#NaNoWriMo: Keep Your Eyes on the Road

We’re five days into National Novel Writing Month, and with any luck you’re discovering that the more often you make room in your life for writing, the easier it becomes to make that room every day and build a practice. You’ll always face challenges and obstacles, of course, but you’re cultivating and reinforcing a habit—a habit that starts with the conscious decision to be someone who writes.

Today I want to talk about a particular obstacle that many of you will face this month. One of the coolest aspects of #NaNoWriMo is that it empowers people who’ve always harbored a dream of writing a novel and provides them the framework to transform themselves into a person who has written a novel. Maybe it’s a novel that needs a lot of revision, maybe it’s a novel that’s never going to see the light of day—but on October 31, there were people who had not written novels who, come December 1, will have a finished manuscript to show for their efforts.

That’s because #NaNoWriMo provides a spur to stop dreaming and start doing. There’s this expression, “putting your dreams on hold,” we usually use when we’re describing someone who’s abandoning a cherished goal in order to focus on more mundane, practical objectives. I want to turn that expression around: “Putting your dreams on hold” should mean snapping yourself out of reverie and taking a concrete step toward your desire.

We all have fantasies about the writing life: What it’s like to be able to spend a substantial part of the day setting our thoughts down. What it’ll be like when people start to read our work. What it’ll be like when we get an agent, and then we get a publisher. What it’s like to have a book out, to be interviewed by the media, to go out on book tour. What it’s like to come back from all that hoopla and be able to spend a substantial part of our day setting our thoughts down…

Those dreams can be fun, but you can also dwell on them to the point where they start eating into your actual writing time, and “being a writer” becomes just another fantasy, the way you might fantasize about “being a pro quarterback” or “being a rock star,” when you know full well you’re not going to get anywhere near that outcome.

What about “visualizing success,” you might ask? At least, I wish you would, because then I would tell you that the best way to visualize success, if you want to be a writer, isn’t to imagine your book on a display table at Barnes & Noble, or your Amazon rank steadily climbing, or the local librarians asking you to do an in-house event. No, the best way to visualize success as a writer is to picture yourself at your desk, your laptop open (or your notebook open and your pen in hand), writing.

If you want a life where you can devote a substantial part of your day to setting your thoughts down, start by carving out some time today to set your thoughts down. Figure out what it is you really want to tell the world, then get it out of your head and onto the page. And when you’re not doing that, look forward to the next opportunity you’ll have to do it, which ideally should come tomorrow.

I’m not saying you should completely abandon daydreams of rock star literary success. Just keep them in perspective; remember that they only represent the by-products of your work, not outcomes. The outcome is the work, steadily growing. If you’re reading this, chances are you started telling a story less than a week ago. I hope you’re still excited to keep telling it in the days ahead!

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