NaNoWriMo P(r)ep Talk: #1

November is only about half a month away, and you know what that means: In just a couple of weeks, many of us will isolate ourselves on a daily basis for several hours at a time so we can crank out at least 1,667 words a day and write a 50,000 page novel in 30 days. Because we’re just that crazy.

For those of you who don’t know what National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) is, it’s a race to write a whole 50,000-word novel between 12:00am on November 1 and 11:59pm on November 30. The website, linked above, provides all the tools you need to track your progress, make friends, exchange advice, and celebrate when you finally cross the finish line. The idea is to get the writer to stop worrying about the quality of their first draft and focus only on getting the words on the page and finishing the story. Editing is for later — December, or January, or maybe even later. (For those who can’t handle the stress in November, what with school and holidays, there is a summer version called Camp NaNoWriMo which takes place in April and/or July, and which allows you to set your own word count goals.)

It’s an insane thing to do. I’ve tried to do Camp NaNoWriMo several times with smaller goals, and have only “won” one month.

But I tried the “official” NaNoWriMo once, back in 2008, and was successful. It was a great feeling. That manuscript never got edited, and the story was completely “pantsed” as they say (i.e., not planned), but it was still a lot of fun to write it.

This will be my first time in 7 years trying to write a whole novel in November. I have two story ideas, but I’m focusing only on one, and it is roughly outlined in a notebook I carry around with me. I’m trying the planned approach this time, to see if it motivates me anymore to finish and/or edit. If you would like to be writing buddies, you can find me here!

I think this time I can do it.

I’m scared. I’m not afraid to admit it. I’m not sure just how sane I am to try this in my first, and probably most demanding, semester in grad school. I have group projects due in both of my intro courses, and papers due in the other two courses, plus regular readings and discussion board posts. How I will find time to write an entire novel in between all of that is beyond me. But I’m sure as hell gonna try.

And you should too!

My pep talk is going to be short and sweet, and a little on the unconventional side. It’s about failure. My advice is this:

In the past, when I tried Camp NaNo, I failed. And the reason I failed was because I let life get in the way: low self-esteem, my social life in general, breakups, and all kinds of unnecessary, heartbreaking drama. I felt awful about it. I had family and friends waiting for me to cross the finish line, only for me to let them down and say I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel right calling myself “a writer” because it had been so long since I actually finished anything I started.

For those of you who do try NaNo only to find yourselves overwhelmed to the point where you simply cannot focus on writing, the way I was this past summer, it’s okay. Take time to get over whatever tragedies, however great or small, come your way. You still gave NaNo a shot, and that’s what counts. Do not beat yourself up if you decide that you have to give up this month.

For some, however — in fact, maybe for all of us — writing is therapeutic. If you think it will help, you can try channeling your feelings into your writing, instead of taking a break. Let the drama fuel your creativity. Maybe this won’t be possible for a while for you. Maybe you’ll have to let the wound heal a bit first before you can write about it (or similar situations) in your novel. That’s okay too.

Whatever works for you. Focus on your own health and happiness. Failing NaNoWriMo does not make you a failure. You still love writing. You still have talent, or you still want to improve your skills. The rush of NaNoWriMo can be both fun and stressful, however, and if the stress is too much for you to take on at this point in time, don’t be afraid to say, “Not right now.” There is always next month.

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