Last month I decided to do something crazy. I decided to join millions of others around the world for National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo to its participants. The goal? Write 50,000 words of fiction in thirty days (November 1-30.) It’s a daunting goal but not an impossible one. Given that I’d just finished my final class for my BA at the end of October, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to finally give this whole NaNoWriMo thing a shot.
It was the most insane and the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done. Why would I ever attempt this? You see, once upon a time—forgive me, I’m still in storytelling mode—I wrote for fun. In my pre-teen and early teen years, when I was bored and looking for something to do, I would write. I always had a story going in my head. I was always imagining scenes and dreaming up characters who were as real to me as the people I knew in real life. I believed in the stories that I told. I wrote without inhibition. I wrote because blank pages called for me to fill them up with beautiful people and places and things.
Around age fifteen everything changed. Suddenly, I judged everything I put on the page. My writing felt empty and trite and pointless. (Enter: Inner Critic.) I felt like I had somehow lost the ability to write—when really, I hadn’t lost anything but faith in myself and in my ability with words. Encountering that internal critic was such a complete shock to me that I didn’t know how to write around it. Pretty soon I stopped writing altogether. I stopped making up stories. I stopped dreaming about characters. Blank pages still called to me but I had become so afraid of failing miserably that I ignored that call completely. The days when becoming an author felt possible seemed like a thing of the distant past.
Since then, I’ve dabbled in writing but I haven’t made any serious effort to reclaim my initial writing life. I’ve written a few short stories and kept ideas for the premises of novels tucked away for “some day.” And that’s about as far as I’ve dared to take it.
The month of November was my own personal stand-off with my Inner Critic. It was an opportunity to throw caution to the wind and to give myself the permission to make things up again. I gave myself permission to write whatever popped into my head and yes, even the permission to write badly. Because I was writing on such a tight schedule, I didn’t have time to let that Inner Editor take over. Whenever it would nag at me, I’d have to shove it aside and just keep pressing forward towards my word count goals.
It wasn’t the smoothest month. I was behind for the majority of it. In the second week I got sick and didn’t write at all for something like five days in a row. That’s a hefty chunk of valuable time when all you have is thirty days. I had to write through the Thanksgiving holiday while we were in LA visiting with family and friends. At one point—OK, maybe more than one—I thought I was going to give up. Then I’d think of all the words I’d already written and all those characters frozen in time, waiting for the next thing to happen. Most of all, I was curious. I wanted to see what I would come up with. I wanted to find out where this adventure would take me.
I didn’t plan out my novel before hand—all I started with was the beginning and a vague idea of where I might want things to end up. That was it. I wrote by the seat of my pants. It was like magic. Sometimes, I would feel stuck. I would have no idea where I wanted to take things next. But as long as I got my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, something was bound to happen. And it always did. Somehow, I found a story coming together. As long as I kept typing, I would have an idea that would allow me to write just that much more and take the story just that much farther. Somehow, I meandered my way all the way to 50,011 words by November 30th.
Throughout the process another curious thing happened. I noticed that I was paying attention to my life more. I was observing people more keenly—especially interesting people. Everything that happened in those thirty days was potential fodder for my imagination. I day dreamed about my characters while driving my car or taking a shower. I found myself jotting down ideas for future stories or novels. I don’t know the exact moment it happened, but at some point during the last month, there was a shift. Once again, I found myself thinking like a writer.
The final product is far from perfect. It will need a lot of work before I feel like it’s ready for eyes besides mine to read it. But as I printed it out this morning, I couldn’t help but swell a little bit with a burst of pride and wonder. For the first time in years, I actually have something concrete to work with. I allowed myself to answer the call of the blank page. And to see all those once-blank pages now filled with stuff from my imagination—it’s made me hungry for more. I want to find out what others stories are waiting to be told.
Surprisingly, this morning I find myself feeling a little sad that the month is over. Instead of feeling depleted, I am full of fresh inspiration. I feel ready to make writing a regular part of my life again. NaNoWriMo 2012 may be over, but for me, this is only the beginning.