I was a bit off the grid in November and that was because I did NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s basically this crazy month in which you attempt to write a 50,000 word novel. There’s no prize, no catch, no checking what you wrote…it’s meant to get you on your butt and write. If you make it to the end you’ve “won” along with thousands of others. It was my first time so I was freaking out a bit before. This was the case even though I bought a couple of books on novel writing to help me prepare and read them religiously every day for a two weeks before it began. I finally decided officially to do it although I honestly didn’t have much faith in myself. I then started reading No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, which was a fantastically good idea. These books were lifesavers as it turns out. I felt from the beginning that I was being cheered for by the authors. I cleared my desk, put up the NaNoWriMo calendar and in the end I won. It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and I’m glad it’s over. But it was great for several reasons.
Forcing Me to Work
Of course the only way to get anything done is with a deadline (Lesson #1 from No Plot? No Problem! and from all those years at university). This was the ideal way to finally get some writing done after telling myself for years that I wanted to write, but couldn’t sit down on my butt and just do it. Doubt, lack of confidence, feeling unskilled…these are all reasons why it’s so difficult to just start. But there’s no better way of getting something done if thousands of other people all over the world are doing it at the same time as you. There were videos on YouTube by NaNoWriMo and people who had done it before, pep talks from published authors and all kinds of tips and support groups. Although as time went on I pushed my work time further and further back during the day, I was never very ridiculously far in the target word count for each day.
Developing and Trusting My Writer’s Intuition
One of the major reasons charging ahead was possible was because in all of the books I read they said, “Do not edit while you write!” I’m quite critical of myself when I write, but then who isn’t. This prevented me always from working too slowly to ever gain enough momentum instead of trusting my creative capabilities. But when you don’t really have time to think, let alone question your abilities, because time is running and you have to churn out words…well, then the story happens. I did make a plan, an outline and scene index cards before I began as preparation. But after that I just ran with it and I would fill in the blanks as I went. On Day 18 of the NaNoWriMo calendar there was a quote by Ray Bradbury: “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” Once the word tap in my mind is open it has a tendency to keep on going uncontrollably and it spews words and phrases sometimes for hours afterwards. I suppose I’m often afraid to open the tap because I’m afraid I won’t be able to turn it off and I’ll go crazy. Having a place (or document) to pour all of it into was helpful. I finally just stood back to let it happen and I surprised myself.
Greasing the Wheels of My Imagination
Just trusting my writer’s gut also allowed me to use parts of my brain that were rusted. Don’t get me wrong, I had used my brain during university. A lot. So much that I think I’m still recovering. But I haven’t used my imagination as much as I would have liked to. Until I was about fourteen or fifteen I loved long stretches of time during which I would be required to sit somewhere, like a music recital at school or a train ride, because I would be able to let my imagination run wild (This is why I consider that time to still be my Golden Age of poetry). Now I dread such voids when I’m not “doing” anything because I’m honestly afraid of…thinking. That time is easily spent worrying, contemplating all the things that I should and could be doing instead or trying simply to avoid thinking altogether. The Thought Police of Productivity has penetrated our thinking so deeply that I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Which is sad because I happen to be a good daydreamer if I let myself be. For the same reason for years now I thought that I’m just not a fiction writer. I had so many ideas but didn’t think I was capable of writing something that just wasn’t true. Once I got on a roll, the wheels of my imagination were re-greased and it turns out that I’m capable like anyone else.
Reading Books Differently
Now that I was on a roll I was putting chunks of my brain on paper. Every time I would write another five hundred words I would tell my fiancé who would say “Woooah, you’re a writing machine!” which was encouraging. However, I usually need my output to equal my input. While I was doing my thesis the only way this was achieved was through binge watching TV shows on my laptop hour after hour. However, now I decided that I desperately needed to read. I know that some people advise against it when you’re writing as it affects your voice. This is particularly true for me as I don’t have a developed fiction voice yet. But I decided I needed to read anyway and read a book a week starting at the beginning of Week Two. Since I was writing a YA novel I read The Fault in Our Stars, Thirteen Reasons Why and Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m also a fan of research so while reading I underlined and made notes, particularly focusing on expressions of emotional pain. Through this angsty teenage mode was established and I spent the bulk of November semi-depressed, which totally served my purpose (“What successful writer is not depressed?” said my relatives over Thanksgiving as the little bottle containing vodka for a pumpkin pie crust was passed to me. I didn’t drink the stuff, thank you very much).
Having a Venting Outlet
Another reason emotionally reliving my teenage years was useful was that I could vent. Also I got some important memories and events down, even though the main plotline was completely fictional. Each character in my story represented a friend I had in real life while attending middle or high school, which incidentally was in South Korea. At first I held back my most frustrated emotions, but then toward the end I was spewing every pent-up, angry thought I ever had during that time. Most of these thoughts had never made it outside of my head. I mean no one was going to read this right? This went against what I read in preparation and the dangers of basing the protagonist too heavily on yourself, but I don’t regret it. Once I have written something down it’s out of my head (which is why I should journal more and use an agenda diary less). It was pretty therapeutic, although now I have my work cut out for me in the editing process.
Giving Me Something to Focus On
One of the major points though was the fact that NaNoWriMo gave me a project to work on and something that I needed to do every single day without fail. I’m not working at the moment so having something like this was a huge boost for my mind and allowed me to keep busy (I still can’t believe how people accomplish this while working and studying full-time. Seems insane). It kept my spirits up (or down as it turned out) and kept me disciplined. But most of all I realized that I could complete something daunting if I wanted to. I’m the type of person who doesn’t always finish what she starts, but if I’m serious about it then I usually don’t second guess myself, because I’m good at enduring tough times. It’s about prioritizing mostly and it made me think about how perhaps I sometimes don’t want to accomplish something badly enough. I’m still riding the work momentum I gained through NaNoWriMo and “Finish what you start” has become my new mantra for the time being. I also realized that I am indeed a writer and I need to do this. So that’s settled.
I would like to thank my fiancé for saying that what I wrote is going to become a bestseller one day and that we’ll be rich; Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, for his insane humor in No Plot? No Problem! which made me laugh out loud countless times and made me feel like I had an invisible cheering squad; Jeff Gerke, author of Write Your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next, for giving me the tools to go in at least somewhat prepared; and the compilation of articles by Writer’s Digest called Write Your Novel in 30 Days which taught me some neat tricks and techniques for keeping my story going.