NaNoWriMo taught me a great deal this year.I shared this fascinating experience with a group of wonderful writers, many of whom contribute to this awesome blog. We would post daily our accomplishments, struggles, frustrations, and/or tears. NaNoWriMo is not a task to be undertaken lightly. In fact, I’d sat on the sidelines for several years, watching other braver souls set forth on the perilous journey of writing 50,000 words in one month. I’d pants around with them in spirit, adding a few words here a sentence or two there to my work in progress, but I did it comfortably from my uncommitted couch. This year, I jumped in with both feet, all the while kicking and screaming, and discovered a great deal about myself and the writing process in general.
The biggest gem of insight this insane challenge gleaned was that as writers, and human beings in general, we are ridiculously hard on ourselves. In order to reach 50,000 words in 30 days, one had to commit to setting down on the page 1,667 words daily. That, by the way, is my extent at math skills, which is why I stick with writing.At the end of each day we would post our word counts. Some would wallow in defeat and self-torture, others would prance with victory. On days I didn’t make the word count, I felt like I had failed. Days I made the minimum or exceeded it I was ecstatic but felt guilty posting my success because I knew there were others in the group beating themselves up for not meeting the daily requirements. I knew how frustrating that felt. NaNoWriMo was supposed to be a brilliant kick start to creativity, instead it turned into a mad dash to crunch the numbers, and each day I fell behind left me with a bitter taste of inadequacy and failure. Why? Because the expectation with NaNoWriMo is that you commit to achieving the goal. In order to win, in order to get that shiny NaNoWriMo badge you can proudly display as your profile picture, you had to make the cut.
But here’s the thing. Make the cut for what? We were battling with ourselves and our uniquely creative process (for more insight, check out Anna Davis's post Want More Creative Energy? Pace Yourself). NaNoWriMo forces us to create in a surreal, unnatural environment and then measure ourselves against that ideal.
NaNoWriMo is not bad, in and of itself, the problem is how we approach it. Setting goals is a wonderful pursuit, but expecting things to turn out a specific way only sets us up for disappointment and disillusionment if things turn sour. Instead of patting ourselves on the back for 500 words in one day, for many participants (myself included) negative self-talk undermined the process of creating and turned writing into something unpleasant, or at very least a chore, and a tough one at that.We write because we love to, because our passion compels us to create worlds, people them with a host of quirky characters, and live out our fanciful days in a realm of make believe so captivating that we lose ourselves in our own delightful creations. When we get caught up in the semantics of process and output rather than the experience of joyfully, blissfully adding fresh, compelling, sexy words to the page, in my humble opinion, it defeats the purpose: why we got into this crazy gig to begin with.
As writers, there are a plethora of misguided expectations we may place on ourselves. We might have an unrealistic idea of how long it actually takes to write a novel, screen play, instructional manual, or memoir (months, years, even decades). We might not realize how many drafts it takes to turn a lumpy piece of creative clay into a smooth and polished masterpiece (think double digits here). What about the end result of your blood, sweat, and tears? Do you want to be published? Are you hinging your happiness and sense of accomplishment on whether or not you get picked up by an agent or publishing house? What happens if you don’t sign that contract? Do you throw in the towel, hang up your laptop, and call it a career? Or do you acknowledge that there are other streams, other opportunities to get your work out there? Are you open to new experiences, wild and crazy unconventional options?If we are constantly hung up on the end result, whether we get there, and the way we envision ourselves arriving (standing on a podium with fireworks and streamer cannons, thank you very much) we’ve lost touch with the passion that drives us to create.
By all means, set goals, have objectives, but don’t hinge your happiness on whether they end up looking like the vision you created in your mind. Instead, go with the flow, take the lessons you learn in the process and attempt something new in the future, try a new tack. No effort is wasted.Being a writer isn’t easy. There are plenty of challenges both external and internal that we continually battle against, but the journey is definitely worth it if we keep in mind our reasons for starting in the first place. Writing invigorates us. It makes us excited to wake up in the morning, our fingers itch to put those words on the page, to flesh out that story, to sculpt and hone that brilliant idea.
If writing’s your passion live it, breathe it, but let go of the handlebars, loosen the grip, lose the expectations and let the words percolate one letter at a time.You’re a writer. Have fun with it. xo