Return of the Writer

November started unexpectedly. On the first of the month, a friend posted on Facebook that she was participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). She wondered if any of her friends were planning to do it too. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a complete draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words) in the month of November. It’s crazy. And thousands of people participate every year.

I wanted to join them. Without any forethought whatsoever, I closed my Facebook tab and signed up for a NaNoWriMo account. Suddenly, November looked very different. I was committed to writing the novel that had been bouncing around my head for over a year.

Now, remember back to my good old days of the Artist’s Way program? One of the most important tenants of that course is to set gentle, manageable goals. My lifestyle didn’t include a habit of daily writing at that point, so jumping from essentially zero words a day to writing 50,000 words in 30 days was too much. Besides, November happened to include two other creative projects that I couldn’t neglect: editing a script for a school production and preparing to direct our church’s Christmas pageant. I knew that if I tried to “win” NaNoWriMo, I would crash, burn, and ultimately lose.

I decided I could manage at least 500 words a day. And friends, that’s exactly what I did. I am pleased to say that even with a long Thanksgiving vacation and getting a jump start on Christmas shopping so we’d have things ready for our international family, I ended November with 21,616 words written on my novel.

Since November, I have continued writing at least 500 words every day (interrupted only by a brief battle with a stomach virus) and, I confess, I may or may not get to working on the novel today because I am committed to finishing this blog entry. But the point is that I successfully established a daily writing habit. One that stuck. One that I am truly excited about. I am committed to writing a novel for the first time since I was twelve. Like magic, I feel like a writer again.

I’ve been kind of stupid actually. What defines a writer is writing. That’s really it. Somehow I managed to discount the poetry challenge I did in 2010-2011. Apparently writing a poem a day for a year didn’t qualify me as a writer. And I guess writing a blog hasn’t counted either. It took spontaneously taking on NaNoWriMo for me to wake up to the fact that I never stopped being a writer. I just stopped believing I was one.

My holiday wish for you is that you find a similar wake up call. I hope you rediscover an artist identity that you’ve had with you all this time, but have perhaps forgotten or discounted. I challenge you, even during this crazy time of year, to reclaim an artistic title you have lost.

Here are the steps that worked for me:

  • Be spontaneous. Don’t overthink. It’s one of the hardest things ever, but you can get there. Open yourself up to the opportunities that arise. Seize them.
  • Set gentle, manageable goals. Don’t set out to write 2,000 words or paint a picture a day. Start small. If it’s right, the quantity will stretch naturally. I knew exactly what I needed to do to “win” my own version of NaNoWriMo. And I won. And winning feels amazing.
  • Use tools to hold you accountable to your goals. What’s great about NaNoWriMo is that they track your word count for you and send you pep talks. Now that November is over, I’ve switched to using Pacemaker┬áto help me track my word count and to chart my progress to my ultimate goal: having a final rough draft by the time Baby #2 arrives in early spring. It also helped me tremendously to have an online writer’s support group of old and new friends who were also doing NaNoWriMo. We started a Google Doc, wrote daily reflections, and helped each other out through the month. Several of us plan to keep the support group going.
  • Focus on quantity over quality. Let go of “good” art. Just make it. I am fully aware that this novel I’m working on is very rough first draft. It was paramount that I let my 500 words a day be messy. I know that I will have to edit the heck out of them down the road. That’s healthy! For once I will actually have something substantial enough to edit. How exciting is that?

So much easier said than done, I know, but I hope this “huzzah” post can inspire you to rekindle a creative fire that has been too long neglected. Happy holidays one and all!