It’s hard to believe I’m rounding the bend on week three of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but it’s true. And after clocking in at 34,145 words yesterday, with the likelihood that I’ll break the 35,000 word mark later tonight, it feels a little like I imagine it would during a marathon to reach the point where you can finally see the finish line. (I have to imagine, because I’ve never run a marathon, and probably never will. Don’t like running.) It’s an odd mix of exhilaration, anticipation, and excitement accompanied by a single realization: “oh my god, I might actually finish this thing.” Of course, you have to get through the final stretch first. The beginning of week four is a just hours away.
I’m going to have to check with someone who’s actually run a marathon, but the more I think about it the more likely it seems that the analogy is applicable, as it kind of encompasses some universal things that go along with trying to tackle just almost any challenge; physical, cerebral, or otherwise. At first the sheer scope of the task, and the the odds of actually accomplish it look pretty large. Large enough to make anyone reconsider even taking the first step. At least that’s how I felt when I first considered it. In fact, one of the reasons I blogged about my decision at all was because I figured making it public would make it more difficult for me to back out.
So, on November 1, I planted myself in my seat and started writing my way to the finish line. Now that it’s almost in sight, I’m find that I’ve learned some important things that make the challenge worth it, whether I finish it or not.
The first step was actually the first lesson: let go of perfection and do it. Last night as I saved my work before going to bed, I realized I am writing a novel that I had the initial idea for more than ten years, and had been wanting to write it for that long. What stopped me was the fear that (a) I didn’t know enough to even start, and (b) that it wouldn’t be perfect right out of the gate. It took reading what NaNoWriMo was about to get me thinking about just doing it.
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down. (emphasis added)
It’s a lesson I’ve come across before, even in comment spam.
Success, in my view, is the willingness to strive for something you really want. The person not reaching the top is no less a success than the one who achieved it, if they both sweated blood, sweat and tears and overcame obstacles and fears. The failure to be perfect does not mean you’re not a success. (emphasis added)
Like a lot of other lessons, I have to repeat them over and over again before they stick. And I’ve heard this one alot. I think I’m starting to get it because when NaNoWriMo gave me permission to give myself permission to let go of perfection, it didn’t feel like that difficult a step to take.
And now, well, I’m finishing my book. However imperfect, when it’s done, it’ll be mine, and I can check one more item off my list.
The second thing that I think I’m learning (or relearning) as a result of my participation is the notion that in many ways the process is sometimes important than the product. I got an inkling of this when I started participating the NaNoWriMo forums on the website, and when I attended a “write-in” near home a couple of weeks ago. I found people who participated in previous years and returned even though they didn’t make the 50,000 word goal or finish their novels last time out.
That suggested to me that there must be some value in the process, whether one reaches the “finish line” or not. And for me there has been a payoff from my participation already. Maybe there’s some value in working on something without being attached to specific outcomes. That actually brings me to the last thing, which is more of a gift than a lesson.
The best part of my NaNoWriMo participation has definitely been my reintroduction to the creative process when it comes to writing. I’m not sure how to put this, but there’s something about writing fiction that exercises a different part of the brain than the kind of writing I’ve been doing for the last 10 years; most of which has been either blogging or political writing.
Not that other kinds of writing isn’t “creative” but there’s a very big difference between the feeling of writing a good political piece and writing a good piece of fiction. I was telling the hubby that one of the things I’d forgotten is how if I write a story long enough I reach a point where something seems to take over and — no matter how much I may have planned and plotted ahead of time — the story starts “telling itself” in ways that surprise even me, and I go with it. It’s a kind of writing “sweet spot” for me, where it just takes a lot less effort.
Anyway, that’s enough of my rambling. Soon it’ll be time for Parker to go to bed, and then I’ll have more writing to do.