October 29, 2017

To NaNoWriMo or Not to NaNoWriMo

That is the question. At least, it is the question that has been plaguing me for the last two months. Should I try to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge or let it pass me by? November is quickly coming upon us, and with only a few days left in this month, it's time to bite the bullet and decide. But first, let me back up and explain why this is such a hard choice.

NanoWriMo

An Introduction to NaNoWriMo

I first heard of NaNoWriMo, which takes place annually in November, in the summer of 2010. I'd had an idea for a book in my mind for about five years and the Challenge was the push I needed to kick myself into gear. So, I jumped right in without a second thought.

Here's how NaNoWriMo works: You have the month of November to write at least 50,000 words of fiction. So, while not quite lengthy enough to pass as a full-length novel, it's a significant chunk. It's almost 1700 words per day. Every day. For 30 days. It's a real commitment.

What I Love About It

Back in 2010, I had only two kids, and they weren't yet old enough to start homeschooling, so (in retrospect) I had all the time in the world.

That year, I did write my 50,000 words. I didn't finish the story in November, but I completed the Challenge. I thought I had about three quarters of what I needed. Unfortunately, running that writing marathon burned me out so much that I hardly touched it again over the next year. I started revisiting it each year in November, re-reading it, editing it, making both minor and substantial changes. Then, in 2014, I had another baby, and the book went even further onto the back burner. By the summer of 2016, I'd pretty much written it off (no pun intended).

Then, an idea for another book came to me. I was excited about it; I wanted to start writing it immediately. But I was overcome with guilt. I felt a sense of loyalty to my first novel. I owed it to the characters I'd created to tell their stories before moving on. So, last November, baby number four on the way, I set about finishing my first book.

To be clear, I know that the purpose of NaNoWriMo is not to work on existing projects. I did not register myself as a challenge participant in any year except 2010. I just use the energy of the event to propel myself forward. So, I did work on the book every day of November. And I continued on through December and January. Then pregnancy--and soon after, a newborn--got the better of me, and I set it aside for a few months. I took a final run at it in the summer and finally finished the first draft in July!

Seven years of plugging away at it, and it finally resembled something like a novel. Of course, only a tiny fraction of what I wrote that long-ago November made it into the latest version, but it was such a sense of relief to finally have something to show for all that effort.

In short: I love NaNoWriMo because it works. It gives me the external motivation and deadline I need to actually get myself writing.

Making the Leap

And now, November is upon us again. I've been thinking about it for months. I have that other story in the back of my mind, and I really--I mean, really--want to get it down on paper. But, do I dare? The commitment that NaNoWriMo demands is no small thing. It is intense.

For me, with four kids at home all day, including a baby who feeds 2-3 times a night, committing to write 1667 words per day means that I will spend all of my "free" time writing. It means that I must finish all my Christmas planning by Halloween. It means having to be creative when I feel anything but. It means letting go of perfectionist tendencies and just writing however I am led, without regard to quality, style, or poetic form. This is not something that comes easily to me!

And yet, I still feel so drawn to the Challenge. I was in Chapters a couple months ago and I treated myself to the Writer's Digest Yearbook "Novel Writing" issue, which, by the way, is a fabulous resource. The magazine contained an excellent article by Grant Faulkner titled 30 Days, with Benefits. As the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo, he is admittedly biased, but he certainly makes a compelling case for participation.

I'm particularly moved by this comment: "In this determined practice you learn how a novel is built not by the grand gusting winds of inspiration, but by the inglorious increments of constancy." I think this is what convinced me. As a recovering perfectionist, I constantly talk myself out of doing anything that I don't think I can do very well. I find a million excuses not to start something because I am afraid that the end result will not live up to my own expectations. My writing is probably the greatest casualty of this problem. Unless I have everything figured out to a tee, I become paralyzed with fear, and I don't write anything at all.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo then, is that there is no room for this. There is only room to push on, through the fears and doubts. To write a little, and then write a little bit more. As Faulkner writes, "One of the most important [lessons about the creative process] is that novels are essentially constructed through a series of experiments, many of which fail."  And that is a lesson I am still trying to fully assimilate.

So, if you don't hear much from me in the next thirty days, you know where I will be!

And if you are taking up the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, I'll be cheering you on! (Click here to sign yourself up).

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