Things Learned from a Month of Perceived Insanity

So here it is twenty-three days in to National Novel Writing Month and The End is in sight. Literally.

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The idea of writing a novel in a month is a little crazy town but so worth it. Not only will I have accomplished a goal and have the skeletons of a novel by the end of November but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process. Which for me, is a win all the way around.

So what have I won? Well hopefully I will win Nanowrimo with a 50K word count by the end of the month. Here are some other things I’ve won( or learned over the course of this month):

  1. I am much more capable of “doing” than I give myself credit for. I quit things so  easily. Maybe quit isn’t the right word?  I get done the required amount and quit after that. Maybe you find yourself doing this too? We do just what is asked for, no more. Rarely do we push ourselves beyond our own feelings, or fears to something  bigger, more.
  2. Having a deadline looming is a good thing. Having a deadline looming with a cast of characters watching and cheering you on, motivates you even more. I did not want to come back with anything less than 50 000 words.  They preach it at Nanowrimo.  Telling people makes you accountable!
  3. I waste a ton of time. I don’t need to say anything else. Ugh.
  4. Reading is actually research. Hooray! I’m closing in on 130 books read this year and honestly felt a little guilty. But here’s the thing; I would not have been able to write so quickly if I hadn’t read so much. Reading lots of different genres makes you a better writer. It’s advice seasoned writers always hand out to up-and-comers.
  5. The excuses of why I wasn’t writing do not hold up any longer. I told myself I couldn’t write at night because I was too tired. I told myself I could not get up early to write because I’m tired. I told myself I didn’t have stories to tell that came from my imagination. (Even though I have been telling myself stories since I was a little kid when I couldn’t sleep at night. What did I do during those long dark hours? I made up stories in my head with characters from tv shows. Early fan fiction when it wasn’t even a thing. I think a lot of writers have this experience.) But this month, I wrote at night. I wrote in the morning and I wrote in the afternoon. Did I have time frames that I was more productive? Yes. I am a morning person. The words flowed easier in the am. BUT I still got my word count at other times. Huh. I’ve almost written 50 thousand words. I had a story to tell. Maybe more.

Some Practical Do’s & Don’t’s of NaNoWriMo that I learned:

a. Stay in your chair or on the couch or bed until you have your day’s word count. Wrimos (People doing Nanowrimo) tell you this and it’s true. Do not get up to do dishes (Well, really, why would you do that?) or any other chore that suddenly occurs to you. Stay still until you reach your goal. It’s amazing what your brain will do if you give it a chance and still your body.
b. Don’t get caught up in a good book during this month of novelling. Why? Because if you’re like me, you will get caught up in someone else’s characters and not care as much as you should about your own while you are reading said book. I read mostly what I call fluff stuff and books that had no intense plot lines or were totally different than the book I’m writing. Because you know, I couldn’t stop my research! 🙂
c. Do have a separate folder entitled NOVEL NOTES opened when writing. The wise people at Nanowrimo suggest this and it is pure genius. You will be adding things or coming up with new ideas as you write and you want to be able to put them somewhere easily accessible. For example when the protagonist’s parent’s job changes from a mechanic to an engineer by the end of the book and as an author you don’t catch this nor do any other early readers.  So after publication, your reader is left going, “Wasn’t he a mechanic in the beginning?”  And then has to search through the book to find it.  Hence Novel Notes. It saves everyone from going crazy or thinking they are!
d. If you have a family to feed while trying to writing an outlandish amount of words in a month, do invest in a lot of easy prep food. It will save your butt more times than not. You will be a superhero because chicken wings and fries are awesome! Instead of being the person who at five o’clock in the afternoon, is searching feverishly through the freezer, looking for somehting, anything to eat that will be ready NOW. FYI no one fainted from hunger here during the month of November. Next year they learn to cook for themselves!
e. Do have some writing buddies who are writing along with you. It is inspiring and fun. It takes the solitude away and they can talk you off a ledge better and faster than anyone else.
f. Finally Do have a pet rabbit or any other kind of pet who will keep you company as you type feverishly. Who will listen to plot ideas or character assassinations. Who will let you pet them to relieve stress. Or provide you with a good laugh as they give you fodder for material for your book.

So will my first nanowrimo be my last? Definitely not. This month has been everything I hoped it would be and worth the insanity.  It was also a lot of fun.  In some ways I am sorry to be done.  But I’m not really done, there’s revisions in the months of January and February.  You know, adding flesh to that skeleton I’ve created this past month…

 

Why NaNoWriMo Now?

So we are two days before NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) officially begins, November 1st. Then the insanity commences.

It’s my first year attempting to write 50 000 words in 30 days. Why am I doing this crazy thing in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year? (We’re only about seven weeks off Christmas, right?)

It’s doesn’t appear to make sense, I know, but last year I thought about it. This year I AM DOING THIS THANG.

Usually if I’ve thought about something like this for any length of time, it’s because deep down, I really want to do it. In the past, I would make excuses not to, justify them and feel let down and disappointed in myself because I didn’t do what I really wanted to do, deep down in my soul. That’s all changed. I now listen to my soul whisperings. And it’s telling me to do this wild, crazy thing.

I like a challenge but I used to run from them too, even though I’d be drawn in. Again I’d make excuses and justify why I couldn’t. I am done with justifications on why I can’t.  Like the Little Red Engine, my motto is “I think I can, I think I can.”

Another reason for attempting this little project? It’s my dream. Why not chase it now? I have no other answer but “Yes”.

Since I have no writing deadlines or projects in the immediate future. Except for this one: 50 000 words in 30 days.

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Also, I believe God is leading me into this adventure, saying “Follow me. This is the next step.” I know, right? Why would he lead me into this adventure that seems so frivolous? It’s my experience that God doesn’t always lead in what we would term rational ways. He is radical and we follow Him radically. Do you have similar experiences?

I also love the philosophy of NaNoWriMo. Quantity not quality. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The idea is to get the story told and worry about perfecting it (rewriting) later. Just get the ideas down on the page. The first draft. It’s for your eyes only. This is how I write. Fast and with a lot of mistakes. I form the idea and then go back and make it work. A friend gave me this advice a long time ago and I find it works for me.

Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writing Month, called it “exuberant imperfection.” He writes in his book, “It dictates that the best way to tackle daunting, paralysis-inducing challenges is to give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then go ahead and make them.” (p. 38, No Plot? No Problem) He goes on to make even more sense, “By giving yourself the gift of imperfection, you tap into the realms of intuition and imagination that your hypercritical brain normally censors. (p.39)

So true! I’m eager to see what comes out of this month of intense writing!

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Baty also addresses the fear. Fear is what has kept me from attempting this in the past. Fear I couldn’t tell a story. Fear I wasn’t good enough and didn’t have the talent. Baty writes, “At the first awkward line of prose or botched brushstroke, we hurriedly pack away the art supplies and scamper back to our domains of proficiency.” (p. 38) Don’t we though? I see it in my kids too. They don’t want to try things because they are afraid they’ll make a mistake. Or they think they should have it perfect the first time through. Why do we get like that?

For this time, I’m going to bash that fear of imperfection. Believe me it wins more times than I care to confess, but this once I’m not going to let it take over. I have permission to make mistakes and make it ugly at first.

I’m hoping that the courage to be imperfect is contagious and it catches on in more areas of my life. And maybe with my kids too. That they’ll be able to have fun trying and not worry about outcomes all the time. I think it’s a valuable life lesson.

I’m not alone in this either. I know there are lots of you out there that just need permission to make a mess and have a glorious time doing it. That’s part of what this next month is about. That’s somehow liberating.

The only thing fear is going to do is motivate me to finish the 50 000 words. That’s considered acceptable.  And if for some reason I don’t, I’m still ahead any words I do write.  Win-win.

So starting November 1st, if you see my family, you might want to extend a hand of sympathy to them as they are going to be witnessing the frantic writer/crazy person in first person. My best friends will be pre-made food (not a regular dinner guest at our table), coffee in my Wonder Woman mug and my chiropractor (aching back, headaches and carpel tunnel syndrome all possible in the next 30 days).

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Feel free to encourage, ask my word count (not every day please) and generally give friendly reminders to not give up even when the muse has walked out the door.

NaNoWriMo 2017: 50 000 words in 30 days or BUST. (That’s 1667 words a day for those of you who are challenged mathematically, like myself.)

What crazy dream are you following right now?  

PS: It’s very hard to push the Publish button on this one.  Once done, I’m accountable.  Ahhhhh!

TURNING TO: Something New

My boys are off skiing today with their school. It’s an annual field trip for the senior grades. They have never skied. My husband grew up near Quebec and skied a lot. We lived in a very flat area for most of their lives and it hasn’t been a priority since we moved. So they haven’t had a chance to hit the slopes.

One of them didn’t want to go because he was going to be a beginner and the rest of his friends are, according to him, seasoned skiers. He’s at that age where peers matter. A.Lot.

I explained that everyone is a beginner at some point. Listen to the instructor and by the end of the day, you’ll be skiing with your friends. I could feel him tuning me out.

This attitude frustrates me. The idea that we have to master something right now.  That you can’t be a beginner.  I know partly it’s how kids are wired.  (How many of us adults are still wired.)  This child of mine wanted to do figure 8’s the first time he put on skates.  He was like four or five.  He couldn’t understand why he couldn’t do a figure 8 much less keep his balance. Like so many of us, he struggles with being a novice.  Today at the ski hill, he is a beginner while his friends are “pros”.  He did not want to go.

Why do we do that? Why do we TURN AWAY from trying something new? From adventure? From new places and new people? Instead of TURNING TOWARDS them?

Honestly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. How many times have I TURNED AWAY from new experiences or people because I was afraid? Afraid of what? What are we so afraid of? Of how we’d look. What people would think. That we might not do it right so don’t do it at all. That we would lose control. We don’t want to look like a beginners. Amateurs.

Because the world tells us those people are losers. No, we must be experts in everything we do. It’s that kind of attitude that makes us TURN AWAY from being an apprentice. The thing is being a pro in all things is boring. Experts can be arrogant. They are no fun to be around after a while.

TURNING TO a new thing or person, can cure that pretty fast. It takes humility and courage to ask for help. To admit you don’t understand or know how to do something. To receive the gift of advice, instruction or help. The learning curve of TURNING TO something new can be steep but so rich and fulfilling.

There’s also the other end of the spectrum of why we are so afraid. We TURN AWAY from new things because we just might be good at it. Sometimes success is scarier than failure.

Success can bring change. It might mean that we are suddenly ripped from the comfortable and thrust into the uncomfortable. Success means we become visible when we’d much rather be invisible. We might have to stop complaining about some things. It might make life harder in some areas. It may make it easier.

Either way, TURNING TO rather than AWAY from being a beginner or trying something new, it means change. Things are going to change for us. It might be highly significant or not at all. TURNING TO means moving forward. Forward means going up or down or straight. To go forward puts us in a place we haven’t been before. A new place.

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TURNING AWAY is retreat. I’m not saying that retreat is always bad. It may be necessary but for the most part I’d rather move forward or stay still until I can move forward, than retreat.

Another great thing about TURNING TO something new is that people love to help beginners. Don’t you find that? Don’t you love to be asked for help? It gives a sense of purpose to aid others. So when we TURN TO something new and a person can assist us, we all benefit.

Finally TURNING TO something new provides us with the opportunity to learn about ourselves. We find out what we like or don’t like. We learn our limitations or our potential. We discover what we can or can’t handle. We uncover more of who we are and who we can become. It might be painful. It might be exhilarating. Probably both.

We also learn about God. Can we count on him? Is He listening to us? What does He want us to learn from all this? We might discover His sense of humour or his artistry. We might see His majesty. We might TURN and see the love in His eyes as the song, Good Good Father, says. We might uncover a whole new side of His character that we would have missed out on if we had TURNED AWAY from this new thing.

What new thing, new encounter can you TURN TO today? I know at times we’d rather TURN AWAY but remember BRAVE? Let’s be brave and TURN TO the new things God wants to put into our lives and hearts today.  Our lives will be richer for it.