There was a time when all November meant for me was thinking about Christmas shopping and being jealous of American Thanksgiving- not because ours isn’t amazing, but because we spend it too early and have nothing festive to do in November. November is cold. November is grey. November is frigging depressing.
I wish I could remember when I first came across the term NaNoWriMo. I’m sure it sounded mysterious, and that I had no idea what it meant, but that’s all I remember. That, and looking it up and going “OMG I AM SO DOING THIS.”
You see, National (international, really, but I’m not going to nit-pick) Novel Writing Month was exactly what I needed. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a brand spanking new novel in a month. You can have that be the end, though that would be an extremely short novel, or keep going right off of the end of that diving board into what for me turned into 99,000+ words at last count. They don’t have to be 50,000 GOOD words, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Some people don’t see the point of writing 50,000 words that are just going to need to be re-written in December. I absolutely agree. I see no point in writing 2,000 word descriptions of what’s in a character’s pockets. But let me tell you why it was and is so important for me.
think know I’ve mentioned my perfectionistic tendencies before. I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time–since first grade, actually, when I got a taste of the magic that was in-school publishing. The problem is that perfectionism isn’t a gentle voice whispering in your ear, “you can do better, I know you can! Let’s do this, let’s revise this, let’s make this amazing!”
No, perfectionism is a horrible bitch who sits there filing her nails and laughing at you for trying. She sneers at your efforts and says, “Really? That’s the best you can do? That’s not good enough.” Worse, she adds, “You know, if you can’t do it perfectly the first time, you shouldn’t bother trying. What’s the point?”
This led to a string of abandoned attempts at stories and novels. Even when I liked them, Perfectionism was there laughing at me as she sat there drinking something pink that contained enough alcohol to fell a sperm whale, telling me that it didn’t matter. I wasn’t old enough, experienced enough, or GOOD enough for my work to have value. A smarter person might have realized that you can’t just wait to be good enough, you have to work for it. I, however, decided that my work was worthless because it wasn’t brilliant or awe-inspiring, and I gave up. I never got more than two chapters into a novel before it got tossed for not being good enough, or before my internal editor (not the mortal enemy that Perfectionism is, but she gets in the way a lot) started suggesting that we make some changes before we moved on. And then a few more. Between Perfectionism on one shoulder and The Editor on the other, I was completely stuck.
And then came NaNoWriMo, which gave me permission to tell those two broads to shove off for exactly 30 days.
The goal of NaNowriMo, as I’ve said, is not perfection, so Perfectionism wasn’t allowed to say anything about it. The goal was (and is) to get the damned story out where I could see it. I could promise my internal editor that at the end of the month she could lose her sh*t on 50,000 words and revise to her heart’s content. It wasn’t a no, just a not now. She agreed (if somewhat grudgingly) to bugger off for 30 days. I still don’t know where she went. I know she came back to check up on me a few times, but for most of that month she left me alone.
The word count goal was important, too. 50,000 words. 1,667 words a day for 30 days. It’s a big goal, but it’s a short one. I could give myself permission to do that, or at least to try, and if it wasn’t great or perfect, so what? It was an experiment. An experience. It was fun and crazy, and it was permission to let my imagination go absolutely bonkers without worrying about the end result.
And what was that end result? If I recall correctly, it was 55,000 words, which I lost about a month later in a software-related accident that I’d rather not discuss. But here’s the beauty part: it didn’t matter. Well, it mattered at the time, when I was screaming and cursing and crying, but I’d learned something that helped me move on.
I’d learned that I could do it.
I had the story in my head, and I’d written a good chunk of it once. There was nothing that was going to stop me from doing it again, and it was better the second time. My subconscious chewed at that plot for months, frequently checking in with the conscious mind for opinions, but mainly just churning away at night, when I was out walking, when I was on long drives. My characters fleshed themselves out in my mind, and there were some massive shifts in every aspect of that story. The words flowed more easily the second time, and I got another 20,000 or so words down before Camp NaNo opened in August. And then I gave myself permission to get another 50,000 out that month. And then I finished the story.
And oh my stars, that feeling I got when it was DONE.
Of course, it wasn’t done. It was far from done. I still had to put it aside and let it breathe for about 6 weeks, then let my internal editor have a crack at it (and boy, was she PISSED about how long it had taken). And then… well, all of the ripping apart, the revising, the things that were cut and the parts that were grafted in to make a monster that then needed serious plastic surgery from Ms Editor… that’s another story that you probably have no interest in hearing. But that’s how it goes, and that’s part of the fun. Part of the magic.
NaNoWriMo taught me that you can’t edit what’s not there, that it’s OK to make mistakes, and that I could give myself permission to just write for the joy of it, not because I had to produce perfection. I will never produce perfection. But I made a world, a story, and characters that I’m proud to say are mine.
In two years I’ve gone from someone who could barely write a page without despairing over its deficiencies to someone who wrote a damned novel. Not a published novel; maybe not a great novel. But there’s value in the doing of the thing, in the process of creating and imagining and solving the problems that become visible after every read-through.
So here I go again. I’m letting a few people read the first book (they won’t all finish it, but that’s OK), and I’m ready to continue the story. I will give myself permission to take the time I need to get 2,000+ words out every day, knowing that at the end of the month I’ll be on my way to… more revisions. Yaaay.
BONUS FEATURES (NaNo’s, not mine)
The 50,000 words of not-perfection isn’t all of it. I just didn’t want to drag this thing on for too long. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, there’s also the forums to consider, where thousands of people from all over the world meet to talk about their books, to share their triumphs and commiserate over the hard times. There are places on the forums to find help when you’re stuck, to ask what the airspeed of an unladen European swallow is, or to find a name for that character who just won’t tell you. If you want to find other people who are writing erotic zombie literary fiction kind of like you are, or just to kill some time between bursts of brilliance (or not), the forums are your place. There are people there who want to be your writing buddies, who will give you a good swift kick in the pants when you need it. There are the winner’s goodies: a nifty printable certificate and discounts from various sponsors. And there are the pep talks from authors. I still have the one from Lemony Snickett saved in my e-mail because I loved it so much.
And did I mention it’s free?
For someone else’s reasons why you might want to try it (ie- not my reasons for thinking it’s super duper), here’s a blog post that’s not mine. You’re welcome.