Once upon a time, a group of writers gathered, furnished with journals and fancy pens, or laptops draped in fun stickers. Pastors and chaplains gathered together with church members at coffee shops, trying not to talk too much and thus impede maximum word count. Young clergywomen took their collars off, even if their stories still dripped with biblical allusions and theological questions, and they brought their Google Docs to the library write-in to make a few writer friends and get away from Advent studies cluttering their tables. These clergywomen were making community with other writers to draft a 50,000 word novel in one month. 1,667 words a day through the month of November– you know, that month when we are ramping up for the chaos of Advent in the sacred world and the holiday crush of the secular world.
It’s called Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month. There is a website to connect writers to communities defined by genre or geography and to share a little about the project, but the main point of the site is to log not the writing itself but the daily word count. For those of us young clergywomen Nanowrimo fans, writing is a spiritual practice and a contemplative experience. In a culture that is so focused on hustling, Nanowrimo is an invitation to sit and be still. While it may seem impossible to add something to an already busy life, writing can be a way to remember and to find the Divine. For those of us in pastoral ministry, November can become a time of chaos prepping Advent worship, and we often lose the contemplative preparation we are urging our congregations to engage in during the season. Making time for writing and creativity during the month of November ignites reflection and purpose as we prepare for Advent, the coming of the light to the world.
There is also something freeing in focusing solely on word count. The words we write don’t necessarily matter during Nanowrimo. What matters is the act of writing itself. Our critical natures can take a back seat because it isn’t about perfection; it’s just about writing. Nanowrimo gives us the place, time, and community to let go of our own expectations and judgments and just create for the sake of creating. After all, this is not just an invitation of creativity: it is an invitation to join in the work of creating with Creator God. In the first creation story in Genesis 1, God speaks and the world comes into being. Throughout Scripture, God keeps speaking, inviting us to repent and change our stories, or to survive and live new stories, or to work with God to write stories of love and grace no one has imagined yet. Yet, too often we forget this invitation to creativity and instead just focus on getting through the next meeting or accomplishing the next task. Nanowrimo whispers of God’s creativity in asking us to explore and discover new worlds, new characters, and new stories. We– as adults, and particularly as women in ministry– don’t give ourselves the permission to engage with our imaginations often enough.
And for many of us young clergywomen, writing allows us to explore parts of our identity we might forget when caught up in the tyranny of ministry schedules. One of us started writing in the midst of a struggle with infertility because she needed to remind herself of her ability to keep creating even if she couldn’t mother living children. Another of us started Nanowrimo out of loneliness. Nanowrimo gave her a community of other writers online and also helped her connect to her sister too, on whose advice about the plot she ended up relying. Another of us pointed out that Nanowrimo helps her release her drive for control. When she began writing a Nanowrimo novel last year, she wanted to shape it into a particular thing. But the work that took shape was unexpected and what it needed to be as she wrote to release frustration that she was experiencing in ministry. Writing, including fiction, allows us to reflect more deeply on our own reality and identity.
If you are looking for a new spiritual practice, a new creative outlet, or a community of storytellers, grab your pens or keyboard and try your hand writing a novel this month!