Wait -- what the heck is NaNoWriMo, you ask? That crazy acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month, a yearly event that encourages participants to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I decided to participate this year mostly because it's on my life list to write a book someday and I figured I might as well get started with a draft. I ended up writing 40,000 words in 30 days, and of course, the second the challenge end date passed and it was "over," I started to find loads of excuses as to why I didn't have time to keep on writing. No worries. This project helped me get a very good sense of my habits, fears, and inklings when it comes to personal writing, and most of all, it helped me get started -- which we all know is usually the hardest part of beginning anything new.
That being said, I wanted to share 3 things I learned from the experience.
ONE: Make peace with resistance.
I have to say this to myself almost every single day. Resistance is a fact of life. Anytime you set out to do something -- whether it's new, or different, or exactly what you did the day before -- there is a part of your ego that says: "Ugh. No. I don't wannaaaaa." The more I practice noticing that reality, that immediate internal push-back, the better I get at waiting it out. Because it typically softens and fades. When it occurs -- not if, when -- I treat myself like a small child; I say to myself, "Oh yes, I know you don't really want to, but you'll feel better afterwards. This is important to you, remember? Just try it for 15 minutes, and then you can stop." Pro tip: turns out 15 minutes of anything is enough time to a) feel productive, b) churn out 250 words, c) get in a solid little workout and d) move past the resistance. Habits are hard, friends! Do yourself a favor and give yourself little goals or milestones that don't seem so monumental. For me, I was able to create better writing habits by focusing on the 15-minute rule (in order to actually get going) as well as making peace with urge to quit (without actually quitting).
TWO: "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while."
You've heard this quote before, and it is especially true in relationship to creativity and a sense of fulfillment. If I wait until I "have time" to be creative or practice self-care, know what happens? I will never "have time." I have to literally carve out the time for things that are important to me, build boundaries around those things, and then actively protect them. Nobody else cares about my priorities, except me. Nobody is going to come over at 6 a.m. and say in a quiet voice, "Hey, remember that you wanted to go to yoga/journal/make breakfast this morning? You should get up." Nobody is going to remind me that staying up late to watch a movie means it'll take longer for me to fall asleep and consequently I'll feel more tired tomorrow; nobody is going to look at that tray of cookies and suggest that perhaps I will feel like utter crap if I eat all of them; nobody is going to suggest that I need some quiet or alone time on the couch instead of going to that social event. When it comes to the things and activities that lift me up, it's easier to do a little bit every day rather than a lot once in a while. You have more time than you think.
THREE: Take it one word at a time.
This writing challenge reminded me to stop getting so focused on what comes next and instead, simply write what I know in that moment. Over and over again, I would arrive at a pause in the story and find myself very attached to the linear, like, okay so what occurs after this scene? What will she do the following morning? What would he say now? Eventually, I realized that I could . . . write whatever I wanted! Obvious, but freeing. Many days I ended up writing whatever scene came to mind, and I tried to trust the fact that there would be a chance later on to go back and streamline, clean up, make better, revise. I used to get very hung up on "what came next" and attempted to plan out every little season of my life. Guess what? Not only does life not work that way, like, at all, it is also stressful as hell to try to control all the things.
I also allowed myself to be imperfect. Yes, I tried to write well, but I also gave myself permission to be terrible. This project was a creative endeavor for me, for my own growth and enjoyment, and it was naturally going to ebb and flow. Sometimes I wrote 2,000 words in an hour; other times I labored over 250 words in three hours. It changed day by day, and I had to continually show up -- for myself, for the writing -- to see what could happen. And along the way, I ended up writing and submitting an essay for a published anthology as well as an application for a writing opportunity at one of my favorite sites. By letting go of the anticipated outcome, I was able to take more chances and experience less fear.
I'm so glad I participated, regardless of what happens with the actual novel draft. It gave me the push I needed to get started and reminded me of why I love to write.