The first time I did something like NaNoWriMo was 2008. I wrote 500 words every day. And that felt really good. So then I did a month where I wrote 600 words every day. Then 700 words. Then 800. I got up to 900 words every day–a little story, a self-contained scene–until I burned out and had to stop.

You have to understand that writing long has been the albatross around my neck for my whole life. I write sentences like a poet, but I’m not a poet. I put words together at the micro-level, and it’s been a lifetime of practice and discipline to find myself at a place where I feel pretty sure I can do 50k in 30 days.

I tried NaNo again in 2010. I did 15k before the story stalled. That was my first true novel attempt. That’s when I discovered I’m an outliner. I’m still going to write that book someday (It’s 35k now, and I might rewrite and release it this summer, now that I know what I’m doing.)

Last year, instead of a novel, I wrote and submitted four short stories, one for every week. (I sold two of them, though both publications have been delayed indefinitely.) That month, I wrote 42k words.

This year, I’m trying NaNoWriMo again, and I’m doing it by-the-book. Already I’m writing more than a thousand words every day, especially when I have a project with an outline. That’s my baseline now. I worked hard to get to this point. The NaNo goal–50k divided by 30 days–is 1,667 words every day. That number doesn’t feel so daunting anymore.

Even though I know I can get a book out of this exercise, a novel that I can sell, NaNo isn’t about the end product. It’s about participating in a community. That’s the hardest part of being a writer. It’s a lot of time by yourself. It’s a lot of never knowing if anyone is going to like what you’re making. It’s a lot of gnashing of teeth, so it’s nice to have someone to gnash with. It took a lot for me to step into that NaNo meetup where I didn’t know a single person–not even online–but it helped that I knew the kind of people I was going to meet.

It’s a hobby for some, a lark for others, and for people like me, it’s our life and our work. No matter how much time you put into it, writing is the same. There’s something about writing that makes it deeper than other hobbies. Deeper than rec hockey or cross-stitch or video games.

Writing is pulling a part of yourself from inside and putting it down on the page. It’s a kind of making inextricably linked to yourself. Every artist puts a piece of themselves into what they make. But because a writer makes characters, we get the question more often.

“Is this you?” Every single character is you. They contain a piece of you and carry it through the story to the end. That’s what makes writing painful. That’s why you need real people to hang onto.

That’s what makes 500 words just as hard as 50,000.