For those of you that don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. It's a time for writers to set themselves a goal of reaching 50,000 words by the end of the month (about 1,667 words a day) and start a draft of their projects. The writing community really gets behind this annual challenge and it creates an extremely supportive atmosphere for productivity and progress in your writing. And for those of you that thrive off competition, it's a great way to challenge yourself or secretly compete with other writers in your word count. Basically, if you reach or exceed 50,000 words after the 30 days you won/beat NaNoWriMo!
Sounds like a great challenge, right?! So why haven't I participated in it yet? I'm sure there are other writers out there that have always been intrigued by NaNoWriMo but have never tried it.
First off, NaNoWriMo is a huge time commitment as well as a creative commitment which can create a lot of hesitation when contemplating doing it. And it isn't always during the most convenient time of the year: school gets busy and final projects and essays are being assigned, the holidays are coming around the corner, and social- as well as "me"-time can become more of the priority during all the busy chaos. So, after a long day of writing essay after essay or spending hours in class then doing homework, doing more writing could seem like the least appealing thing to spend our time on. And then we get into the habit of saying "oh I'll do it next year" or "I'll do my own version of it when I'm not as busy." But we never do. It's just an excuse, an easy trap to fall into. Life is always going to be busy and if we keep waiting for the perfect circumstances they're never going to come around and nothing will ever be written.
Personally, I tell myself that more times than I'd like to admit. And it becomes especially hard to get writing in during times of the year when we aren't as busy. Because then we become more concerned with the fact that we should be spending more time with the family and friends we don't get to see as much when we're busy. Or that we should take that time to truly relax and not worry about anything.
Since the goals of NaNoWriMo is just to write something, it's not even necessary to reach 50,000, it is easy to manipulate the challenge to fit your writing needs. Make a goal just to write something every day, have a smaller word count goal or do the challenge during a different month. It's honestly a way to motivate yourself to get the words written. Everyone knows that first drafts are (pun intended) rough drafts. And you need to get the "bad" words out before you can start improving them.
I know a challenge I have and know many, many writers also struggle with is self-editing. So much to the point of working backward and being stuck dealing with the same pages due to our inner perfectionist. It makes it incredibly difficult to get a larger word count because we obsess over making each word, each sentence perfect and meaningful and purposeful. And it's a challenge in and of itself to continue writing knowing there is a lot to fix. But it's just as important to make progress on the draft as a whole and getting a full draft finished rather than having some really good lines. Since it's an early draft those lines will probably end up getting changed anyway, so we have got to learn not to dwell on them.
Working past the major, initial obstacles that prevent participation in NaNoWriMo and personal writings, in general, are tasks themselves. But one of the most important obstacles I, and I'm sure many writers, face is the self-imposed challenges that prevent any writing from happening. We have all these ideas floating around our heads, but we rarely put them into detailed drafts - all we have are our endless bullet point notes in our phones that we hope to someday write more about.
Personally, the biggest obstacle I face with my writing is my own self-doubt. I am a major perfectionist at heart, especially with my writing, so I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to my work. If you know me, you know I've had this dream of becoming an author since 7th grade and have loved reading and everything surrounding books since the 4th grade. (Shoutout to my amazing English teachers throughout the years!) Since then, a lot has changed, but my passion for reading and writing hasn't.
For years, I have been compiling notes upon notes of story ideas I've had, but never get around to writing them out. There's always the intention, but something always gets in the way or becomes the more important priority. And, for some time, I have ignored this fact and always kept telling myself those excuses "oh I'll write over break when I'm not as busy" or "I'll write on weekends," but, to no surprise, here we are with barely anything written. One of the reasons these excuses get so out of hand is because there is nothing and no one holding us accountable for our writing or, in this case, our lack of writing. It's definitely a lack of commitment on my part, which I'm working on, but I've been finding it goes a lot deeper than that.
Because of this perfectionism that consumes my thoughts when writing, I've created a horrible internal writing environment for myself. It's filled with self-doubt and stops me from wanting to write because it's a frustrating process and makes me feel as if anything I write is wrong. Writing is an extremely personal and isolating task. The act of writing in itself is turning something internal into something external, which means that many aspects of my writing have some part of me in them or have been influenced by something I've experienced. This aspect makes talking about or sharing my work difficult for me since I'm a reserved person and don't like to overshare. My writing feels like a part of me I'm offering up to be inspected by others.
Because writing can be so personal, it definitely can become a limitation for me since I know at some point someone may read whatever I decide to write and try to interpret it. For many reasons, I have realized that I have unconsciously censored my own writing and continue to do so because there is that thought that someone will take my work too literally and apply it to my life or interpret it too personally. I'm also extremely aware of who will most likely read my work and feel I tweak my intentions based off them instead of how I actually want to write.
Many of these obstacles have been ignored or brushed under the rug because they can be arduous to accept about yourself, but it's time that I come clean and accept that they are challenges I need to start overcoming. It is easy to feel alone in the writing community because it is so personal and private, but NaNoWriMo creates a wonderfully supportive and productive environment for writers to expand their work and share their writing experiences with other writers also challenging themselves.
There has been a lot of contemplation and hesitancy about writing and sharing this article and my experience. But it made me look more within myself about why I was so hesitant to. I recommend any writer to take the time to recognize their personal obstacles and limitations in their writing. When people say "the only thing standing in your way is yourself" they truly mean it because it is true (particularly when relating this quote to writing). Writing is about you. Yes, it can literally be about you - it helps express yourself. But it's also yours to control. You decide when and what to write and how you write. The only deadlines are ones you make for yourself (which can be extremely motivating and helpful in keeping yourself accountable). And the only obstacles that prevent you from writing are the excuses you tell yourself.
For all you other writers out there that may be dealing with similar issues, it all starts by recognizing the problem. I love to write and it's what I want to do. So I've got to get out of my own way, out of my own head, and allow myself to write. Whatever that writing may be, I have to let it be written and allow myself to make mistakes and be comfortable confronting those mistakes.
It's about time I get out of my own way, what about you?