For a long time, I thought NaNoWriMo was the stupidest writing idea I’d ever heard. First of all, November. Do I have to say it? And the idea: writing 50,000 words without thinking very hard about what those words are, just so you can say you’ve written a novel? When you can get past writer's block by typing out the lyrics of a song or copying the front page of the newspaper lying next to you on the table… This is ridiculous. That’s not creative writing, that’s copyright infringement.
If the exercise of typing out a song gets you past a mental block, or if responding to a silly prompt in a Twitter sprint helps you finish, you might learn something about your writing process, and that would be valuable.
It would be, and it was.
I did NaNoWriMo in 2014 and “won,” which means I completed 50,000 words in 30 days (well, actually, I finished with 51,219 words in 21 days, but who’s counting? Me! I am!).
And I learned a lot about myself and my writing process. Since I did it, I’ve become a big cheerleader for NaNo, and I’ll tell you why.
1. It forces you to face your demons. I used to think I needed quiet, and music, and time, and inspiration, and mood, and pen-and-paper, and all kinds of things to write. Turns out, I just needed someone to light a fire under my lazy… rear end. All those things I “needed” were excuses: ways to avoid writing, crutches set up by my perfectionism, my fear, my cowardice, my confusion, and all the other emotional roadblocks to success. I’m still dealing with them, but at least now they’ve been dragged into the light.
2. You learn about your writing process. I like to spend a lot of time dreaming. I call it planning, but it’s really just imagining the big picture: what the novel will shape up to be, what the themes and subplots will be, who the characters really are and how they became that way, what they look like and what they think about and how they grew up… I like to KNOW everything (or mostly everything) before I do most of the writing. One thing I learned from NaNoWriMo is that you don’t have to know everything before you start. In fact, you don’t have to know almost anything. You can just start writing. All you need is a bare bones plot and some characters. The motivations, the relationships, the back-stories, all that will reveal itself when you need it, or if it doesn’t, you can fill it in later. As YAOTL author Janet (and a fish named Dory) would say, “Just keep swimming.”
3. I can silence the Internal Editor. As a life-long perfectionist, the IE (as NaNos not-so-lovingly refer to it) was my constant companion and enemy. From the first sentence, she would snarl, “Well, that’s pure sh*t” in my ear, and I was finished. NaNo pretty much vanquished her. There’s no time. You have to keep moving. And once you shut her up, once you stop critiquing every…single…word, it becomes much easier to write freely. I know that I'll edit eventually. When. I. Am. Finished.
4. You must do things that terrify you sometimes. I’ve failed at NaNo more than I’ve succeeded. But that one time, it was electrifying. I am a person who loves the even-keel. My nickname could be Goldilocks; I don’t like it cold or hot, I don’t like to go run fast or go slow. I like a nice even pace. I want things the same today as yesterday and to know that they’ll be the same tomorrow. Different is uncomfortable. But every once in a while, I push myself beyond my steady, measured pace. I hike up a mountain. I take an acting class. I write a novel in a month. And, it turns out, despite the crazy, I love it.