In November 2013 a friend and I dared each other to take on NaNoWriMo, which requires you to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It doesn’t have to be good. (Mine isn’t). You don’t have to show it to anyone. (I haven’t). You just have to do it. (I did).
Here’s what I learned:
1)Why writers drink
It’s not that hard to come up with an abundance of words when you shush your inner critic.
What’s hard is shushing the inner critic.
There’s a person my brain invented. She looks over my shoulder with her arms crossed while I write. She’s very pretty, her blog has the perfect design, she has tens of thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, and her posts are always original, hilarious, engaging, tender, thought-provoking, and share-able. She’s says things like, “You’re going to write that!? You think that’s original? Was that supposed to be funny? You sound like you’re trying too hard to be clever. You’re boring. Whatever is happening on Facebook is much more compelling than this garbage. Oooh is there still Halloween candy in the pantry?”
NaNoWriMo gave me an opportunity practice telling her to shut up more frequently than I ever had before. I didn’t always succeed. But the more I wrote, the easier it was to write without that awkward seventh grade self-consciousness. The very nature of NaNoWriMo is a big middle finger to the inner critic, actually. I mean, how could anyone expect a novel you bang out in one month to be any good? Right off the bat, there’s no pressure to create something great, only an expectation to create.
2) It wasn’t as much of a sacrifice as I thought it would be.
On the mornings I got up early to write, I never regretted missing the sleep to start off my day with something productive. On the nights that I wrote instead of getting sucked into mindless social media consumption, I never once thought “Damn, I miss liking my friends’ Facebook statuses (stati?), reading random Huffington Post articles that came up in my Twitter feed, or looking at pictures of my friend’s amazing ten-year anniversary trip to Napa.”
3) It did require me to let other things slide.
NaNoWriMo 2013 came at the perfect time for me, as I was in my second trimester of pregnancy. The first trimester nausea had subsided. I was tired, but was done with the crushing fatigue of the first trimester and not yet into the weariness of the third trimester. I still wanted to exercise, but pregnancy meant I was happy to replace a ten mile run with a 2 mile walk. As much as I’d like to believe I can be more efficient with my time in order to reach a big goal, the truth is, doing big things means shifting attention away from the things that take us away from the big goal. I wrote my novel at the expense of my workout routine. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have had to cut into my exercise time and figured out a way to be ok with that, or I would have had to cut out some other activity, like seeing my friends or sleeping.
4) My characters didn’t always do what I thought they would do.
I’m not sure how to explain this. I’m not trying to say I’m like Amy Tan, who said in her amazing book The Opposite of Fate ,that once in a while she gets in a zone where an external force uses her body as a vessel, and this story she never knew she had to tell is transmitted from the universe to her page. Or something like that. Read the book, it’s awesome. What I experienced wasn’t quite that, but it was very cool when the people I created did things I didn’t plan for them.
4) The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write.
Call it momentum, call it habit, or call it whatever else resonates with you, but writing leads to more, faster writing.
5) Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail
I always knew this platitude was true for me as an athlete. It turns out it applies to me as a writer, as well. Sometimes I sat down to write and the words flowed easily from my brain to my fingers. I was a brilliant genius and writing was my calling. Other times, I couldn’t think of anything to say, and when I did, it was idiotic. If my computer were hacked, I would have been far less concerned about identity theft than the possibility of someone finding my writing. The more I wrote, the more I found it’s just like running; some sessions are great, some are awful, and most are in between. The only way to experience the great sessions is to keep trying, day after day. If I have a bad session, I just remember it doesn’t mean I’m a horrible writer and a fraud and an impostor and I should never dare type another word again (see #1). It just means I was
the hammer that particular day, and the only thing to do is try again tomorrow.