It’s no secret that I’m not a NaNoWriMo fan. I see too many writers end up stuck, discouraged, pressurized, fear-ridden and disheartened to encourage anyone to participate in this month-long challenge.
So when Kyeli wrote a post about her struggles and experiences during NaNoWriMo, I sympathized – and then I asked her to write a guest post.
I feel the subject of NaNoWriMo is worthy of discussion. It has many pros – and many cons that leave me shaking my head each time I see yet another writer cries out in anguish and sense of failure. I find the topic so important that I even gave up my treasured Monday spot to Kyeli’s post. I’d love to hear your thoughts and views about NaNoWriMo in the comment section.
I am a proud NaNoWriMo failure.
In the middle of October, I decided to join the NaNo crowd and throw myself into thirty days of literary explosion. I had an idea for a novel, I had time, I had desire. I’m already a writer, so I have the skill. I thought I had everything I would need to make it through NaNoWriMo with aplomb and emerge victorious come December first.
Turns out, I had no idea what it takes.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was in over my head. I floundered. I got behind. I panicked. I wept. I started beating up on myself. If I can’t do this, if I can’t write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, what kind of writer am I? There are thousands of people who succeed at this crazy mission every year – some of whom are no where near as good a writer as I. Why am I failing? Why can’t I write? Where did my muse go – why has she forsaken me?
It wasn’t that I wasn’t writing – I write every day. I write upwards of 1,000 words on a daily basis. But writing 1,667 words every day about the same person in the same situation for the same novel? Drove me batty in mere days.
I hung my head and cried.
I started examining the reasons behind writing like this. There’s this attitude in the NaNoWriMo community of write write write no matter what. I started questioning that attitude. I know I can write, but why would I push myself, beat myself, whip myself? What good can come of such?
Why is writing 50,000 words of crap a noble, worthy goal?
I didn’t find answers that helped much. I wound up feeling ashamed and beaten. I froze up and started having trouble with my daily practice. I started questioning myself as a writer – not just as someone who might not be able to accomplish a novel in a month, but maybe this showed that I’m not any good at writing at all. Maybe I needed to throw in the towel and stop writing completely – even though writing is my life’s work and my heart’s path.
Then I took a deep breath, and took my fear out on a date. I started to realize that the only one judging me for failing was… me.
I stopped pushing myself. In fact, I gave up on my novel altogether. I took a break from it. I decided that, if I’m going to write it, I’m going to write it in my own time, my own pace, and without the damn whip.
i realized that I don’t have to “win” at NaNoWriMo to be a writer. I’m a writer because I write. That’s all there is to it.
There are pros and cons to NaNoWriMo, as with anything. The pros are loudly lauded, and the cons seem to slip by, unnoticed as they slit the throat of hundreds of potential writers in the quiet stillness that the community doesn’t notice.
Yes, there is a large, abundant community for all the NaNoWriMo participants to join. And it’s an excellent, awesome, loving, supportive community – mostly. But I was in it, and I felt the push and the whip and the sense of frantic get it done no matter what.
And that’s dangerous.
If I can’t get it done, that’s what makes me feel like a failure. If I have trouble and then start down my own downward spiral of shame and fear and recrimination, I’m not likely to reach out to that community for help – and I’ll get lost in the noise. My novel will go unwritten – and I may give up on my dreams of being a writer altogether.
It also feels vaguely disrespectful to the writing process, to shove it all into a month. It’s been said, “November is for writing, December is for editing.” But even that leaves me feeling a little ruffled. I’ve co-authored a book with Pace, my partner – a damn good one, if I do say so myself – and it took her and I nearly three years start to finish. We worked on it daily. We poured our hearts and souls into it. We even co-opted NaNoWriMo as a jumping board to get us going at the beginning of the process!
But the general attitude of writing a bestselling novel in a single month seems disingenuous. It’s more likely you’ll get your book out, and then spend months – or even years – revising, editing, and making it fit for public consumption.
That said, it can also be one hell of a good time. The community hosts hundreds of events in hundreds of cities. There are write-ins and parties and all manner of fun and exciting ways to connect with fellow writers. There are dozens of companies giving discounts to NaNo participants on products designed to help writing be easier, funner, and simpler. And writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days can certainly make you feel like a rock star!
I think the best way to enjoy NaNoWriMo is to join with your sense of identity strongly intact. Make sure you’re already confident in yourself before you plunge into such a huge and daunting race. Have a support network of people you already know and love – people who can lift you up when you’re down, people who will encourage you in the way you need it most when you need it most. Don’t rely entirely on the NaNoWriMo community to get you through it, or you might find yourself lost and discouraged.
But most of all, give yourself permission to quit.
If you find yourself writing because you have to write or you will fail, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re writing because you have to finish NaNoWriMo, because you have to win, because quitting means you’re a loser – your attitude needs tweaking.
If you’re writing because you love writing, because writing fuels you, because writing is what you want to do – well, you’re already a success in my book.
If you’ll pardon the pun.
About the Author: Kyeli Smith is a storyteller, an edgewalker and co-leader of the Connection Revolution, teaching people to change the world through connection. She writes, blogs, and teaches workshops to foster understanding, tolerance, healing, authentic communication, and personal growth. She also sings in the shower and believes in faeries.
Need help getting past your writing struggles? Check out:
- Unstuck: A practical guide to working through writer's block by Janet Anne Staw and,
- The Writer's Portable Therapist: 25 Sessions to a Creativity Cure by Rachel Ballon
They're way less expensive than therapy – and twice as good to getting you writing easily again.