that the YWP, of all places, would have such an effect on my identity, but… well, it did. Honestly? Finding the YWP’s LGBTQ+ group was probably the most life-changing thingy that’s happened to me thus far, identity-wise. I’ll always be grateful for that.
I think some specific thank-yous may be in order, don’t you?
Pilkunussija: You are the SWEETEST person I know. Thanks for your outstanding book recs, your encouragement, your fanart, your cute cat photos, and all those long conversations. ESPECIALLY all those long conversations.
MOHE: You are SUCH a dork and I love love love talking to you. Especially when we get all fangirly about Peggy Carter.
Wren Ayola: What can I even say? YOU’RE SO GEEKY AND MUCH MUCH COOLER THAN I AM ASDFALDVUIOEWVSDUWGBHU.
writergirl_00: I trust your recommendations probably more than anyone else’s, because we have such similar tastes in reading material. Our friendship basically just involves me saying, “You should read this, it’s gay” and then you’re like “OK, I will, but have you read this OTHER gay thing” and I think that’s wonderful.
flying_chipmunk: OH MY GOD YOU ARE THE ONE NERD TO RULE THEM ALL. Your enthusiasm for science fiction and science fact never fails to put a smile on my face.
Willow the Advisor: I admire your sarcasm and dorkiness and practicality and feminism.
thayanora: You are like the cool, gay older sister I always wanted but never had: I really admire you… and your excellent taste in high fantasy novels. #winteriscoming
Zhalhi: You’re like the cool, gay little sister I always wanted but never had: You have a lot in common with little!Engie.
sportakate: You’re like the OTHER little sister I always wanted but never had. I am constantly in awe of your efforts in writing and querying and publishing.
Bean: We never really talked that much because I was intimidated by how cool and knowledgeable you are. Now I wish I’d talked to you anyway, and I hope to talk to you more in the future.
therainbowlizard: Thank you for being sarcastic and super gay and for having such great taste in music.
Also, you’re really really handsome and you have fantastic hair. Post more selfies, please.
Fantasy_Writer: You are adorkable and fangirly and I really appreciate that.
Stella the Hedgehog: Your enthusiasm is infectious.
Euphrasie: Thanks for being an eloquent NERD.
avicultureobsessedhomeschooler: I haven’t seen you online in a few years – but you were my first Internet friend, so HERE’S A BIG THANK-YOU.
Jazzy Applecake: I haven’t talked to you in forever either, but thanks for fangirling with me! Those were good times.
lemonadesummers: I wish I were more like you.
Rose the Paradox: Thanks for being one of the kindest people I know.
MagicFishy: We should talk more, because you always have something funny and interesting to say. AND I LOVE YOUR WRITING STYLE, EVEN THOUGH I HAVEN’T SEEN VERY MUCH OF IT.
BlackRain54: We need to get back in touch! I miss you.
Holly Alexandra: YOU ARE SO ADORABLE.
totorolover33: I was too intimidated to talk to you as well… I kind of regret that now.
NevilleFan: Thanks for making me smile.
I’m really going to miss the Young Writers Program: Because I don’t have any other methods of contacting some of my friends there, and because I think the members of the children’s site have far more camaraderie and creativity and imagination than anyone on the main NaNo website.
Because that adjustable wordcount goal is so lovely. (…let’s face it, if I do NaNo in college, there’s no way I’ll make it to 50K words. The last few years, my goals have been at least half as large as that because I just don’t have the time for anything more.)
But that’s all behind me now, and mostly I’m just happy that on one November day in my freshman year of high school, I decided to sign up and at least try that whole NaNoWriMo thing. Just to see what all the fuss was about. It’s been so much fun, and turned a hobby into a passion and then a planned double-major in college and eventually, hopefully, a career.
I’m glad that the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program is a Thing that exists.