A plethora of writers around the world are in their 2nd week of NaNoWriMo. For anyone unfamiliar with the vernacular that’s National Novel Writing Month. The goal— write approximately 1,666 words a day for the entire month to achieve the ultimate goal of a 50,000-word manuscript, aka a rough draft, which can be revised and polished and published and change your life. If you want to get carried away.
Obvious benefits— this thirty-day challenge develops the discipline needed to maintain a daily writing practice. A daily dose of writing will show whether you really do want to write the novel you’ve been yammering about ever since you read The Great Gatsby, or if you’d rather spend your free time binging Netflix. If it’s the former, you’ll also discover if the story idea is worthy of exploration, and if you love it enough to devote however long it takes to turn it into a gem. The side bonus for participation in NaNoWriMo is the opportunity to connect with other writers who may become a lifelong support group. All good, so why not get carried away?
This year several of my writing pals have gone all-in. A few are using it to dive into a new story, others are determined to complete a first draft, and one writer is using it to finish a revision. Every one of these writers are previous participants in love with the challenge and the excitement that surrounds the event. Their enthusiasm has been impossible to ignore. As I write this, part of me feels out of the loop.
Jump cut to the early part of my journey, where I wrote a new novel between each revision of the New Orleans story. Back then NaNoWriMo sounded grand and I intended to sign-up, but never did. I was also intrigued by the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest, which also happens every year. The 72-hour writing jam must begin no earlier than 12:01 a.m., on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and must stop by 11:59 p.m. on the following Monday. Novels may not be edited outside the time frame. These novels are submitted and a first, second and third prize is awarded.
Both contests were perfect for the competitive Spartan writer I was. And yet, I continued to turn away from both challenges. Why?
Jump back to benefits. Maintains a daily writing practice— check. Would rather write a novel than binge Netflix— check. Story worthy of exploration— check. In for the long haul— triple-check. Writing pals— check. But my writing pals who are NaNo-ing this month can also check off all the benefits, and they’re still doing it.
As you probably expected, my second round of revision became my excuse for not diving in this year. It’s valid, and I’m happy to stand by it. But maybe because the leaves are gone, and the clocks have fallen back, and the turmoil in our country has forced everyone to go inward to contemplate the truth of what they believe about themselves and the world they wish to live in, or maybe because I’m just a writer fascinated by process, I needed to uncover the truth behind my NaNoWriMo avoidance.
I’m hard at work now on a new book that is taking everything I’ve got.
These words belong to Dani Shapiro. She used them to close out her blog, Moments of Being, in 2018. But it wasn’t the only time I heard her use them. In fact, my guess is she says it whenever she’s working on a new book. Not because it’s an impressive or inspiring thing to say, but because it’s true. I remember being gob-smacked by the notion the first time I heard it because deep-down I understood that was not my experience. Writing was hard. Much harder than I originally thought when I wrote draft one. But I believed as long as I kept at it, sooner or later the end product would be worthy of a reader’s time.
Twelve drafts proved differently. But rejection did not dissuade me— it made me double down like an archeologist to find the missing link in my storytelling. And here in the midst of draft thirteen I’ve learned Dani Shapiro is right. Now that I’ve unearthed the real arc of the story, this New Orleans novel is taking everything I’ve got. The process is slow because I’m finally able to recognize when I’m hurling bullshit instead of writing true, and each truth leads me through a mini-Inferno. The end of a writing session often leaves me unable to pick up a book, and some days, my end-of-the-day meditation is nothing more than me going through the motions. But I can live with both of those endgames because what’s happening on the page has never been more exhilarating.
And that my dear friends, readers and voyeurs is why I may never participate in NaNoWriMo.