Challenges, Fears, and What it Means to Tackle NANOWRIMO

Can you feel it in the air? The tingle of excitement in the tips of every writer’s fingers? The antici—–

–pation of the challenge and the reward? The insane gauntlet thrown down to write the better part of a novel in the short span of 30 days? I feel it in a new way. A frightening way.

For the first time since I started participating, I’m wondering if this might be the year that I fail.

It’s probably no surprise for those of you who follow the blog that I’ve been a little…down… lately. And with that comes a starkly lowered self-esteem. Add in a dash of mental block and creative fizzle and I’m having a hard time believing I will have enough clout to make it through 1700 words per day and finish a victor.

So what do I do? Not try at all? Shelve it for this year and treat myself with gentleness? I’m all for self-care, but I gotta be honest, lately I’ve been giving myself a little too much grace. I’ve been allowing myself an out from writing in every basket of laundry, sudoku puzzle, floor mopping, and random ten minute cat nap (that’s a nap with my cat on the couch) I can find. I’ve been so ‘busy’. But the truth is, it’s because I’m afraid to face the blank page that sits inside my head lately. I’m so certain it will end up a blank page on my screen that I’ve let the fear and disappointment of that possibility keep me from writing at all.

After all, if I don’t try I can’t fail, right? Ergo, if I don’t sign up for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) I can’t fail at it. Plus…what will it do to me in my delicate mental state? To face such frustration and probable defeat?

The dark voice says it will break me. It says it will keep me from ever writing again, it will unhinge me. It will rob me of time better spent napping and such.

But there’s this other me that’s been trapped inside with the dark and she’s having a real teeth-grinding, fist-clenching, stand-up moment.

She says we can. She says she’s not afraid of a blank page, and she’s not worried that there aren’t any more ideas left in me. She says she knows people and characters, she knows struggle and strife, and the harsh realities of human frailty. She says there’s another novel in there, locked away behind the dark and she wants to flip the switch and shed some light on the subject.

You see, self-care is not just about bubble baths and indulging in your psychotic cat’s demand for a nap at ten in the morning. Sometimes, self-care is about knowing what you love and not letting yourself give it up when things get tough. Sometimes the deadline and the challenge is a sense of purpose in disguise that we gift to ourselves. The pursuit of your happiness is, quite possibly, one of the most important things you can do and not just for yourself, but for everyone who loves you.

So here it is, writers. If I can drag my ass to the computer and invest in my work (and myself) every day for a paltry 1667 words, then you don’t have an excuse not to. We’re all busy. We’re all tired. We’re all at a loss for ideas. The world around us doesn’t make it easy to dream. It’s loud and impatient. It’s riddled with worries and doubts, and problems bigger than any of us can solve on our own. But if we all start by investing in our art, in rising to the challenge, in reclaiming our power and self-belief, then we will become better people. And better people make a better world.

So go do something amazing. If you’ve never NANOWRIMO-ed before, check out their website to learn the rules here:

National Novel Writing Month

Most cities and states have local chapters for the event that will organize meetings, writing sprints, coffee, happy-hours and all sorts of other social stuff to keep you encouraged and give you a clan to check in and commiserate with.

Or if you’re more of a solitary beast, like myself, you can get tips and inspiration emailed to you, or join on-line forums in your underoos. Once you sign up you get a nifty author page where you can log your words per day and check on your progress (this is HONESTLY one of the best motivators for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited about blowing the curve, you know what I mean? Wow, that sounded pretty naughty…not sorry.)

The beauty of this event is that it teaches you to establish a writing habit, and shows you that even when you only have a few minutes here and there in your day, if you dedicate them to writing you CAN complete a novel in a month. And that makes all of those excuses for not finishing your work in progress kind of null.

Maybe you’re ready, maybe you’re not. Either way…do it. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. Of if that’s what motivates you, give the world a daily tally to keep you honest. You don’t have to write the next best seller and you don’t have to finish the story. The only thing you need is to do is dedicate the time to your magnificent imagination.

I originally thought I’d be putting The Beautiful Stuff blog on hold during this month since I’ll be otherwise ocupada…but after thinking it through, I will continue to write to you. I’ll let you know my progress, I’ll ask you questions about yours. I’ll offer advice as we get started, how to continue the momentum, how to get through the doldrums (shit yeah, that’s totally a real thing and it happens around week three) and how to finish strong, catching every last minute to cruise into the 50,000 word goal.

Then we’ll celebrate. With cat naps, or champagne, or a good cry in the shower, you know…whatever it is you need to unwind.

To inspire you further I offer this:

One lucky reader who takes a minute to let me how the process is going either via email or comment on the blog, will receive a congratulatory package after your awesome accomplishment with all kinds of goodies, including a signed copy of “Rise: An Anthology of Change” a beautiful little book of stories and poems about the power and folly of change and the human condition. Look at the pretty cover:

Rise Anthology

 

Take a deep breath writer, start brainstorming some ideas or dust off ones you’ve shelved for too long. Saturday we begin a new chapter, a new book, a new start.

 

A Super Secret Guide to Finishing Your Work In Progress. Part 1: Technology vs. Creativity

Hey there, writer? Whatcha doin’? Surfing the Internet? Caught up in some devilishly clever blog post that has promised to give you the secrets of the craft in one easy-to-read, bulleted list with some fancy-schmancy graphics?

 

I see you.

 

I’m glad you’re here, actually, I DO have some important advice in this my first lesson on finishing your work in progress.

 

Get off the Internet and back to your writing, you filthy animal.

 

Ok…wait! Not right now…just hear me out. I promise, I’ll be brief (500 words or so…Look! Only 420 left! 418…)

 

Fewer things deter the creative process like the multi-faceted distractions we face in our interconnected world. The phone, social media, the addictive thumbs-up ‘likes’ and sympathetic sobbing emojis. Constant information streams into our overworked, underfed brains; the lies, the truth, the barrage of sight and sound that, when boiled down, amounts to so much nothing. So much noise.

So shut it down.

That’s it.

That’s all. Part 1, in a neat little nutshell. Expand? Ok, but only because you asked…

Do you want to write more? Then disconnect. Grab a pen and paper and sit your ass on a park bench or in a coffee shop with your phone and laptop “conveniently” left at home.Stop Wasting Time

 

“But…but I can’t just write! I won’t be able to spell check or word count (320 left) or research the typical milk production of a Nubian goat in April!”

 

First of all, my little perfectionist, rough drafts don’t need to be spell checked the moment words hit paper (shocking, right?)

 

Secondly, one page of average handwriting has about 250 words give or take. You’re welcome.

 

Third (ly?), you sound like someone who could use my patented “Blah Blah” technique to avoid distraction in the middle of your writing flow.

Not familiar? Well, don’t search it on line (Jesus, haven’t you been listening to me?) It’s a secret I share with only my closest creative misfits, lucky you.

When you don’t know a factual detail of some part of your scene, insert the words “Blah Blah” into the space and move on.

Image result for images eye roll

 

Did you—did you just roll your eyes at me?  Watch it…I will mom voice you so hard…

Observe:

“Victoria knew that the Nubians would produce at least blah blah of milk next month, giving her blah blah bars of homemade soap to sell.”

It also works if I’ve forgotten a secondary character’s name but know that scrolling back to find it will dry up the good stuff that’s pouring out:

“ ‘You’re a handful,’ Mr. Blah Blah said and scowled over the drag pole fence.”

Don’t fiddle with your flow. Let the unnecessary lay in wait and avoid the pitfall of jumping on the Internet to do some ‘quick research’ which will curtail your thought process and take you away from your work (16 hours of baby-goats-in-pajamas-videos later and I’ve forgotten evil exists in the world. Good for sleep, bad for fleshing out antagonists.)

When the creative dust has settled into a beautiful, uninhibited outpouring of ingenuity go back and find your ‘blah blahs’ (they stick out like sore typos, especially being ‘repeat’ words) and you can designate a specific, allotted time to research and check them.

 

There it is.

But in my forty or so words left, I should give you at least one bullet (I believe I promised it somewhere up there.)

  • More than just in your writing, consider disconnecting in your life. Be present in the world around you, not face down in a screen. Your writing will be better. Your life will be better. Power down for at least an hour a day. No phone, no television, no laptop, no screen. Live through your eyes, your ears… all those messy, beautiful human senses your mother worked so hard to make for nine months. Notice the vibrancy of color in nature, the way wind feels against your cheek. Listen to your own breath. Taste your food. Powerful writing comes from living with powerful intention.

 

Ok, now you can leave me. I apologize for surpassing the mark. What can I say? I didn’t want to mess with my flow.

Go work on your book. Your poem…your passion. Come back and let me know how it’s going.

I’m signing off for the day, but I’ll get back to you when my creative dust settles.