Guest blogger Shannon Lawrence writes about why she does NaNoWriMo. #nanowrimo

As the leaves turn and begin to fall, writers everywhere are doing more than busting out the rakes. Autumn means it’s time for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, wherein a challenge is issued to complete an entire novel in the thirty days of November.

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo, my initial thought was that it had to be impossible to turn out a quality book in thirty days. Certainly not one anyone would want to read. But then I began to hear about published books that were NaNo productions: Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins; Cinder, by Marissa Meyer; and Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, by Robyn Bachar. (For a more complete list, go here.)

In the end, I decided to give it a try. Specifically, I went with a local version called NaNoTryMo, put together by Pikes Peak Writers, which encouraged us to set our own goals. I set a goal of 30,000 words, which I achieved, and then some. While I didn’t finish a novel that month, the experience allowed me to get into a routine of writing each day. I was able to take that and run with it, forging the tools I needed to become better disciplined about my writing.

This year is the first that I intend to go full-out for NaNoWriMo. I’m going to sign up at their website and shoot for the full 50,000 words. Why? I’ve had a new story teasing at me, insisting on being written. Plus, I’ve fallen terribly out of writing shape, and it’s time to put myself back together.

You see, if I turn out a novel’s worth of writing in one month, that’s a perk. I thrive on a challenge and work better with a deadline (that’s not self-imposed). NaNo gives me both of those things and more. What I really hope to get out of it is that discipline that sits my behind in a chair and my fingers on the keyboard as often as possible. That first year, NaNoTryMo helped me change my thinking. Instead of planting myself on the internet in front of the TV to zone out, play some Zynga games and screw around on Facebook, I went back downstairs after my kids were in bed in order to get more writing time in. I was excited to settle myself at my desk in the morning and stayed on task with no problem. I even ate lunch at my desk most days, too sucked in to take a real break.

While it was ultimately the story that drew me into it, I’m not sure I would have reached that point had I not decided it was time to get serious and to challenge myself. NaNo opened that window for me and allowed me to finish my first novel, just not within thirty days. It taught me to shut down the editor and write straight through. If I thought of something that might need to be changed, I jotted it down in a notebook to get back to and plodded right along, always moving forward with my story, never backward.

Writing a novel in thirty days forces a writer to compartmentalize and decide what’s really important to getting the story down. One loses the embellishments and gets to the characters, the plot, the meat of the story. That is what matters. Prose can be decorated after the story is established.

Having said all that, I don’t intend to come out of November with a novel ready to be published. That’s not the point, not really. The point, at least for me, is to get the words down on paper, to hone my brain, develop focus and jumpstart my writing for another great year of making up stories for fun. Stories that will hopefully make it onto that list of published NaNoWriMo participants. Eventually. After more than thirty days of editing.

Shannon Lawrence is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She primarily writes horror and urban fantasy. Her flash fiction piece, “The Family Ruins,” will be featured in Sunday Snaps: The Stories, an anthology to be released in late 2012. She blogs about writing at www.thewarriormuse.com and is the managing editor for Writing From the Peak at www.pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com.