If my dreams set everything on fire...

So, I picked these lyrics, from Amaranthe's True because they kinda defined November 2015 for me. I was in the thick of the final edits of my thesis. I was also freelancing. I was also working on NaNo. I had neglected a lot of things: my girlfriend, my friends, my own health (I gained 20 pounds just in that month, thanks, stress-eating) just to keep the writing going. 

It's no wonder that after everything was said and done, it was three months before I wrote anything of substance. 

NaNo, man. 

The tl;dr is that it's basically an international competition with a goal of writing 50,000 words from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, which is the minimum length of a novel. Why November? The founder stated because of the miserable weather might make more people stay in. But honestly, if you're able to write 50,000 words in the same month that a lot of people have finals and Thanksgiving holiday obligations, that's pretty awesome of you. I mean, in the real world, writers face these situations all the time. Deadlines to be met, stories to submit, meanwhile life is completely ready to punch you in the gonads at the slightest provocation, distractions everywhere. That's why I'm 100% convinced I'll never work full-time as a writer because I get distracted easily.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, you're ideally averaging 1,666 words a day. This is my count from last NaNo, aided no-doubt by me not going to Black Friday and staying in Houston (normally we travel to Chicago or Brownsville) for the break. This was my tally. You could see dates where I didn't write at all, other dates where I went crazy on the keyboard.

I'm writing this because we're winding down Camp NaNo I (the other is in August) and I thought I'd contribute a few thousand words since I'm not actually participating in it.

So in discussing the good and bad, I'm going to borrow from Mr. Chuck Wendig's own take on it because 1) I think that guy is one of the funniest bloggers/writers ever and 2) he's pretty neutral on a lot of things that are starkly divisive on the writing internet (like, self-publishing, for instance).  I will fill in his statements with commentary and thoughts relating to my own experience.

WHY YOU SHOULD NANO (Italics, him; plain, me)

It will teach you discipline and diligence.

Yes, absolutely, if you haven't developed these habits yet. 

• Writing every day will teach you a lot about writing, good and bad.

• Writing every day will teach you a lot about your own writing habits, good and bad.

Yes, but for this one, I am of the opinion you ought to know by now that if you're taking on NaNo as someone who's already been writing, you have an understanding of your writing style. I came into NaNo with the background of a journalist, so I had a particular mindset already.

• It’s goal-oriented. Writers live by deadlines.

Incredibly true. I think my background as a journalist really kicked into high gear for me this last NaNo. In college: I had to meet the deadlines of writing every day. Monday, write, tuesday, write, wednesday, write and edit, thursday edit, Friday, edit.  I also had to be sure my thesis was edited and I was meeting my thesis advisor's deadlines, too. My agent will give me deadlines. Deadlines are necessary. 

• It’s geared explicitly toward finishing your shit, and finishing your shit is about the only single piece of writing advice you can really, genuinely count on to be true.

Nothing to add here. Finish your book. That's it. If I completely stripped down the reasons I wrote my book. The why was clear. But so was the how: "FINISH YOUR SHIT."

• It’s also community-driven — writing is quite explicitly an individual and often lonely endeavor, but this has the spirit of a creative word orgy. You come into the room, put your keys in the basket, lube up the ol’ story-makers, and start writing like a motherfucker. Community in this regard is a good way to feel less alone. It gives you shoulders to cry on, minds to bounce ideas off of, and ink-stained hands to high-five. It’s the closest you’re gonna get to a bunch of writers just humping the sweet hell out of each other, unless you’ve spent any time at Harlan Ellison’s love ranch.

This is something I really have to be thankful for. The NaNo online community was amazingly supportive, and when I went to local meetups, I was welcomed with open arms. I did feel a bit out of place (I was one of few people in my age range with the rest averaging 10 years younger or older) but it wasn't bad. Friendly, relaxed environment. 

• Modern writing careers — successful ones, anyway — are increasingly predicated on producing a lot of content quickly, and, well, this is a good way to practice exactly that.

YES. Absolutely. Especially if we go into freelancing. If you're writing one article a week and someone else is writing five, he's going to get hired, you won't.

• It will help you take your Internal Editor and drown him in a mud puddle. Writers have to, have to, have to grow comfortable with writing shittily. Shit happens. Shit also washes off. Put differently, it is sometimes necessary to write badly so that you can edit and rewrite and turn bad writing into good story.

This was one of the best lessons I learned throughout my NaNo experience: just keep writing. One of my biggest hangups writing anything else was that ol' editor rearing his ugly head. What kept writing as a journalist was a deadline with my pay on the line. Writing creatively, I didn't have deadlines and there wasn't any monetary compensation, either. So I rationalized the shit out of me sitting on my ass. During NaNo, I had deadlines (1 a.m. every night) and a word count goal (1,667) and although there was a lack of monetary compensation, the love of competition kept me going.

• Treating it like a month-long writing exercise instead of The Future Of Your Writing Career lends this a strong mindset that creates bonafide self-instructional value.

• Gamification works wonders for some people in terms of motivating action.

See above. I'm a sucker for shit like that. Sometimes, I need artificial help. Like I used to use HabitRPG (now Habitica) a lot and I'm leaning on going back to that. But really, it's about how best you trick your mind into doing things. If you're doing it for the first time, think that each day you write 1,667 words is 1,667 words that you didn't have before and closer and closer to that 50,000-word limit (or 30,000 if you're doing Camp NaNo) and trust me, once you start writing, it's very hard to stop. 

The same could be said for any habit, really. And I'll take a small detour here to remind you that if you want to make something a habit, it's going to suck a lot at first but eventually you get into the groove and you don't want to stop. 

• Being a writer is about writing. Full-stop. Partaking makes you a writer. End of story.

• Time isn’t going to wait for you and you’re going to die someday so, fuck it. Write now. Not later. You might be dead in December. Maybe the world will blow up. But that story inside you? It’s ready now. So, fire up the ol’ wordithopter and fly yourself to the distant land of Bookopolis.

Absolutely. You've got to DO IT.

Of course there's also valid reasons why not to DO IT

• A month is not a lot of time to write a book and most people take longer than that to write one. Let’s be honest, it’s setting a fairly unrealistic pace to complete a book. I write fast like a squirrel with a Roman candle shoved up its fuzzy nethers, and even I can’t finish most books in 30 days.

imagine turning in something without several serious rounds of editing? because thirty days aren't going to make a novel. You're going to have to edit. And re-edit. And if you think you're going to have a perfect first draft you're way, way, way, wrong.

The win/lose condition through gamification can be toxic — to speak frankly, writers often have issues with depression or anxiety, and this really doesn’t help. (I speak from experience on the latter. For some reason, NaNoWriMo amped up my anxiety rather than dampened it. No idea why. I don’t get that way with deadlines, but this made me feel really agitated when I tried it years ago.)

I'd be interested to see how I do with NaNo this year. Last year I was so anxious about my thesis that I don't think I added anything extra by freaking out over NaNo. I just remembered that I had failed all the other times I had tried NaNo and so it was on me to do better. The trick is to remember that this is a friendly competition. No one's going to look down on you for not winning, and if they do, they're not the kind of people you'd like to hang around with in the first place.

• You have a pace, and maybe this isn’t it. A story takes the time that it takes. Maybe you write it in two weeks. Maybe it takes you two months or two years. There exists no “one schedule fits all.” Acting like that is a good way to feel like a giant fail-flavored crapsicle.

Yep, absolutely. I know my fantasy epic suffered because I tried to NaNo it several times. And of the 10 stories I wrote for Nano '15, only three or four have been salvageable. Sometimes, it takes time.

• Further, for some, writing every day is a boon. For others, a bane. Again, trying to conform HOW YOU WRITE to this one pattern can be like trying to headbutt a square peg through a circle hole. All you end up with is a throbbing headache and a feeling of shame and worthlessness.

• Sometimes doing something different from what everyone else is doing is clarifying and valuable. Writers are not particularly good at following orders, I find. In fact, every writer is basically ten ferrets. You can’t control one ferret, much less ten. Ferrets will not be commanded. FERRETS CARE LITTLE FOR YOUR NATIONAL FERRET WRANGLING MONTH (NaFerWraMo).

• Put differently, this month is very much about comparing yourself to other writers, and engaging in uniformity. And comparing yourself to other writers and trying to conform to their habits and their schedules is a very good way to feel very bad.

Y'all know that I've talked about 'process' several times and one thing I've expressed quite explicitly is that everyone has a process. No two writers are the same and that's why great collab pieces are rare. 

There are some exceptions, of course...

There are some exceptions, of course...

Speaking from my own experience, I've never been able to write collaboratively with someone. I'm open to trying it, but it'd have to be with someone that could get inside my headspace (and have a headspace ready for me too).

But on to the writer comparisons. I'd be at my first week in and then someone on NaNo chat or NaNo forum would be like UGH I'M SO STRESSED, I'M ONLY AT 40,000 WORDS! I don't think every single person that did this did it out of malice, but I'm sure some were like 'ugh i've done this much, come stroke my ego'. Listen peeps, if you're going to do NaNo, you're going to run into people who shit out 10,000 words a day like it was their job (sometimes, it is their job) but don't let that deter you from your own dreams. I was freelancing, working on my thesis, going to my FULL-TIME job. It was a chore as it was to even close to the "suggested" average of 1,667. So don't feel bad because you're not where someone is. You're you. 

Jose Alfredo Jimenez sings: "despues me dijo un arriero, que no hay que llegar primero, sino hay que saber llegar" (a mule driver said to me; that it's not about getting there first, but knowing how to get there) remember that if you decide to do this.

• Sometimes writing crap is good. Sometimes writing crap is sad-making. And this isn’t just writing crap — it’s extruding crap quickly. Speed is the essence. The finish line is king. At the end if what you have is just a handful of wet shit, how will that make you feel?

• NaNoWriMo focuses overmuch on writing, but here’s the dirty truth — writing is a crass, mechanical act. It is a necessary part of the process, but it’s just pure craft — it is fingers going pok pok pok tap tap tap on the keyboard until a giant block of prose is regurgitated. But if fails to focus on story. Story is why we write. Prose is secondary and supportive. Story, character, theme, all that stuff isn’t background. It’s great and it’s glorious and it’s why we come to the page, most times. (Sure, some folks come only for writing, but I think most people come for the narrative and the ideas presented by that narrative.) Story only exists in permanence when we transcribe it, and writing is one crucial method of transcription — but make no mistake, that’s all it is. Transcription. By focusing so much on that, something threatens to be lost.

So the best thing to remember is this a game. It's a friendly competition. A lot of digital ink will be spilled on its merits or lack thereof. But it's up to you. I plan on doing it again because why the hell not. I know what to expect. I'll also be mentoring, which is fun, because I get to be someone's sounding-board and that person will inspire me to keep writing.


Blog title from Amaranthe - True