NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): the completely insane act of writing an entire novel in one month.
Writing 50,000 words in a month--especially a month that contains only 30 days AND a major national holiday--may not seem like much fun to most people. And, turns out, it's NOT fun (for me, at least). But... it is necessary.
I am a terrible NaNo participant. I break all the rules. I start writing ahead of time and usually have about 10,000 words written before the whole event even kicks off on November 1st. I write out of order, just pounding out whichever scenes pop into my head. I've never "won." But in my writer's toolbox, NaNo is like the hammer. Nothing happens without it.
For me, getting the first draft of a novel out of my head and onto paper (or screen) is like ripping off a Band-Aid. It's best done fast, without too much thought, or else the pain becomes excruciating. I like to tinker, edit, and shape my work. But I can't nit-pick over something that doesn't exist. And knowing that there are thousands of other people out there struggling to write an insane number of words in one month somehow makes it easier for me to grind out that (initially) really boring sequence that gets the main character from her hometown in Minnesota to NYC where all the really fun, exciting things are going to happen.
At the end of November, I usually end up with 30,000-40,000 words of semi-usable stuff. Then I get disgusted with myself for not even being able to wrangle the whole 50,000 the event demands (if so many OTHER people, can do it, why can't I?!). I storm away from my fledgling novel in disgust, only to crawl sheepishly back in January after giving myself a stern talking-to during New Year's resolution time. The rest of the winter and spring are spent reshaping what I wrote in November, expanding and adding on until my word count hits 60,000 or so. After that, I get to edit and tweak to my heart's content and end up with a real live novel by the time the leaves change in the fall.
Not everyone uses NaNoWriMo the same way. And not everyone needs to "win" to end up with a successful novel. Can you even "win" at writing? Isn't that sort of like winning at arson? (If you haven't seen Powerthirst 2, go watch this).
So go forth, brave NaNo-ers! Use NaNoWriMo to do whatever you need to do--it could be writing 50,000 words or it could be surfing the internet for hours looking for pictures of people you don't know who look like your characters. If it makes you feel like a winner, it counts for NaNo.