For the past few Novembers I’ve made feeble attempts to participate in NaNoWriMo. I start late or on time, I write less or more than I should each day, and by week two I give myself permission to quit because it doesn’t really matter if I do or don’t write a draft of a novel in a month. It’s not like my life depends on it.
This year, on November 1st, I decided to try a little harder to stick to a plan. I took an old short story I’ve always liked, but needed work, and decided to transform it from a 1500 word story into a 50,000 word draft. My only rules were: I wasn’t going to tell anyone I was doing it (more on that in a minute), and I wasn’t go to self-edit as I progressed. The latter was harder than the former and I caught myself more than once trying to delete whole paragraphs and then forcing myself to control-z them back into existence.
Convincing myself to let the words sit even if they were bad or didn’t make sense was hard at first, but the further along I got, the easier it became. If something felt a little funny, I’d italicize it and move on. The unintended consequences were that I sometimes wrote for a solid hour without stopping and when I got to the end of a session I could barely understand how I’d arrived there. What did I just write?
Writing this little recap makes me feel silly, like when you decide to exercise to clear your mind and shake out a foul mood and it works and you think: “You know, exercise really does help me mentally!” As if no one has ever experienced that revelation. As if you didn’t experience the same revelation last month.
Anyways, I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it because I didn’t want anyone but me to hold me accountable for the end result. I was worried if people knew I was doing it they would ask me how it was going, how far along I was, if I thought I could finish. I know myself well enough to know these innocuous questions would erode my resolve, and little niggling bits of self-doubt would creep in and I would find any excuse to stop and then convince myself quitting early was no big deal.
By the end of the month I was at 45,000 words, a little shy of the 50,000 goal, but the story needs an ending and I think by the end of this week I’ll be well past the 50k mark and I’ll have a fully functional, and pretty terrible, draft on my hands, which was my goal. Over the past year I have been pretty focused on writing non-fiction. Sometimes narrative, sometimes not, mostly memoir based and it’s fulfilling and it’s a project I want to finish, but it’s draining and mentally exhausting. I thought if I could spend a month writing fiction and have a draft by the end of it, when I was tired of non-fiction I could take a break by editing the fiction.
After a month of writing fiction I am happy to return to my complicated, mentally draining, non-fiction project, hopeful I can apply some of the skills I’ve learned over the past 30 days to a story that is personal and scary to write. If I can write a draft of a novel in a month, surely I can write a draft of challenging essay in a day. Right? Write.