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NaNoWriMo is Here!:Guest Post By Judy Clement-Wall

October 24, 2010

On November 1st, a magical sort of mob mentality will take over, and all around the world, hundreds of thousands of writers will attempt the totally irrational goal of writing a novel in 30 days. Throwing caution (and any semblance of a normal life) to the wind, these intrepid, insane would-be novelists will spend the month of November in the land of NaNoWriMo, ranting, raging, rejoicing… and, yes, writing 1,677 words a day. It is a maddening, utterly ludicrous undertaking – one I firmly believe every writer should do.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo last year on a whim, or at least that’s what I told myself. It was a lark to see if I could actually write 50,000 words in 30 days. I stayed with it – despite the upheaval and the stress of writing hard every day –  because the truth is it was never a lark at all. It was about finding inside me the desire, the imagination, the unmitigated, audacious hope that “writing like you mean it” requires.

Ask my family what they remember of last November and they are likely to mention the housecleaning, laundry, and cooking that never quite got done, my increasingly alarming appearance, or the fact that they rarely saw me (and when they did I was usually frantic or distracted or both). When I started Nano, I had no idea if I could write a novel in 30 days, but in the act of trying, something magical happened. Words got onto the page, a story took shape, characters came alive. They were heroic and terrible and dazzling and flawed. They spoke out of turn, fell in love when they shouldn’t, turned left when I thought they would go right. In the chaos of NaNoWriMo, I discovered their story and remembered why I fell in love with writing in the first place.

Here’s what I learned during Nano:

  • The true meaning of the word draft. I had never fully understood or appreciated it before, but when you’re trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you  learn to embrace the messy. Chris Baty, Nano founder, advocates for the law of exuberant imperfection, which says that “the quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.”
  • Just write. When the goal is to produce a novel in a month, you have no choice but to sit down every day and start typing. You have to trust the process, have faith that all that typing will turn into writing. Because it will. But only if you do it.
  • Fear isn’t always bad. Sometimes it tells you what is valuable, what matters.  I’m convinced that we grow by doing what scares us, committing to things we’re not really sure we can do, and then discovering we can do so much more than we ever imagined.

Those were the things I’d expected – or at least hoped – to  learn. Here’s the one that surprised me: Being part of a community is powerful. Writing is an inherently lonely vocation (especially when the goal is to get 1,677 words on the page every day) but when I tweeted, Facebooked, and blogged my Nano frustrations and doubts, there were hundreds of thousands of writers there to cheer me on. That is a remarkable feeling. I met so many gifted and generous writers during Nano, and many of us are still in touch a year later.

At the end of the month last November, Chris Baty wrote this to his makeshift family of weary and wonderful writers:

You could have spent this month living your normal life. You could have gone for long walks with your lover or won points with your boss by coming into work without those big bags under your eyes. Instead you agreed to do something dumb. You agreed to try and write more fiction than you ever have in a month…  You stepped up to the plate. And there is nothing more admirable in this whole damn world than someone willing to set for themselves the fearsome task of trying something big.

There are a million good reasons not to do Nano. It is grueling, chaotic, ambitious, insane. Acknowledge that, and then do what you always do.

You’re a writer.

Write.

(And this year, when Nano ends, there is no need to lose the momentum that comes from being part of a supportive, energized community. The IBC is dedicated to getting authors and their work in front of readers… and having fun in the process.)

~*~

After my second boy was born, I checked out of the corporate world and back into school. Plan A (get a programming degree) was abandoned after I took my first fiction writing class. Plan B (get a creative writing degree and live happily ever after) is a work in progress. (The degree was the easy part.)

My short stories and essays have been published in numerous print and online literary journals and websites. I am about to finish revising my first book, Beautiful Lives, a quirky literary novel all about love (and family, and mental illness, and ghosts, and dogs, and commercial signage… but mostly love).

You can find out more about me and read some of my published work at Zebra Sounds.  You can also catch up to me on Twitter , Fear Of Writing , and Tattoo Highway.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2010 7:53 pm

    This post is an inspiration, thank you for writing it. I keep telling myself that I cannot do it, my life is so hectic enough as it is, but there is that angel on my shoulder arguing that there is no time that will ever be perfect so why not do it now. Yes, now; when I have the support of others just like me going through this with me, along with those that have proven that it can really happen.

    Thanks again,
    Lou

  2. October 25, 2010 10:44 am

    I will happily be the angel on your shoulder, Lou. Go for it!

  3. October 25, 2010 5:54 pm

    Excellent and inspiring post. Thank you! 😀

  4. October 25, 2010 6:40 pm

    What a great reminder: I embrace exuberant imperfection in a great many realms of my life, so c’mon, let’s port it over to writing.

  5. October 27, 2010 9:28 pm

    Judy IS an inspiration! (and if you know me at all, you know I don’t leave exclamation marks lightly BTW.)

    We feel so fortunate to have her as a guest blogger and I eagerly check her blog http://zebrasounds.com each week for all the amazingly cool stuff that nobody else finds but her…I don’t know how she does it.

    I can’t wait for her book to come out.

    (And I still want her hair…)

  6. October 27, 2010 9:29 pm

    Sorry, sorry http://zebrasounds.net

    #mybad #oops

  7. Sherree permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:32 pm

    I am so glad I read this – what an awesome post.

    This will be my first NaNoWriMo and I’m worried. I worry about being imperfect when the editor in me says to change things. I worry I won’t stay with it when life (work, home, etc) needs my attention, even though everyone close to me knows I’m unavailable for the entire month. I worry that my goal of 50,0001 won’t happen.

    Your words inspire me to get past the worry and just write. Thank you.

    • Kait Nolan permalink
      October 28, 2010 6:46 am

      I like to send my internal editor on an imaginary cruise during the month of November.

  8. Sherree permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:37 pm

    Oops…That should be 50,001 words!

  9. October 30, 2010 9:43 am

    Judy ~

    I’m not planning to do NaNoWriMo as my Nov will be devoted to non-fiction projects. But reading your article makes me wish I could! You definitely make a magical case for submitting to insanity, while at the same time offering creative and emotional tips to make it more doable. Every NaNo newbie deserves to read these brave and encouraging words.

    ~ Milli

  10. October 30, 2010 4:40 pm

    Rachel, Thanks, darlin’! <— sincere exclamation point.

    Sherree, I have that same problem and struggled against it during nano. My advice is to really hold yourself to the word count goals, if not daily, then weekly. You simply cannot be a perfectionist when you're putting down that many words in a day. I know it's hard, because no one wants to write crap, but there are good (sometimes great) things in the crap, I promise.

    Also, Nano holds sprints on Twitter. They'll announce a 30-minute sprint (or 15 minutes, or 42 minutes). They'll say GO. You (and hundreds of other twitter people) write as many words as you can. They say stop, and you stop and tweet your number of words. Sometimes you might include your last word or your last sentence. It's fun, but more than that, it drives you to just keep writing. I LOVED the sprints. I plan to use them this year, even though I'm not technically doing Nano because I'm working on shorter pieces and not a novel. But still, the discipline, the fun, the community… it's all quite amazing!

    Go for it! I have faith in you!

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