I imagine most people are busy making plans for Friday and throwing together last minute costumes, but my mind is more focused on the day after Halloween. November First is its own kind of holiday for me: day one of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. As a two-year veteran of NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned a fair amount about how to conquer the beast that is NaNoWriMo and written about my experiences many times on this blog.
Here is my celebratory post after conquering/surviving my first go at NaNoWriMo.Here is a post on the lessons I took from NaNoWriMo Year One into NaNoWriMo Year Two. I even have a post about the experience of letting go of my protagonist after I finished writing my second YA book during last year’s NaNoWriMo–a big challenge when I felt intrinsically connected to this person I basically lived inside of/as for many months.
As I embark on my third YA book and my fourth NaNoWriMo (I also participated in the spring version two years ago), I come equipped with a toolkit–an outline, a writing partner, and wine–and all the wisdom gained from having tackled this feat a few times in the past. That still doesn’t lessen the anxiety, I have to admit. Making a promise to yourself (and anyone who will listen) that you are going to write 50,000 words in one month sets you up to meet a high expectation, and, incidentally, a potential failure. What I find I like the most about NaNoWriMo (beyond the disciplinary re-charge and the satisfaction of challenging myself) is that it focuses my anxiety on a superficial pressure. Instead of the intense panic that comes with saying, “I’m writing a novel,” my panic becomes centralized in the less intimidating, “I’m writing 50,000 words in a month.” By setting up a smaller goal to work towards, I am able to lessen the burden of the overall goal.
In the last few months I’ve been subscribing to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings e-newsletter. Every week offers me something new and interesting to ponder. Today, I stumbled onto a post from her archives about the various lessons she has learned after seven years of writing Brain Pickings. So many of them are the same lessons I have learned in my many attempts at NaNoWriMo, from productivity to coming to terms with the notion that good things take time. Of the many wise things Ms. Popova has to say, this may be one of my favorites, and certainly one that is applicable to my experiences with NaNoWriMo: “The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations.”
As I’ve spent the last week frantically writing an outline for my next book, my next attempt at NaNoWriMo, my final book in a trilogy that has consumed me for close to two years now, I have found myself trying to pressure the muse. Of course I have learned, as I have in the past and will have to continually re-learn in the future, that the muse, just like my writing, cannot be forced. Sure, I can participate in the artificial pressure of NaNoWriMo, but at the end of the day, the writing comes when the writing comes. The muse is a fickle lover, but I hope she’ll stop by next month, cozy up, and stay a while.