Yes, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month yet again. NaNoWriMo is an annual writing project where crazy writers who find lack of sleep invigorating attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days from November 1 to November 30. There are no prizes, but a person is considered a winner if she reaches her goal of 50,000 words. You’ll find a lot of nay-sayers who think that NaNoWriMo is a gimmick they just don’t need. How many of these slap-dash novels get published anyway? Well, believe it or not, a few but certainly not the 20K plus that get written every year—but we all know writing, real writing, is in the re-writing. For me, there is more than “just” writing a novel (admit it, that right there is a huge accomplishment.) Here is why I do it.
I get my focus back. I’m a high school teacher. Just two months prior to the November 1st kick-off of the NaNoWriMo, I went back to work after a long and productive summer where I read and wrote every day. My peaceful days are blown up by lesson plans, grading and after school activities. NaNoWriMo reminds me of my commitment to myself to write every day. It allows me to say “no” to activities I probably didn’t want to participate in to begin with and focus back on being a writer. Yes, I still have lesson plans, grading and after school activities but being a writer means carving time out for yourself everyday to write. 1500 words per day are a lot of words, particularly for the uninitiated. But I find to really get extended writing done, 1200 to 1500 words per day is a good daily goal. NaNoWriMo gets me back to that.
I get back into the zone. Not only does it bring my writing focus back it brings the peace and centering I need just to survive in this world. Writing has always been a form of “meditation” for me. Some people call getting in the “zone” or being in “flow” but whatever you call it, it is a form of altered consciousness where time just seems to stop. A good day of writing makes me feel rested, peaceful and in total balance. I can literally sit down to write early morning and not get up until four in the afternoon and feel like I just sat down. I wish I could tell others where their “flow” is, but I am sure it is different for each one of us. I imagine people who train for a marathon might feel flow while they are running, or artists might feel flow while they are painting. I would also imagine that flow can be found in quilting, crocheting, woodworking and gardening. But whatever it is, I wish that everyone could experience it. Maybe writing is your flow, who knows?
I get my priorities back. I came late to the writing game. I didn’t start writing seriously until my 40s. Even though I haven’t quit my day job, I have had some significant success that can fuel me on really dark days. If I want to be a writer, I need to write and submit. But before I can submit anything I need to write. NaNoWriMo allows me to say “no” to things that really distract me from writing. It’s a tough month for writing. It has Thanksgiving right there at the end of the month. (I always wished that NaNoWriMo was in January. I get snowed in enough that my daily word goal would be so much easier!) Besides elections, there are family visits, elections, Veterans Day, Black Friday shopping, cyber Monday shopping, Santa’s arrival, etc. etc. etc. But let’s face it, we can always find excuses not to write. November allows me to face all these distractions and say, “Do you really want to write? If so, you better find the time.”
I get a freekin’ novel done! I am a planner not a pantser. A pantser is a person who “flies by the seat of her pants” when writing, which means she doesn’t plan anything out, she just sits down and writes every day. I have a purple project book where I rough outline all the ideas for my novels and other writing projects. (At this point, I have enough projects to keep me going until I am about 120.) When I am ready to work on the project it is transferred into its own journal where I plan out the novel in detail. Just before I start writing, I write the scenes in order on a whiteboard in my office. I also put the character names on that board, so I don’t forget who’s who. I also write the very last scene of the novel so I know where this mess will end up. It doesn’t mean that parts of my novel aren’t pure pantsing—because they are but even in the pantsing parts I know where my novel is going. (It doesn’t mean it gets there. Sometimes my pantsing sojourns take me in such a radical direction I never quite get back to where I thought I was going.) I also keep a hard copy of my word count on a paper on the wall to keep me motivated. This is even if I am NOT doing NaNoWriMo. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, the novel I am writing for NaNoWriMo, has been on my white board for nine years. Yes, you read that correctly. I have been “ready” to write this novel for nine years. Other projects have jumped in the way consistently, one of them, of course, was finishing my PhD. I believe that it really wasn’t “ready”, or I would have written it. But here’s the bottom line, as long as nothing majorly awful happens in my life (my father had a stroke last year in the middle of NaNoWriMo which derailed my writing) I should have a beautiful mess of a novel by November 30th.
There is still time for you pantsers to sign up. It is a great website that has the tools and the encouragement you will need. For me, I’d rather have a really messy novel, ready for months of revision, rather than a good buy on Black Friday.