It was the last week in November and there I was… Hovering somewhere at about 49,100 words. Just 900 words left and soon I would achieve the unthinkable. I was about to “win” NaNoWriMo. For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo (the shortened way of saying ‘National Novel Writing Month’) is an annual challenge where writers around the world dedicate the month of November to working on a novel and reaching a 50,000-word count. For years, I stood looking over the fence at all of these dedicated writers and always thought, “One year I’ll do that…” Finally, after years of lurking, not only did I find myself in the company of these dedicated writers, I was also one of the those who celebrated when my word count crossed over 50K words.
I think one key factor in reaching that goal was my ability to let go of perfection and my inner critic. I let go the idea of doing this whole thing “right” which makes sense since there’s really no right way to write – you only need to sit down and just write. I approached this month of writing with a goal of simply allowing myself to enjoy the writing and creative process, something that I’m practicing more in general. Along with returning to the pure joy of the creative process, I discovered a few other benefits of participating in NaNoWriMo beyond getting words on the page:
- I learned how to stop worrying and love the writing process. As a result of letting go of perfection, I also found myself detaching from any other perceived outcomes such as getting published. A few people asked me about this to which I answered with what I’ve already said here. In removing such pressure, I gave myself space and permission to enjoy a creative activity while learning a thing or two about the writing process, like that it can be fun. Who knew?
- Yours in the struggle. I had a college professor who used to sign off his emails with ‘Yours in the Struggle.’ I thought of him and that signature as I connected with other writers who were right there with me. These “wrimos” who encouraged me to keep pushing forward, one word at a time, really exemplified the spirit of community. As an example, I spent quite a bit of time with @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter where a Sprint Leader would provide writing prompts and we would “sprint” (that is, just write however much you can in a specified timeframe – a fantastic way to run past that pesky inner editor). There was more than one occasion where I thought, “I’ll just pop in for a half-hour of sprinting” then several hours later I’d still be exchanging virtual high fives and words of encouragement to other writers. When you’re trying to write, having a little company feels good and this month reminded me of that.
- Learning to focus on one idea at a time. As someone who can become easily fascinated by new subjects, hobbies, or ideas, I often find myself dreaming up new projects and exploring new interests, which isn’t a terrible trait but it can also be a challenge to manage! Committing to one story allowed me to really hone in and focus my energy on this single project. Not to say other ideas didn’t still pop up during the month, but I found that taking note of these thoughts would not only help me remember and at the same time, felt like a practice in mindfulness.
- Speaking of mindfulness… Now that NaNoWriMo is over and I’ve put away my novel for a short break, I find myself continuing to wonder about my main character, her friends, family, and the story itself. Each day, I’m keeping all of my senses alert and open to any detail that might become a thread, however small, in the story that I am trying to create. Sounds a bit like mindfulness, don’t you think?
- Writing became a habit. I’ve always wanted to be able to call myself a writer but up until this year, I’ve had a hard time doing so. I couldn’t truthfully call myself a writer if I didn’t write often, much less every day. But this month supported me in fostering a habit and need to write. If I don’t at least write a few pages each day – whether professionally or personally – I start to feel itchy.
If you ever dreamt of writing a book or simply need a boost or support to get you started, I do recommend joining the NaNoWriMo community. Visit www.nanowrimo.org to learn more and get inspired! Perhaps even tap me as a writing buddy if you decide to craft your own story in 2019…