Monday, October 27, 2014

Countdown to NaNoWriMo—Are You In or Out?

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

October is winding down and that can only mean that, once again, National Novel Writing Month looms ominously on the horizon. During the month of November, participants endeavor to meet daily writing goals of at least 1,667 words; by month's end, this will have added up to 50,000 words which is, for many a burgeoning writer, far more than they'd yet managed for a single work. While it's not a contest by conventional standards, NaNoWriMo is a competition with oneself—and against distraction and disillusionment, among other things—and the meeting or exceeding of that 50,000 word goal is a win no matter how you look at it. To the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo may seem little more than an extreme writing exercise, a means of practicing at the discipline of working daily toward a sizable word count. And it is that, make no mistake. At its heart, NaNoWriMo is, as officially described, a "fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing." Veterans of the annual event can tell you, as they well know, that it's also much, much more than that...

The Writer Who Went Up an Idea and Came Down a Novel


From the outside, it seems almost a simple thing, to add word after word until a desired total has been reached. For a few, I imagine this is all the WriMo really amounts to, the placing of one foot in front of the other until eventually you've walked somewhere. There's no stipulation as to the coherence of participants' novels, and one could just as easily ramble through a stream-of-consciousness fever dream of a story if thus inclined. Even then, with little thought regarding character development or plotting, this oversimplified view ignores the reality of watching as an idea grows across the mounting number of pages. There's a feeling—equal parts exhilaration and panic—which emerges as a realization gradually dawns on you: The power to write a novel is within your grasp. The sense of triumph at having discovered this power is awesome, in the classic sense of the word. Over time, of course, this feeling can wane and, I suspect, it's a desire to rekindle that sense of agency that brings many a writer back year after year.

It's Dangerous to Go Alone!


This isn't to say there aren't lions at the gates. It's an arduous task to set for oneself, one fraught with perils. There will be days on which the words will refuse to come, where every keystroke feels like a horrible misstep; other days, it will seem as if the world conspires to keep you from your computer, typewriter, or notebook; often, the grand conspirator will be you yourself, as the prospect of washing dishes or alphabetizing your library suddenly seems too delightfully tempting to resist. For those who choose to compose a more complicated plot, the containment and sorting of a host of ideas becomes a burden all its own. Over time, as the deadline looms, an understandable amount of stress can build; even the strain of writing at length itself can be enough to wear a writer down. It's easy to fall behind, given the myriad variables with which life can confront you, and there you'll find discouragement—in addition to whatever natural sense of self-doubt you typically harbor. Under these mounting pressures, many participants will drop out and fall to the wayside. NaNoWriMo is not without its casualties. Thankfully, with NaNoWriMo you're rarely alone.

For most of us, when the writing happens it's just us and the medium—usually a computer—but there are alternatives. Write-ins are a popular way of celebrating the WriMo spirit with others, and engaging in word sprints—furiously sustained bursts of output—can be a part of these write-ins or online events (I find mine on Twitter, via @NaNoWordSprints, @TheSprintShack and, of course, #WriteClub sprints with @FriNightWrites). There are Facebook groups, the forums on the NaNoWriMo website, message boards and blogs aplenty; the point is, at nearly any hour of the day, there are bound to be other WriMo participants somewhere out there, struggling as you struggle, stressing as you stress, and few will deny a shoulder or ear if you need a little support before leaping back into the fray. As I've remarked often in the past, a writing community is invaluable, and at few times more so than during NaNoWriMo.

You Can't Win if You Don't Play


With victory on one side, and an army of challenges on the other, it seems an uneven match, an uphill climb all the way. I won't lie, it is easier to not write anything at all. There may be guilt or shame in abandoning an interest that verges on a calling, but the inertia of doing nothing at all can be so simple to obey. Imagine all the television you could watch, all the reading you could get done, all the lazing about without concern for word totals or character arcs...it's certainly tempting. But it might also just be a convenient way of masking fear and doubt. At the end of the day, only you can decide whether or not you have it in you to be the writer you dream of being. Maybe you won't reach 50,000 words this year, or maybe you will but you won't like the end result. I'm of the mind that you still win just by trying, but your mileage may vary. Either way, the only way to find out for sure is to give it a shot, to grant yourself the opportunity to see what you can do when the chips are down. And honestly, it really is a blast. Surviving a WriMo is like nothing else...

I have to confess, when I began drafting this post, I honestly wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to undertake another year's challenge. I haven't prepared the way I had last year, and under the strain of the year's difficulties my writing has suffered greatly. But I've talked myself into it, now. The potential rewards are just too great, even if I should fail in reaching the goal. After all, it's not in the absence of hardship that we find success, but in its endurance. So, while I may not have an outline (yet) or more than an inkling as to what I'll eventually write, count me in.

Now how about you?


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