Guest blogger Erin M. Hartshorn writes about her NaNoWriMo experiences and her hope for the month of November.

I first did NaNoWriMo in 2003, about the time when I first decided I was actually going to pursue writing. My goal for that first year wasn’t anything big. I wanted to “win” – to get 50,000 words written in 30 days – yes, but mostly I was doing it as evidence to myself that I could write something longer than a short story or a chapter or two. I wrote an outline that consisted of one sentence per thousand words, and I stayed up late a lot of nights to meet the daily word count.

At the end of November that year, I knew that I could write a serious amount of words, and I could follow an outline. The novel’s never seen the light of day and desperately needs to be rewritten from scratch, but that’s okay. It worked as proof-of-concept.

After that, I was hooked. I’d write through the year, submit short stories, edit what I’d written, but I always made time in November to sit down and participate in NaNoWriMo again. Some of it’s the camaraderie, but it’s fairly easy to find writers’ groups online. For me, the big draw is that it’s a short enough time that I can devote it to something fun, new, and different. NaNo has become my time for experimentation.

In 2003, I wrote a YA novel, which I called Changeling. Since then, I’ve written cozy mystery, space opera, paranormal romance, middle grade, urban fantasy, and zombie fiction. This year, I’m planning on writing humor – specifically, fanfiction revolving around the local NaNoWriMo group.

There’s always something new to try, and NaNoWriMo gives me the freedom to chase crazy ideas while knowing that I’ll have the rest of the year to follow plans, do sequels, or edit anything that may come off my keyboard during a fevered rush. Some year, I may try a Western. Or a stream-of-consciousness literary novel. Or maybe adventure fiction à la H. Rider Haggard.

The minimal rules for NaNoWriMo give me the freedom to spread my wings as a writer and check out things that I might not otherwise have given a chance while still requiring me to have the discipline to sit down and do the work. Each year brings its own challenges – sometimes, it’s the genre I’ve chosen; others, it may be family and work responsibilities that keep me from writing. Twice, I’ve had to deal with serious bouts of bronchitis. Last year’s bronchitis kept me sidelined for two weeks, and I had to make up over 10,000 words on the last day of the month. I did it, finishing both the book (middle grade, which has a lower word count than adult novels generally) and NaNoWriMo. This told me something new about myself – I can write like a maniac if I’m motivated enough.

Which is not to say I’ve always won, or that I’ve finished every book that I won NaNo with. I have one urban fantasy that still needs 30k of subplots filled in. They’re hinted at, and they’ll be important if the book turns into a series, but they weren’t vital in getting to the end of the month.

I really need an outline to be able to finish. Having the first third of the book really clear and only a couple of key points after that isn’t enough for me, although I know it is for other people. I have friends who treat their first draft as the outline for the actual book and never put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard before they start writing. So far, that hasn’t worked terribly well for me. (We’ll see if that changes with the more episodic nature of this year’s attempt.)

I’ve also learned that not everything is a good fit. The zombie book was meant as zombie humor, and there are some scenes in there I really enjoyed. I don’t think there’s enough there there for a novel, though. Maybe next year, I’ll take some time to cut it down to a novella. That would probably fit better with the amount of story I’ve created, but it would’ve been a failure by NaNo standards, being shorter than the required 50k.

Every year, I try something new. I learn something new. I grow as a writer, I have fun, and I create something new. That’s why I’ll always participate in NaNoWriMo. Every mad scientist needs a lab to work in.

Erin M. Hartshorn is a desert rat (native Nevadan) transplanted to a humid climate. Her ideal home has bookcases in every room. She is a moderator at Forward Motion for Writers, an online writers community, and a member of SFWA. Her fiction has appeared both on-line and in print in various places, placed in the PARSEC short story contest, earned honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest, and been shortlisted for the UPC Award. When she’s not writing, she enjoys various handicrafts, though she prefers spending time with her family. She blogs online at http://www.erinmhartshorn.com/blog and can be found on Twitter @ErinMHartshorn.