Monday, November 12, 2018

1667: What I've Learned from Six Years of NaNoWriMo

(What the hell is NaNoWriMo?! Click here.)

Most of these lessons apply specifically to writers, but there's probably something in here for everyone. I hope so, at least.

First of all, I don't like writing novels. That's an important thing I've learned. I love writing, but I'm not particularly good at writing novels, and also I don't particularly enjoy it. How the hell do people get to be good at writing novels?! I feel like I'm decent at poetry and creative non-fiction because I do it ALL THE TIME. Do novelists just write novels ALL THE TIME?! Anyway, novels are not my strong suit. I'm not a completely horrendous novelist, but I also don't enjoy it enough to practice at this point in my life/writing career. I value NaNoWriMo because I don't think I would have learned that about myself if I hadn't written three full manuscripts, and started three others.

Second of all, that daily word count goal is key. If I fall behind for even one day, I struggle to catch up. Fall behind for two days and I’m doomed. For some, this attitude is disastrous in the event that they fall behind. For me, it motivates me to not fall behind.

Third, 1,667 words are easier to write than 50,000. 50,000 words over 30 days is 1,667 words per day. And that’s totally manageable if you make the time for it. If you can set aside an hour per day, even in increments, you can totally write 1,667 words a day. If that still feels like too many, write 834 words twice a day.

Fourth, you can do hard things. This is a little trite, but the first year that I completed a NaNoWriMo novel, my greatest sense was one of exhausted accomplishment. I wrote a NOVEL. And as clich├ęd as it sounds, it was a good reminder to carry into other areas of my life. Need to build some shelves? You totally can, because you wrote a novel. Not sure how to play this role? You’ll figure it out, because you wrote a novel. Wanna go to grad school? You totally can, because YOU WROTE A NOVEL.

Fifth, there’s a difference between writer’s block and writer’s fatigue. Writer’s fatigue is when you know what to write, and you just don’t feel like writing it. In those times, the best solution is to take a break. Given the need to meet a daily word count, that break may not be longer than a few hours. But take the break and do something different for a minute. Writer’s block is when you don’t know what to write. Or worse yet, you think you could probably come up with something but you can’t hear any inspiration over the sound of your own inner critic.

Sixth, there will always be an inner critic. There will probably be multiple inner critics. These are the voices who scream from the corners that you don’t know what you’re doing and that all your writing is rubbish and that you should probably give up because nothing you write is original or even interesting and it’s definitely not good. Fortunately, those critics are almost always liars. Unfortunately, the best way to shut them up is to do the very thing they’re telling you not to, which is just to write. (If you're looking for some encouragement, I HIGHLY recommend looking through the archive of NaNoWriMo Pep Talks, wherein published writers give advice and encouragement. The pep talks written by John Green and Dave Eggers are two personal favorites.)

Seventh, just write. Write the memoir or the novel or the poem or the screenplay or the stage play or the radio drama or the narrative journalism or all of the above. The point of NaNoWriMo is to write the thing you’ve always been meaning to write but haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s to help you create a disciplined writing habit. It’s to help you get the words onto the page. Because you can take 50,000 words of a terrible novel and make a good novel out of them. (The way to write a good story is to write a bad story and then fix it.) You can’t take 50,000 words of nothing and make them into a good novel.

Eighth, you’re not a garbage human if you decide to resign from NaNoWriMo. This is especially true if you’re working two jobs, performing in one play, rehearsing for another, preparing an audition for a third, spending more than two hours per day commuting, and discovering that you don’t, in fact, enjoy writing novels. If NaNoWriMo isn’t making you a better or more disciplined writer, isn’t helping you meet your goals, and is in fact taking away from your ability to do well at meeting other goals, then you don’t have to do it. You may feel guilty for a day or two, but ultimately, feel much more at home continuing a blog challenge with your sister and writing poetry and the occasional essay. (When I say “you” in this section, I mean myself. I’m talking about myself.)

The last thing I've learned is that if you embark on this month-long folly, setting up a profile on the NaNoWriMo website is actually a really helpful tool. The pep talks and badges and forums are awesome. I highly recommend it. Both setting up a profile and doing NaNoWriMo.

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