It’s that time of year again, when the leaves are changing, the temperature’s dropping, and established and would-be writers around the country are hunched over keyboards and stacks of paper, pounding with slowly numbing fingertips on worn keys as they push, strive, claw and crawl to make the 1667 words per day needed to add up to a 50k word novel at the end of 30 days.
It’s NaNoWriMo, and that means if you travel in writerly circles, as I do, your feeds are blown up with this weird unsayable moniker, with the braggings and boastings of those who are shattering their daily word count goals, and the wails and lamentations of those who aren’t. It’s cacophonous and wearying, viewed a certain way, or inspiring and invigorating, viewed another.
Personally, I won’t be partaking. I didn’t last year, I won’t this year, and I don’t see the need in years to come, for that matter. But that owes more to my personal feelings on what motivates us than it does to the little internet carnival that NaNoWriMo has become.
As a motivational tool, I think NaNoWriMo is pretty awesome. Anything that can get people thinking creatively and telling the stories locked away in their dark, squishy little hearts is a good thing by me. And there is certainly something empowering about seeing the hordes of writers taking to the internet, each with a dragon to slay that is unique and personal and wholly their own, but which is at the same time a dragon that the writing community sets out to slay together. Swords made of words, axes of pages, slings and arrows of plots and characters all fly at the beast with the intensity, voracity, and — it must be so — insanity that the task requires.
People working together can accomplish things that, apart, they never could, and one of the really neat things about NaNo is how it transmogrifies writing — almost by definition a solitary, lonely act — into a communal rite.
And that’s pretty cool.
But the task is gigantic. It’s a moonshot with a trebuchet. A marathon without a day of training. A climb up Everest without a pack. And while the challenge surely motivates some, it’s too much by half for others. To make 50k words in 30 days requires 1667 words every day, no weekends off, no mental health days, no excuses. It’s no surprise, then, that the path to the dragon’s lair is littered with the bodies of the fallen, the strewn pages of the slain, the half-formed words of the faint of heart.
And that’s a shame.
But writing takes all stripes. Some are motivated by the challenge while some would break themselves upon it. Personally, I know that attempting a challenge like NaNo and failing would fill me with more writerly self-doubt than already hangs over my head on any given day.
I’m also leery of the gimmickiness of the whole affair. Whether you’re an accomplished or aspiring writer, going balls-out to draft 50k words from scratch smacks of spectacle rather than substance. It reeks of bluster and swagger rather than actual accomplishment (“I’ve written a novel this month, what did you get done?”). There’s a desperation behind it, I think; a frenetic surge of energy that cannot be sustained.
Really, what bothers me about NaNo is the same thing that bothers me about New Year’s Resolutions, birthday gifts to the self, and any other extrinsic sources of motivation that we come up with to push ourselves out of our comfort zones: the fact that they’re arbitrary and manufactured. We choose this day or that month to try something new, to make a change that we have apparently been wanting in our lives, but why that day? Why that month? Does the fact that it’s a new year make it easier to lose weight, start exercising, keep a cleaner house, stay in touch with friends, reconnect with family? Of course not. Does the fact that it’s November make it easier to write fifty thousand words? Naturally not, doubly so if you live in the U.S. and have the Thanksgiving holidays to contend with. We take these steps, we attempt to make these changes, not necessarily because we’ve decided it’s time for ourselves to do these things, but rather because everybody else around us is doing the same thing.
But here’s the thing. If a change is what your life needs, the day to make that change is today, whether today happens to be January 1st or the beginning of NaNoWriMo or the first day of Lent or your birthday or just another day in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable month (I’m looking at you, June.) If you’re ready to start writing a novel, why put it off until November? If you want to start exercising, or gardening, or reading more, or cherishing the lamentations of your enemies or whatever, why put it off until January?
We only get so much time on our little blue speck. You owe it to yourself to do everything you can to make your life better in the time that you have.
If writing a novel will make your life better, then you should be doing it already. Whether it’s NaNoWriMo or not. (Although, again, to reiterate, if NaNoWriMo motivates you within your existing desire and work toward writing, then, hey, go for it.)
And if you’re kicking around the idea of eating healthier, exercising, whatever, and you’re just looking for a good time to start, or you’re waiting until you’re ready, well… we’re never ready.
You just have to go and do it.
Go slay the dragons.