I remember trying National Novel Writing Month (often abbreviated as NaNoWriMo) for the first time in 2014, and successfully completing it for the first time last year. This year's entry is going quite well, but there was something odd I recalled when I first mentioned participating. There's a strong reaction to the mere act of participation, one that is quite disproportionate to such an innocuous act. People can really hate NaNoWriMo, claiming that it leads to poor writing and floods of unpublishable manuscripts. But in my experience, NaNoWriMo has been beneficial in cultivating a strong discipline of writing on a daily basis, and it has also given me the experience of actually finishing my work.
For the entire month of November (or in my case a little bit before so as to anticipate off-days) a participant cranks out over 1,600 words per day to reach a goal of 50,000 words at the end of the month. For me, this meant carving out time for writing and making sure that I was able to integrate it into my social, academic, and professional life. While it's certainly not a trivial endeavor, watching the word count go up was in and of itself a rewarding act. At the end, I had words on the page, and given that many people get stuck at having novels exist in their heads as ideas, I began to understand that this in and of itself was an accomplishment.
Of course, NaNoWriMo is a start of the writing journey, not the end. The process of revision, or even a wholesale rewrite is just as important. But without that first draft, I would not have the building blocks I can use for the next one. Arcs, characters, subplots, and other elements were often created ad hoc in the first draft and ended up becoming more fleshed out in later drafts. I wouldn't advocate submitting a freshly completed first draft to a publisher under any circumstance, nor does NaNoWriMo.
Ultimately, I think that the exercise has been the perfect opportunity to put words to paper in regards to the novels I intend to write. Dedicating that time to writing, assigning it priority, has proven to me that the process is achievable. This has gone on to influence how I produce short stories, essays, and other forms of writing. The manuscript I receive at the end isn't perfect, not fit for publication, and needs to be run through revision. Still, there's one thing that I can say about it that many others can't: It's written down.