NaNoWriMo starts November 1. If you don’t know what that alarmingly-capitalized word means and aren’t going to visit the link, I’ll explain it to you. National Novel Writing Month is an event (I guess) in which you are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the night on November 30. That’s 1,667 words per day for 30 days. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, or even good. It doesn’t have to be cohesive. It just has to get done. It’s super-fun in a wacky and stressful way, and I think it has a lot to teach us about fear, so I think you all should do it.
NaNoWriMo demands that you tell your inner critic to shut up and leave you alone. For most of us, 1,667 words per day is going to be too much if we’re second- and hundredth-guessing ourselves. Unless we can give ourselves permission to A) keep a promise to ourselves and B) have fun, we’re not going to win. For most participants, their resistance pipes up anywhere from 10% to 99% of the time, saying that this is pointless, you’re not good enough, you’re already behind so you’re screwed, blah blah blah. And, well, we don’t want our resistance to call the shots. So its nice to get some practice in telling it what’s what and exercise some discipline.
Also, writing. Writing is one of those art forms that a lot of people are afraid of, even though we can all do it non-artfully. Narrative is innate to the human experience (read almost anything Fear.less related to see this) and yet many of us bristle at the idea of creating a story with the permanence of ink or kilobytes because it feels like something we have to be good at first.
I don’t think so.
Fear.less contributor Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way, The Right to Write) taught, or at least for confirmed for me the value of writing as a spiritual conduit, as a way to externalize thoughts and exercise the mind. It doesn’t all need to end up on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf or on your blog. It’s a meditative, creative act. It is available to anyone to experience and enjoy if they so choose. A week and a half ago, Patti Digh said here that art doesn’t need an audience, it just needs someone who likes doing it. Seth Godin supports writing for quantity over quality in order to improve. (He specifically says “not fiction” in that post but I feel there’s a difference between a month-long surge toward a specific writing goal and aimless character sketches.) Leo Babauta, a.k.a. my role model, won Nano in 2006 and the feeling of success as “awesome”.
Then there’s a chunk of people out there who think that this event is destructive. A lot of them are academics, or worse, wish they were academics. They think that a speed- and volume-oriented task devalues writing and encourages people to settle for crap as opposed to nothing at all- er, I mean, precisely-edited literary masterstrokes! They fret for the integrity of “the craft”. I don’t know what they’re so worried about since none of you illiterate peons could reach it when it’s so high up on its throne.
If you’re a reader of this blog, I think you know to side with the group that doesn’t make writing/creation/self-expression fearful. I think that if someone has a fun time creating something big and individual, and in the process learns something about the way he works, thinks, and tells himself what’s possible, then that is just about the coolest thing. I’m not going to go so far as to say there’s no reason not to do NaNoWriMo, but there are a lot of bad reasons not to do it and they are all rooted in fear that you do not deserve to feel about your “right” to be creative.
Not only is NaNoWriMo a great existential triumph for me as a fear-losopher, it’s also a neat event in its own right. When you register on the site, you can periodically update the document where you write your novel and watch a color-changing bar on your profile grow to reflect your increasing wordcount. It’s satisfying. The forums are active and you can find people discussing all sorts of stuff that may give you ideas of what to do (or not do). Some participants who are geographically close even organize meetups where they’ll go to a coffee shop or something and write in each other’s company.
I won in 2005. The other time I seriously tried was 2007, but I fear-psyched myself out 20,000 words in. Yeah, I know. There wasn’t much positive reinforcement going on back then, let alone a Fear.less to read. Ishita got to 15,000 in 2008, before bowing out to her resistance in a similar fashion. I think it’s time for REVENGEANCE.
So I invite you to join me on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 A.D. for a completely ridiculous and gratifying endeavor that seems tailor-made to exemplify the principles of Fear.less. Let me know if you do decide to participate and I may egg you on during the month. Write on.