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#NaNoWriMo 2021: It's That Time Again
Let's see if I can write a newsletter every weekday in November!
Every year, thousands of people dedicate their November to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a 30-day push to produce a 50,000-word manuscript. In the years I launched this newsletter, I’ve often tried to mark the occasion by upping the frequency of these newsletters—I may not gotten 50,000 words out of any of those efforts, but hopefully I’ve provided folks who do want to jumpstart their writing practice with some inspiration. I know I’ve hit upon some ideas that I’ve continued to grapple with over time.
(Today’s newsletter is an edited version of the first newsletter of my first year, so a handful of you may feel a slight déjà vu.)
One of my favorite books of advice for writers is Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake, which starts out with, as the subtitle says, “four noble truths for writers.”
Writing is a process.
You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.
You can see how this would be a relevant message for the first day of NaNoWriMo—although, to be honest, I’ve become much less strict with myself about #4 over the years, because I’ve come to understand that sometimes what might look like “not writing” might actually be an important part of the writing process. Sometimes. I’m not saying you should blow off the time you spend with your notebook, or at your keyboard, so you can sit on the couch and watch reality shows and tell yourself, “This is part of my process.”
On the other hand, if you’re trying to get the words out, and they’re not coming, that’s not necessarily “not writing.” And you should probably prepare yourself to hit that wall at least once this month.
One of the great things about NaNoWriMo, though, is the way it forces us to recognize that, if we persist in writing, we’re going to stumble along the way—repeatedly. This month, you have license to stop worrying about whether your prose is absolutely perfect and go totally freestyle; just get the words on the page for now, and figure out later whether they were the right words. Chances are, many of them probably weren’t, and that’s okay! Because now you’ve got pages, heck, you’ve got a draft, and you can go back and play with that draft as many times as you have to, until you’ve got yourself a story.
So if you hit a wall today, or at any other point in the next 30 days, just run with the first thing that pops into your head that seems to move the story forward. If it’s obviously the wrong choice, you’ll realize that soon enough. And even if you don’t figure it out until much later, you’ve probably got more usable material—and certainly more usable insights into your story—than you might initially think.
To put it another way: Work the process, not the outcome.