Friday, December 5, 2014

NaNoWriMo '14: Trials, Triumphs, and Take-aways—Reflections on the WriMo that Was

By all accounts, this post would've been better served by having been written earlier in the week, but the final days of National Novel Writing Month were such a challenge that my fingers still ache from the number of keystrokes necessary to earn this:

As was evident from my previous post, every WriMo has been unique for me. Of course each year differed due in part to the fact that each year featured a different story, but on a statistical level, too, has the experience been varied. 2011's steady climb was capped off by a down-to-the-wire flurry of words I still don't remember writing; 2013's effort would have been completed within the first two weeks had it not been for my taking a week off to watch a marathon of Doctor Who episodes leading up to the 50th anniversary special. 

This year's WriMo, however, was nearly a disaster. After building momentum over the course of Week 1 that left me feeling perhaps a bit too confident, I languished terribly. With only three days left in the month, I had written barely more than 20,000 words. I took Thanksgiving off—to celebrate, decorate, and summon as much literary fortitude as I could possibly muster. The run-up paid off, and by the morning of November 30th I'd crossed the 50,000 word mark, and successfully completed NaNoWriMo for the third time.

Now, obviously I wouldn't recommend this course of action. It's much, much better to maintain a steady effort; covering so much ground within a span of so few days was an exhausting experience, and i'm sure to some extent the work suffered for it near the end. And I'm certainly not boasting about my success here, but I do think it's worth noting that the feat can be accomplished. One of the biggest obstacles to reaching the end of NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words—and, indeed, to reaching the end of any writing project—is yielding to the sense of hopelessness that plagues nearly every work, especially for beginners. The lesson here is simple: Don't give up. If you want to be a writer, all it takes is the sometimes seemingly Herculean task of never giving up. You must see the work through. As Neil Gaiman has said, "It's that easy, and that hard."

With another WriMo in the books, it's time to turn an eye toward the holidays, and the spirit of reflection they so often inspire. Looking back on the past month, and 2014 as a whole, I'd have to say the most important lesson for me has been that regular writing begets better writing. As I'd observed in June, it takes a fairly consistent writing schedule to elevate my work to a quality I dream of maintaining as a writer. This proved true during NaNoWriMo as well, with the best work of the month coming after—and only after—I'd been writing for a few consecutive days. 

There's evidence elsewhere to support the claim—science fiction author Jamie Rubin recently reached the milestone of having written for 500 consecutive days, and noted that the benefits of his discipline include increasing his rate of sales from 1 story every 3 years to 1 story every 45 days. It's not that a higher volume of output leads to more frequent sales, he explains, but that more frequent work leads to better work. As it was his blogging that inspired me to establish The Scholar's Fane, I can't help but consider taking yet another leaf from his book. I've seen it evidenced in my own work, on a small scale, and in his claims on a much larger scale. Writing daily must become a priority for me in the year to come.

The other major take-away from this year's NaNoWriMo is this: I need to trust that I've chosen this path for myself wisely. Part of what bogged me down through the middle of the month was pressure I'd been placing on myself to compose an almost perfect first draft, despite every assurance that first drafts are inherently, more or less awful. Everything had to be properly organized, continuity had to be maintained, the writing had to feel right or I'd despair and flail. At some point, I completely lost touch with myself as a writer, given the poor job I'd been doing. What saved me was trusting that, having set myself on this course long enough ago, and having worked at being a writer for years, I must have had good cause to do so. Maybe I'd lost my way—maybe I'd lost my will—but I owed it to my more confident former self to see things though as best I could. And that's how the WriMo was really won—throwing myself into the work, almost mindlessly obedient to the decision to sign up back in October. I discovered I had faith, not in my current self, but in the self that had led to this one, and the one that will undoubtedly follow. 

If anything can be said of this year in general, it's that persistence pays off. Oftentimes, under duress of the many challenges life throws one's way, Perseverance is the name of the game. That's held true for most of this year, more so than in years past. And while reaching one's goals takes more than mere survival, there's no climbing to the top without occasionally hanging on for dear life. This year I've learned i'm capable of doing just that and, it is hoped, with the insights gleaned from NaNoWrimo and earlier fits of writing, I'll soon be able to resume my ascent toward the realization of my dreams. 

It seems so simple now, but I'll no doubt need reminding as time rolls on. Though it's 11 months away, I'm looking forward to the next National Novel Writing Month, which I expect will present whatever lessons I'll have forgotten by then, as well as a host of new insights that will once again spur me on to an ever better future as a writer. 

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