NaNoWriMo is behind us. For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writer’s Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org). It’s the time when writers everywhere retreat into their homes, hovels and caves to bang out 50,000 words or more, with the hope that, at the end of the month, those words are in some sort of logical, meaningful order.
This was my first year participating, and it won’t be my last. I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons over the course of the last month. As a writer, I am plagued by the many afflictions felt by those of my ilk.
- I’ll never finish a novel-length work.
- I don’t have the time.
- There are other, more important things I have to do before I write.
- My ideas aren’t original enough.
- I’ve never really been published, so nothing I’ve written counts. I’m just not good enough.
Honestly, it’s amazing there is anything published. Ever.
So I’m going to outline my NaNo lessons for anyone who wants to take the plunge and declare his or her self as “writer”, but who is afraid for all those writerly reasons.
1) I’ll never finish a novel-length work.
Simply put: Yes, you will. When I started NaNo on November 1st, I was unsure, uneasy, and downright terrified by the idea of aiming for 50k+. I’ve started novels before, but never finished them. I’ve written plenty of short stories… too many to count. But writing a novel takes courage, and I’d never given myself the permission to be brave enough to slog through the hard parts. With NaNo, I watched the little graph on the website tick ever upward as I added words to my count, and found this well of self-encouragement inside that I didn’t know existed. Maybe I’m just a numbers geek. Maybe I need a carrot on a stick in the form of a bar graph. But the end result was 50,000 words from my brain, into files, that didn’t exist before November. Having this bulk of work done, I now have complete confidence that this work will get finished.
2) I don’t have the time.
Yes, you do. I work full time. I have two school-aged kids who participate in school sports and other activities. I have a partner and a home and bills and more responsibilities than you can shake a stick at. I found the time. And I think it’s funny now, when I see people lament about how their social life, family life and commitments suffered because: NaNo. That wasn’t my experience at all. Mostly, I wrote in short sprints. I would get up early and write before anyone in the house was up. Or I’d write during my lunch hour at work. Sometimes, I’d sit down and write during the 20 minutes my kids were in the shower. I’d tell my family on weekends that I was going to take a couple of hours for myself, and I’d scurry off to a Starbucks and I’d write. Then I’d come home and we’d play games, or watch a movie, or do other family things! Never once did I marathon write. The most words I cranked out in a single day was around 3500 (and that was across multiple sittings). Some days, I wrote nothing. My daily average was just under 1700 words per day. During my NaNo month, my house stayed clean (enough), I participated in family fun, went on walks and hikes, and my fiancé and I went on a couple date nights. And I still got my 50k words!
Long story short: If I have time, you have time!
3) There are other, more important things I have to do before I write.
Sometimes, this is true…. kind of. I’d argue that the “to do’s” in your life are as important as writing, not more. So audit your time, and prioritize! Things that are as important than writing: Feeding yourself, your family and your pets; Paying bills; Loving on your significant other and children; Your day job; Getting sleep and exercise. Not as important: Checking Facebook; Cleaning to the point of eat-off-the-floor immaculate; Watching TV. Having down-time to relax is very important, but if you’re anything like me, writing is rejuvenating. And even when it seems like it’s a chore to get started, the end result is always worth the effort! So audit your life and see what can be replaced with devoting time to your craft!
For help on doing a time audit, check out this post: http://www.productivity501.com/how-to-do-a-time-audit/7043/
4) My ideas aren’t original enough.
If Hollywood is any indication…. there are no more ideas to be had that are completely original. And yet, thousands upon thousands of books and movies are produced every year. Give your muse a shot at producing something, and you may be amazed by what comes out. I know I certainly got some shocks from my characters, their actions, and the world that sprang forth from my own imagination over the last month. Whether you are a habitual planner, or you tend to write by the seat of your pants, if you don’t sit down and put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) you’ll never produce anything at all. Give your ideas a chance before condemning them to the ranks of the round file!
5) I’ve never really been published, so nothing I’ve written counts. I’m just not good enough.
Ahhhhh, self-defeatism in action! I’ve had so many rejection slips. My favorite was a hand-written note on a torn-off half piece of paper from the New Yorker. “This is a great story, but it doesn’t work for us at this time.” I should have framed that sucker. Sadly, I lost it over the years. The problem is, writers sit down at their desk with this inner comparison mechanism running like a hamster on a wheel. As the little feet churn the crank, images of great authors pop up before us…. Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare…. did I really just try to compare myself to Shakespeare! Yes, I did! I’ll never be that good, so no one will ever publish me! I’ll just go binge-eat ice cream instead of writing…. The truth is — and this applies in every single aspect of life — there are always those who will be better than you, and there are those to whom you are superior. But if you look at it that way, you’re going to fall into self-defeat. I’ve learned to change that thinking:
There are those from whom I may learn, and there are those of whom I may teach.
Better, yes? During NaNo, I participated heavily in online forums and (less heavily) in-person groups. I learned from many, and I also gave advice. I helped someone name a character. I got advice on how to get through my stalling points. I made friends who will last a lifetime, and who I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for NaNo. I built my own support network that didn’t exist five weeks ago. Now I have somewhere to turn when the self-defeatism creeps into my brain. As for publication? I have no doubt that it’s only a matter of time.
It All Boils Down to Setting Goals….
I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, though I didn’t give it credence until college. Even then, I was told it was a nice hobby, and a great something-to-do when I got the time to spare. This NaNo changed my thinking. I set a goal of 50,000 words, and I told myself I could — and would — do it. And I did. The whole of writing and its importance shifted in my mind, and I know now that I can not, and will not stop… ever. Not for any reason. I have a goal to finish this novel by the end of the year, and I will finish it. I have given myself permission to slough off the excuses, roll up my sleeves, and make the time and get it done!
Whether or not you chose to NaNo — or if you have a passion other than writing — don’t wait. Don’t tell yourself to do it when you have the time. And for the love of all that’s good, don’t compare yourself to others. Set a goal, then do the work. You’ll be glad you did!