Five years ago, I wrote a pretentious novel. Here’s what I’ve learned since then.

The cold winds that swept through Kansas City on November 1 brought the closure of fall. For writers everywhere, however, it also represents a beginning. It’s NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which challenges people to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. It’s intellectually stimulating, and if it weren’t for the stresses of senior year, I would’ve participated in it.

Once upon a time (junior year of high school, to be exact), I had time to join the challenge. I’m proud of being able to push myself to complete the goal. I’ll confess that I don’t take much pride in the result, though, because it was awful.

To be fair to myself, I was in high school. But from the distance that the years offer, it’s clear to see that I was pretty pretentious. I was a suburban kid, and I thought that I spotted fakery that no one else could spot. This was also the time when I first became aware of the chaos that is politics. It was messed up, I thought, how everything was so phoney and we did nothing to change it. I was a true Holden Caulfield.

Similar to many angsty teenagers, I sought out an outlet for my thoughts, and I found it through writing. When I discovered NaNoWriMo, I knew that I found something great. I would write a novel, one that questioned all the terrible things going on in the world. So I pushed through November, composing my thoughts into fiction the moment they came into my head. It would be bold.

When I went back a month later to edit it, however, I realized that wasn’t the case. The novel was bloated, with a slogging pace and unoriginal characters. As I further went through it, I lost the heart to edit it. There was no saving this mess.

Looking back, I’ve definitely learned a lot about the writing craft. I’ve realized that I shouldn’t add too many details, that subtle details can really flesh out a character and that nonfiction can actually be fun to write. More importantly, I’ve stepped outside my bubble and discovered a lot about the world. I made the shocking discovery that I’m not the only person who views politics the way I do, and that everyone looks shallow if you only bother to scratch the surface.

Digging deeper allows you to discover more, both with people and the world. My writing’s gotten better because I now look both outside and in for inspiration. Perhaps I’ll take another crack at NaNoWriMo again someday, but this time my desk won’t be located at so high a pedestal.