Sometimes published authors forget what it’s like to struggle to put words to a page, wrestle with editing, revisions, and feel the rejection of readers. For a chronically disorganized personality like mine, writing is both wonderful and devastating. Being a Pantser, the words can flow, even rush out like flood waters. The stories want out, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Sometimes they fight being put into order and edit.
I’ve been writing fiction since middle school, but only my nonfiction has been published other than Wattpad. There was one night in Knoxville where everything I’d ever written was burned in our fireplace, stinking up the house for days. It was a really low point in my life, having post-partum depression, missing a lifetime’s worth of friends in New Orleans, dealing with motherhood without my mother and extended family. I don’t regret burning them, because a catharsis was needed.
Last year I heard about National Novel Writing Month, and decided to give it a go to get me restarted with novel writing. The camaraderie of others struggling towards a goal of 50,000 was encouraging. By the end many had fallen because of time limitations, self-doubt, family situations, illness, and mind games. The whole situation resembled a runner’s marathon, with the finish line blinking 50,000 words. The victory of getting the word count is sweet, but what participants often miss is that just the doing, the joining is a victory in itself.
So what if someone didn’t make the goal? They tried. The self-doubters, and I count myself among them, can allow this to either destroy their writing dreams once and for all, or to give themselves credit for trying.
Some participants think the 50,000 words should be a legible, readable, fully edited and ready to be published work. No way. Just stopping to edit during that month can be a stumbling block. Wait until December or January to edit and expand. The NaNoWriMo word sprints on Twitter don’t exist to create a full fledged page or paragraph, but to bust a writer out of a block or plot dead end. Write in dates at local coffee houses aren’t meant to do anything but spur writers on with like-minded souls who want to get those 50,000 words.
That’s what NaNoWriMo did for me. Yes, my manuscript was a mess after the deadline, but I managed to finish because of the helps build into the system. The daily practice of putting words down, using a goal, established a routine. Experts have said that if you practice a new activity for a month, it should become a habit once that month’s done. That’s what NaNoWriMo did for me. My prose is not supposed to be perfect, just like a blacksmith takes a piece of metal and hammers it into a horseshoe. The hammering blows shape prose and make it something whole and finished.
I was talking to some writers about NaNoWriMo, and one made a comment about how participants had a mess on their hands at the end of the month. How it would have to be whipped into shape to be publishable. How can something so beautiful as a month’s worth of written story be a mess? No, that’s what NaNoWriMo taught me. What might be considered a mess by an outsider is a thing of beauty and accomplishment. Yes, it needs to be edited, rewritten, formatted, beta read, but a soul has squeezed out a story, perhaps a partial story in 30 days. That in itself is a miracle and something to celebrate.
So that girlhood dream of being a professional novel writer survived journalism school, a nonwriting career in the oil industry, motherhood, discouragement, rejection, to find NaNoWriMo. My dream is imperfect, but it has been restored.