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NaNoWriMo Helped Me Get a Job – Twice

Not only is NaNoWriMo my favorite time of year, but – on two separate occasions – it helped me get a job. Jobs where I actually get paid to write!

Nanowrimo employee of the year who is also a dinosaur

Photo by Ryan McGuire

How did NaNoWriMo help me get employed? Mostly by providing an intriguing subject to talk about during my job interviews. Funny enough, I didn’t go into either interview planning to talk about NaNoWriMo. I don’t think it had even occurred to me to bring it up, but somehow I found myself going on about science fiction and frenzied writing sessions. It just so happened that I was asked particular questions that were relevant to NaNo and I didn’t shy away from mentioning it in my answers. Here’s how those conversations went…

Interview #1

Job title: Editor

The first interview was for a wildly appealing freelance book editing project. The job ended up taking approximately 70 hours total, the bulk of which involved long-form non-fiction writing and editing. I had never professionally taken on a project of that scale and it would have been no shock if I hadn’t heard back, but I sent in my resume and writing sample anyway. Lo and behold, I was asked to schedule a phone interview. When my interviewer inevitably asked if I had experience writing long form, I said, “Well, for the past three years I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month—”

Lucky for me, she said, “Oh, NaNoWriMo! That’s great! Tell me more.”

It turns out, my interviewer was a novelist herself and knew exactly how much blood, sweat, and tears goes into completing NaNo. I told her a bit about what I was working on. She told me a bit about what she was working on. The conversation ended with her saying something in the spirit of, “If you can handle the time management challenges and workload of NaNoWriMo, you can do this job.”

The project went quite well, was super freaking interesting, and gave me some legit long-form writing experience to talk about in future interviews.

Interview #2

Job title: Content Marketing Coordinator

Several months later, I interviewed for the second job, a full-time position that would require me to move across the country. My interview was in mid-November, when I was deep in the trenches of NaNoWriMo working on a young adult sci-fi novel. Fortunately, the coast-to-coast flight and layovers gave me plenty of time to add to my NaNo word count. I arrived at my hotel around midnight and was in the company lobby by 7:30 the next morning. After several hours of successive interviews with four would-be colleagues and managers, I headed into the VP of Marketing’s office.

This was undoubtedly the most intimidating of the day’s interviews, but we talked for a while and mercifully got through the tough questions. Then he asked me about my hobbies and interests. I told him that I enjoyed creative writing and was an active member of a local writing group.

“That’s interesting,” he said. “My daughter likes to write too. Right now she’s participating in this thing called NaNoWriMo.”

I think this was the moment when the tense interview-smile faded off my face and was replaced by one more genuine. “No kidding. So am I.”

He asked me what I was writing and whether I thought I would finish on time. I told him that I felt good about my progress and was even a bit ahead, and shared just enough about the plot to not sound like a total dork. The subject gave us the chance to share a laugh or two and connect on a more human level.

It’s a large enough company where I don’t see the VP of Marketing in my day-to-day work, but I ran into him several months after that interview and he asked how my NaNo project turned out. It made a good impression on me that he had remembered, and I was glad to be able to say that, yes, I had followed through on the project and finished on time.

Nanowrimo equals employmentYou might say, “Well, how do you know that talking about NaNoWriMo had any positive effect at all?” I don’t know for sure, but both times the topic marked a turning point in the conversations. If my interviewers had been cartoon cats, their ears would have visibly perked up at the subject. I have no doubt that luck played a role too – both interviewers happened to know what NaNoWriMo was, although I imagine giving a brief explanation may have sufficed. Assuming that the subject did benefit me in my interviews, you might ask:

Why was my NaNoWriMo participation regarded so positively?

Here’s what I think:

  1. Finishing NaNoWriMo takes dedication
    Writing 50k words in one month may come easy to a few lucky wordsmiths, but not me. I think most fellow participants share this sentiment: I worked my ass off. I wish I’d tracked the total time from start to finish, but it was at least an hour and a half every work night, plus four-to-five hour sprints on the weekends, plus a mad 24-hour binge called Write All Night. My point is, writing 50k words in one month is a big commitment that even non-writers can appreciate.

2. Finishing NaNoWriMo demonstrates time management skills
Writing 50k words in one month breaks down into 1,667 words per day. Now, you can skip days and try to make up for lost time later, but in my experience, that’s a good way to doom your project. Writers who get behind the wave can easily become overwhelmed and discouraged as the gap between where they are and where they should be widens. It’s what happened to me the first year that I attempted NaNoWriMo. So for the next two NaNos, I made damn sure to always be ahead on my word count. That way, when I skipped a day or two, I didn’t fall behind. It took time management skills and prioritizing writing over other activities, as does professional writing – especially freelance work.

3. Discussing something I cared about proved that I’m not a robot
Even if what you care about is your pet rock collection, people will appreciate seeing that you’re passionate about something. Talking about your interests gives you the chance to reveal some of your personality and show that you have drive and ambitions that go beyond earning a paycheck. Maybe you want to climb Mount Fuji or code your own video game.

Whatever it is, talk about it with conviction. Try to articulate to your interviewer what makes the hobby or topic interesting to you. If you can make a case for your mushroom garden, you can probably present a compelling argument for a company project too. This seems almost too obvious to mention, but keep the topic PG – it is still a professional job interview after all. If you’re lucky, the subject will be something that interests your interviewer as well.

There you have it!
I have, in part, NaNoWriMo to thank for being gainfully employed. I’m sure I’m not alone in this – not least of all, there is a growing list of authors who went on to get their NaNoWriMo projects published and are now full-time writers. So whether you’re job hunting or not, NaNo is a challenge that I think every novel writer should undertake at least once. If nothing more, it will give you permission to silence your inner editor, throw yourself into a project with abandon, and see what happens when you write like crazy.

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