Writing is hard.
Many of us here at Oasis know that. We have over a dozen writers among us who were at one time active in the Oasis Writer's Group. As someone who has been an on again off again creative writer for about a decade now, I am very familiar with the struggle of sitting at the computer, trying to will the words to issue forth from my fingertips. On days I even make it to the computer, that is.
The trouble with us writers is that we tend to overthink things. We write and rewrite the same story, the same chapter, or the same sentence over and over, agonizing over each word choice and comma. We try to perfect our poetry or prose before ever soliciting feedback from anyone who can look at what we wrote objectively. A lot of us give up on our work because we believe that it will never be good enough. Because no matter what we write, it will never live up to the story we have in our head. So we leave it to collect dust or to be forgotten in some obscure folder on our desktop without ever being read by another person. In many ways, we writers are our own worst enemies.
Fortunately for us self-defeating writers, there is hope. There are so many of us and the problem is so widespread, that someone somewhere finally decided to do something about it. Every November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Some people even go so far as to shorten it to NaNo because four syllables apparently take too long to pronounce, but I digress.
The organizers of NaNoWriMo describe it as “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing”, and it’s easy to see why. On the surface, the premise is extremely simple and straightforward: You have the 30 days in November, from the moment the clock strikes midnight on October 31st until 11:59 pm on November 30th, to write 50,000 words.
As someone who has participated and met the word count goal a number of times, I can honestly tell you that the task is as daunting as it sounds. To succeed, you have to set aside at least two hours per day of what is likely an already busy schedule and devote it to writing. And the time you devote to writing has to actually be spent on, you know, writing. When you’re trying to knock out 50,000 words in thirty days, you don’t have time to stare at your computer screen and think. You don’t have time to doubt or second guess yourself. You just have time to write, which for me at least, is the entire point.
What you get out of NaNoWriMo is highly dependent on what you put into it and how seriously you take it. The organization’s official website, www.nanowrimo.org, provides a host of tools to help you meet your word goal and you are free to use as many or as few of them as you choose. The progress tracker helps you set milestones and stay on schedule. The forums provide everything from pep talks to comradery to a sounding board for story ideas. You can even find a local write-in where you can meet other writers, because misery loves company.
For my part, I’ve mostly stayed off the forums, though I have gone to more than my fair share of write-ins and made some good friends along the way. But what’s helped me the most is simply the pressure of having a month-long word count I have to meet. I won’t pretend that NaNoWriMo has cured my writing anxiety or put an end to my self-doubt. I still experience those on a fairly regular basis. But by taking the goal seriously and doing my best to meet it, I’ve been able to successfully dump the contents of my brain into a word document several times. Parts of what I’ve written for NaNoWriMo in the past are a jumbled mess, and even the good parts of it could probably do with some editing, but at least it’s written down. The first and arguably hardest step has been taken.
My point is that whatever it is you need to become a better, more prolific, or more consistent writer, you can probably find it through NaNoWriMo. So if you’ve been writing for a few years and want to improve, or even if you’ve just thought about writing a novel before, why not give NaNoWriMo a shot? It’s free to join and there’s no penalty for not meeting the word count. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, except for maybe a little spare time.