NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul

Post Author: Stacey Midge

This is how it happened: On the first day of this month, I saw a Facebook post about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I had not intended to do this. I had not premeditated my plan of attack. I hadn’t even heard of it. But something about this challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month struck me. Before I had really thought it through, I was signing up.

I have a friend who takes a month every year to write one song a day. “Most of them are complete crap,” he says, “but at the end, I have one or two songs that are good, or at least decent starts at being good. And that’s better than having no songs at all.” I’ve always admired his discipline in this. I’ve always wanted to commit myself to that kind of intensive creative process. One of the things you should understand about me is that I am not the kind of person who often commits to a regimen like this and sticks to it. I have begun and given up on songs, poetry, paintings, exercise plans, knitting projects, diets, language courses, book proposals… You name it, I’ve probably tried and not finished it.

Thousands of people committing to the insanity of writing a novel in a month meant I would have lots of support from other crazy people. And if I didn’t finish, well, nobody knew I was doing it anyway.

Except that I immediately told someone. And then another person. And then another. I started making references to needing to “go home to work on my novel.” My senior minister bet me $100 that I can’t finish (he knows how to motivate me). Other people who witnessed this took offense on my behalf; if I finish, they have promised to donate $100 each to the church. Next year I may make this an official fundraiser.

Strange things have happened to me this month. I have become a peculiar person, unknown to me, who prefers to stay home and write rather than going out. I wander around with story lines and characters in my head, and am suddenly prone to shouting, “Oh!” and running for my computer – which now comes with me everywhere, to work, on the train, to the coffee shop, to bed, just in case I should have an idea. I am completely obsessed with my word count, although not so much so that I’ve resorted to the tricks other writers post on the NaNoWriMo forums, which tell me to pad my word count with extra clauses and never use contractions. I haven’t had a decent night of sleep since I began. I forget other deadlines. I’m sure some of my friends think I’ve vanished, and the rest are annoyed and waiting for December 1 to arrive. This process is making me a bit of a lunatic.

But it’s also doing something weirdly wonderful within me.  First and foremost, I will finish something.  I can feel already that I will finish this, and not just because my word count is on pace.  When I am done, well, I will let you know how I feel about it then.  But I will know – I already know – that I can complete a lengthy, substantial writing project, and that gives me the power to do it again.

I know that most of it will be “complete crap,” and that’s okay. That’s the second thing NaNoWriMo is doing for me. To finish, I have to let go of my perfectionism. You just can’t write 1,667 words a day and expect them all to be brilliant. You can’t even expect to know where they’re going to go. My characters keep doing things I don’t anticipate at all, and all I can do is accept that their actions are coming from something deep within me, perhaps so deep that I didn’t know it was there. Which is the third thing this process is doing in me: it’s better than therapy for dragging out all of the emotional issues I’ve pushed out of the way and making me look at the patterns and themes that develop. I may have gone a little crazy, but it’s the kind of crazy that makes way for a better version of me to emerge.

I have always considered myself to be a relatively creative person, but this month of intensive, driven writing has pushed me more than I have ever allowed myself to be pushed before. Good or bad, I just have to take the risk and put something out there every day. I don’t have time to worry about whether it’s the next great work of American fiction (I’m pretty sure it’s not). I don’t even have time to consider the answer to the most popular question I am asked when people hear that I’m doing this: Are you going to publish? The truth is, I have no idea. That’s not the point. I just want to finish.

It’s not something I could do all the time, but forcing myself to sit down and write every single day, whether I really have time or not, whether I’m feeling creative or not, is having another unexpected effect. It has shattered the writer’s block I have had for the last year or so. It has torn down the wall that has plagued me in the middle of sermons, made simple newsletter articles take hours of my time, and completely shut down my blog which used to be quite prolific.

NaNoWriMo has given me another voice in my head, one that competes with the well-programmed voices that tell me that what I’m writing isn’t any good, or insist that I know exactly where I’m going before I begin. This voice simply says, “Just write.”

When the other voices argue with it, this voice says, “Shut up. That’s what editing is for.”

NaNoWriMo is eating my soul… but it’s also giving it back to me, just a little bit better.

Rev. Stacey Midge serves as the Associate Minister for Mission, Outreach, and Youth at First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York. The church staff and her dog eagerly await the end of NaNoWriMo.

Image by: Patrick Tomasso
Used with permission
4 replies
  1. teri
    teri says:

    This is similar to how I feel about Just write it, get the points, and keep the **** streak going! And, amazingly, forcing myself to write every day has had a similar effect on me as you describe. Maybe next year I’ll do Nano too–you’re an inspiration!

  2. Julia
    Julia says:

    Congrats! I’m doing NaBloPoMo and it’s much tougher than I expected. I’m doing it part because I couldn’t get myself accountable for NaNoWriMo, but my blog is public and seen by church people! I like the way you describe the effect it has on you.


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