November 1st marks a very auspicious day for writers around the world; it is the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a glorious month-long holiday that encourages everyone with a story inside of them to put it down on paper. The plan is to come out with 50,000 words by the end of the month, which is quite an endeavor, but with the encouragement of others on the internet, or even in your home city, it’s a worthy goal that leaves you with a great feeling of accomplishment.
It’s been the most encouraging thing to happen to my writing in a long time. In college I didn’t have time to write as much as I wanted, and now that I’m done with school and have more time, it’s still maddeningly hard to keep writing. Writing takes time and energy and quiet, which are extremely hard to come by in my world, where chores and work are never done. And on top of that, I’m prone to procrastinating things I’m feeling perfectionistic about. It’s sad to say, but I need as many excuses as I can get to force myself to focus on my writing. If it isn’t bringing in money or have a deadline, a poor project is often shoved to the back burner, but in the case of my writing, I think about it almost constantly. It’s always in the back of my mind, begging for more time, whispering to me, and to be honest, always stomping it out gives me a lot of angst and guilt.
NaNoWriMo gives me a goal and a reason to play. I wish I didn’t need a reason. I wish I could somehow find the discipline every day to work on my writing despite the hard pressure points of life, and sometimes a crippling perfectionism. But I know from experience, there is nothing more wonderful for a writer who has a story to tell but is crippled by their schedule or themselves, than to be given permission to play. You can say that it’s possible, I just need to apply myself. Yes, I could. But it’s just hard. Bone breakingly, heart-wrenchingly hard. Hard to set goals and keep them, hard to fit in one more thing when my head feels like splitting in two, particularly something as time and mind-consuming as writing. I struggle with this every day. Anything that helps me set goals for myself is enough to make me want to weep with joy sometimes.
So it’s frustrating when people say that NaNoWriMo is just a competition of lazy monkeys in a room full of keyboards.
I’ve read a few articles that are frustrated at National Novel Writing Month’s bad statutes of quantity over quality, and that rushed work doesn’t breed creativity or allow the writer to enjoy/form habits in the organic free-form wonder of writing. This isn’t completely untrue, but I think they underestimate the power of creativity when given guidelines. I agree that if any of my NaNo first drafts were published as-is, they would be horrible and not worth anyone’s time. But the first draft isn’t really meant for the public eye, but without that step in the process, you’re not writing. (Some people can write and edit in their heads and type out a rough draft that reads like a best seller. I know a few authors who work like this, and I am awestruck and a little jealous of their awesome, but that’s beside the point.) I know for myself, when working on a NaNo novel, I try to dig deep within myself to find something related to the story to write about, instead of filling the space with dead words I’m just going to cut anyway. And besides, why should anyone’s writing be required to be acceptable to public standards unless they want it to be? The joy of so many things is in the doing, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you are happy and content with the level of your writing as it is.
And if you want to take your writing into the realm of the public? At this first step in the process, quantity is a fine start since it gives you something to chip away at. As a wise man once told me, it’s easier to start building on something than to start with an empty space. But if you want to publish something you wrote for NaNoWriMo, you MUST edit that thing within an inch of its 50,000 word life. Trust me, first drafts are you throwing hunks of clay onto the potting wheel, and editing is the sculpting process.
But just writing a novel, completing it, brings confidence that can carry you into the editing phase, or your next writing project.
And for an insecure perfectionist, I’ll take all I can get.
So happy NaNoWriMo, guys! Dare to epically suck and love every second of it! Kick your inner editor in the face and ignore its shrill cries! This is your mud puddle, dig deep and get your hands dirty. And don’t feel bad if you can’t make the word count. Be proud of what you accomplish. This is art, this is madness, this is writing. I’ll see you at the finish line.