NaNoWriMo Practice

Writing After NaNoWriMo

This is it. The big and final day, and there are many out there who are ignoring all the calls of “CYBERMONDAY” and are simply looking feverishly at two numbers: their word count and the time of day. The former is growing and the latter is shrinking and the level of stress for each individual is precisely measurable by the difference in the rate of each.

At a certain point the day will run out. Sure, you can push it for a while – It’s still 11:30 in Hawaii! – but eventually November 30th draws to a close and National Novel Writing Month will be finis. Some will sigh with triumph, some with disappointment, some with the useless guilt of the I-coulda-done-better. It’s all beautiful, as I said last week; the mere act of dreaming the dream of a writer is a triumph of the human psyche.

What happens next? If you gave NaNoWriMo a shot, there’s going to be a very strange thing happen on December 1st. For the first time in a month, you don’t have to write. There is no word count that matters, no goal – heck, even die-hard participants take December off and dub January “National Novel Editing Month.” At first it will likely seem like the world has opened before you: NetFlix! Reading! OMG, I have friends again! You can get back into your exercise routine without feeling like you should be writing. You can sleep without obsessing about this scene or that chapter. It’s like a vacation!

Unless you really hated it, though, it won’t be long until you get that itch – before the words in your head start wanting to come out.

What You Gain

Whatever you feel like doing, do a lot of it – because that’s how you get good. – Nathan Skreslet, creator of PixelWho

Writing is a skill, and getting faster at it is pretty easy as long as you put in the time. Author Tony Lee (writer for Dr. Who, among other screen and print media) said on a recent panel that he writes two thousand words a day – and that when his two thousand are done, he stops. He doesn’t worry about whether it’s in the middle of a scene or if it’s some kind of problem with the plot; it’s his job, he’ll be back at the keyboard tomorrow, so word 2,001 can just wait its turn. You’ll note, though, that if he makes that every working day for a month, he ends up being just short the 50,000 word goal of NaNoWriMo.

So now you know what it’s like to write for a living.

artistsWayOne way to transition from the urgent pressure of NaNoWriMo into a more reasonable pace is to do the “Morning Pages”. Originally coined by author Julie Cameron in her excellent work The Artist’s Way, the Morning Pages prime the pump of the writing by not being about anything in particular. Ms. Cameron says “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” Frankly, it’s kind of like yoga for the Writer’s Brain: not terribly useful or fun in and of itself, but you feel better when it’s done and the effects last the whole day.

Also like yoga, though, there is the important part: do three more tomorrow. It does not matter if today’s pages were legible, interesting, or served any purpose; what matters is showing up and putting the words on the page, be that physical or virtual. My Morning Pages were the start of a journaling habit that led not too circuitously to this blog and the work I do.

What You Lose

In a word: excuses. When I did NaNoWriMo it established my internal identity as a writer. It opened the door within me of capacity; for three years I had proven my ability to churn out 50,000 words in a month. Heck, the third time I did it it was easy; I think I was done within twenty days. Now, they weren’t good words, as such things go (there’s a reason my parents will never see them). But they existed, and that meant one thing: I had no more excuses.

“I can’t write a book” was replaced with “I won’t write a book.” And when the muse annoyed me enough – keeping me awake at night, driving me crazy with this feeling that there was something I was supposed to be doing  – it became “I will write a book” which meant things in my life needed to change. Change is not easy; change means loss, sacrifice, and pain. But when the changes were made it changed into “I am writing a book,” and at this point it’s “I am writing these books now…”

See how that works? It’s a progression for any skill or art or practice:

I can’t.

I won’t.

I will.

I am.

I have.

I do.

At that point, there are no more excuses. Just the responsibility you have to yourself to do what is important to you, and to let the rest go.

Simple, right? Well, not always, but in the case of being an author, that’s exactly what it is:

Simple. Write.

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