Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stuck in Neutral? Maybe NaNoWriMo Can Shift You into Gear

You finished high school and maybe college. You finished doing laundry and cleaning the bathrooms this evening. If it's been a tough day, you may have finished off an entire chocolate cake.
But you've never finished your novel.

Exploring the answer to "Why not?" can be helpful. All writers struggle with time constraints. Heavy family and job responsibilities present valid reasons for the goose egg in our "completed" columns. Sometimes a review of leisure time results in an epiphany--"I guess I could watch only four hours of 'Saved by the Bell' re-runs a week instead of eight"--that funnels random raindrops of effort into a more productive writing flow. However, even those able to carve writing hours out of their schedules find themselves avoiding the task--one they truly love. Creativity seems to have permanently left the premises. Or fear of failure can stymie even a passionate writer. Perhaps she has classified completing a novel in the same category as riding a space shuttle to Mars, achieving peace in the Middle East, or achieving a size five. Others start novels, but can't bear less-than-perfect prose, so they re-write chapter one fifty-seven times, refusing to move on to chapter two until each and every one of their fifty-seven writing friends has critiqued each and every one of their re-writes.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can provide the necessary impetus to shift us out of neutral. Begun in 1999 with twenty-one novelists from San Francisco, it grew to 200,000 participants last year, 30,000 of whom completed the goal of a 50,000-word novel in a month.
I wasn't one of them. But one dead-in-the-water year, despite an idea that fascinated me and repeated efforts to flesh it out, I couldn't get past the first few chapters. Desperate, I joined NaNoWriMo, completing more than 20,000 words. That substantial investment prompted me to finish and polish the manuscript the following summer before the next ACFW conference.
No, that particular novel has not been published yet. But the fact I completed one helped me believe I could finish three novellas, two of which have been published, with another in line to release in spring 2012.

Have I allowed anyone to see that first draft? Only Jesus. It is so bad that even He probably reconsidered my call to writing. Upon reviewing it after NaNoWriMo, I told my husband that if I'd copied portions of the telephone directory to up my word count, it would have proved just as productive. But I said this as I re-wrote. I recalled hearing Anne LaMott describe her difficult days when she filled her hard drive with bad writing. Really bad. But she told herself--and us--that bad writing can be corrected. Zero writing, on the other hand, cannot.

With that in mind, check out the NaNoWriMo Web site (http://www.nanowrimo.org/whatisnano). It might prove the answer to the frustrating whir-r-r-r of going nowhere fast. Anyone else out there ever tried NaNoWriMo? Did you find it beneficial?

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