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National Novel Writing Month... a mixed bag

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Since 1999, November has been known to writers around the country as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Across the nation, writers and would-be novelists gather together online and in person to write individual first drafts of a manuscript of at least 50,000 words. The goal isn’t to have a quality product by the end of the month but to simply get all the words written down, so the writer may then edit them at their leisure.

It’s not difficult to see the point of an event such as this one: motivate people to do something they’ve likely been putting off. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, one of the ways the event attempts motivation is through inspirational letters, or pep talks, from well-known authors.

The letters seem to employ an attitude of “writing is awful but so are all jobs, so keep working at it even when you want to quit.” Here’s the thing, though: if you’re genuinely miserable to the point where you want to give up altogether, maybe writing isn’t for you. That’s not to say there won’t be days that are hard or even days when you don’t feel inclined to write. But if you truly love wordsmithery, you won’t ever want to quit.

In fact, you likely won’t be able to. When you have a genuine passion for writing, you’re faced with a constant dilemma: finding the time to write down every little thought lest you forget the important ones, which, if you’re anything like me, you’re practically guaranteed to do. This constant, aching desire to write isn’t something from which you simply walk away. Rather, it is something you carry with you no matter how difficult the load becomes to bear.

When I foolishly decided to pursue writing as a career, I had no idea what I was getting into. Up to that point, it had been something I did for school and maybe sometimes for fun. Once I embraced it as my career choice, however, it didn’t take me long to realize I could never go back to doing anything else. I was finally free, and I would fight to the death to keep that freedom. Besides, how could I possibly quit something that I’d be entirely lost without?

That’s not to say I haven’t quit a particular writing project. I can’t begin to count the number of written works I’ve discarded or set aside in order to pursue other writing interests. When I started my aptly named blog, Erratic Ramblings, I was writing about every topic under the sun and thought I’d be doing so for the rest of my life. Now, I write poetry, plays, and prose for a literary website called Curiously Enticing, which I run with my sister, and I work part-time writing news for the Timberjay. Meanwhile, Erratic Ramblings has fallen completely to the wayside. What I’ve learned over the years is that as long as you’re writing something, what that something is doesn’t matter all that much.

You see, what we think we should be writing and what we’re actually working on are often two different things, and there’s something to be said for allowing creativity to reign. Despite how well you believe you know your own writing, you can almost never be sure what will resonate with others, or with your future self. It’s amazing how often I’ve looked back at something I wrote and gleaned new insights. Ultimately, crafting words isn’t something that can or should be forced, which is where NaNoWriMo falls flat.

Rushing the creation of a novel manuscript may seem harmless at first glance. Participants in this month-long event don’t stand to lose, really. At worst, they only write a handful of words, and at best, they have a full first draft written. But the work doesn’t end there. It’s barely begun.

Now, imagine being one of the participants who didn’t finish a manuscript. While there is a slight chance that you’d still feel accomplished, there’s also a decent likelihood that you’d be disheartened, especially as you’re watching others celebrate their success. It might lead you to question your abilities, even though there are numerous reasons as to why they may have finished, and you did not.

In the end, how and what you write aren’t nearly as important as making the choice to do so. Here is perhaps the only advice you’ll need going forward: spending too much of your time reading about your fellow writers’ experiences, or seeking out their advice, will not help you with your own writing. Similar to many other things in life, writing is an incredibly personal experience. What works well for one person might actually be detrimental to another. It’s also surprisingly easy to get so caught up in learning about the “best” way to write that you never actually do any yourself.

Not everyone will be negatively impacted by an event such as NaNoWriMo, of course. There are plenty of people who will likely benefit from the added pressure and support system it provides. For some, it’s simply a good way to connect with others who share an adoration for the written word. For others, it’s the push they desperately need in order for them to pursue a dream. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to write, but keep pushing off, embrace the spirit of this month and take the first step. Don’t worry about the length, or even the content for that matter, but rather focus on the act itself, because if there’s one thing that National Novel Writing Month is all about, it’s putting pen to paper.

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