It’s National Novel Writing Month!
Like thousands of slightly off-kilter creatives across the world, I am attempting to write a short novel in the month of November. Yes, and I too have told myself it many times, I am exactly that crazy, to take on such a challenge in November, you know, with Thanksgiving, with a full-time job, what seems like a million other projects all up in the air, and you know, life, et cetera. It’s called “NaNoWriMo,” to those too busy to say the full name: National Novel Writing Month. It began in the late 90s, in the Bay Area, actually, when a group of .COM boomers got ambitious and set out to
write a novel in one month. Now thousands of writers participate each year.
I’m a week in, and I’m happy to report to you that I am a day ahead of schedule, even with taking today off to talk about poetry, do the backlog of dishes, slice some late-season jalapenos to pickle (reminder, I am a farmer by day), and write this blog to you. Thank you for the applause.
In all my free time today (written with tongue in cheek), I’ve also been reflecting on a few of the arts-citizenship lessons that NaNoWriMo is dishing out:
1. You’re not alone.
For this endeavor, I organized a NaNoWriMo marathon and workshop group through the Napa Bookmine—and 14 other future novelists were crazy enough to sign up to do this with me. Did I coax them with the promise of baked goods? Yes. A million cookies yes. We met the other night for a writing session, and for me it was the most productive two hours of the month so far—all those keyboards clacking away, all the wine, all the plots striving toward the next chapter wa2.s just what I needed. My point is that generally, if you’re into something, you will find another person who wants to do it beside you, too. But that brings me to my next point:
2. Do the work.
I can’t count how many times I’ve said something like, “if only they would open an underground artists salon we could go to and talk critically about blockprinting,” or, “I wish that someone would start an open mic.” Our rag-tag band of fifteen furious fictioners exists because I did the work of organizing it. I realized months ago that if I wanted to do this with others, then I couldn’t wait for someone else to launch it. Now, I can’t start up every idea that comes to me head—that would be next-level insanity. And neither can you. But if we each tried to start one or two events or groups or x that we’ve always wanted to have in Napa County, then think how busy you’d be going to cool underground salons to talk about prints made by carving root vegetables!
3. Wreck yourself
The task of writing a novel in a month is not unlike running a marathon—in the end it’s mental strength that gets you to the finish. One strategy of NaNoWriMo is to permit yourself to write poorly: if every word you write is expected to be pure best-seller gold, you’re going to freeze up. But if you set your expectations low, then you’re suddenly freed up to do thing that will excite you the way they did when you first started your craft.
4. Check Your Self
Similarly, you can’t spend the whole month going over what you’ve written to re-write it. You have to tackle and pin down the part of you which, each of us as neurotic artists has, the part that keeps telling us our work is not good enough.
5. To be an artist you have to art
One of my motivations for participating in NaNoWriMo was to take back my time from the clutches of social media, from wasting away on the couch, from literally twiddling my thumbs. I had gotten into a terrible pattern of telling myself each morning that I would write that day—and then doing everything else first, until there was no more time to write, and ending the day resentful at myself, my writing, and the world. And now, this project has forced me to clear my schedule, and to prioritize the thing I want so badly to do.
I’ve got to get back to it. Happy Writing.