We’ve probably all heard the adage, “Give yourself permission to write crap,” but I want to talk about it because it’s such an important one. We must face the inevitability that not every word we type will be fabulous, and that’s okay. We are allowed to be imperfect. Welcome it, embrace it. It’s your right as a human.
In only 1 more day, thousands of writers across the globe will be mopping their brows, nursing their keyboard-burnt fingers, and collapsing into piles of first draft pages. That’s right – NaNoWriMo is almost complete. Three cheers to all those who faced the challenge!
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write as close to 50,000 words as you can between November 1st and 30th.
I personally don’t participate, but I get asked a lot if I do, so I thought I’d write a post explaining why. This isn’t to knock the NaNo’ers, just to provide my own perspective.
Two years ago I read an amazing book called “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron, full of warm-hearted wisdom about the creative process, self-doubt, self-criticism, and motivation. I’ve recommended this book to a number of writers since then, and decided today I would share the notes I took while reading, in hopes that you find them as encouraging as I did.
(These are part quotes, part summaries, typed here exactly as I penned them in my notebook. I’ve made bold the ones that most resonated with me.)
Look at that shiny, glorious number! Can’t you just see the heavenly light rays bursting between its digits? And nope, there’s nothing wrong with your Spotify – that IS a chorus of angels singing “Hallelujah” through this picture. (I hired them to do that and they’d like a tip, so…)
Many writers respond to the above sentiment with a groan, a smirk, a roll of the eyes so intense they risk pulling a muscle. Some respond with downright disgust. “How DARE someone insult my LIFE’S WORK by thinking they might want to try it!”
I don’t understand this response. At all.
One time I wrote a piece inspired by David Foster Wallace. It was unconventional, not really a narrative, hard to classify. I didn’t think it was genius or anything, but I enjoyed it. I got some scathing criticism from an individual who focused very much on the rules it was breaking. When I mentioned that I was learning from DFW’s example, the critiquer said, “Yeah, well, you’re not DFW.”
I don’t want to jinx myself here, so hold on a second while I throw this industrial sized salt package over my shoulder…
… Phew, alright! I’ll clean up all that salt later.
So anyway, yes, the block that I mournfully discussed here is, I believe, gone. I don’t know if writing so pointedly about my block worked some kind of psychological voodoo on it, or if it was the redirection of my attitude, or the fact that I got myself back into a routine, but either way, I’m in a good place. Writing makes me happy again. 🙂
Part of what had blocked me so much was my own perfectionism. I felt pressured to “make it good.” Not to mention how taxing the book already was on me, with its daunting plot and other demands. I was working so hard that I forgot to enjoy myself.
So, what do I enjoy about writing?
When I started my current (second) novel, I was all momentum, all burning excitement. Twenty thousand words practically wrote themselves. I was on a downhill sled with the wind hitting my face so fast that it chapped my lips and watered my eyes, but damn was it fun.
That was mid 2013. After about 20k words, I put it on hold so I could focus on finishing my first book. Then I had to edit, and I wanted a break for a couple months to recharge, so I didn’t pick up the second novel again until mid 2014.
I got on my sled and did that thing sledders do where they push with their feet, scooting bit by awkward bit towards the precipice where gravity would then take over. But nothing happened. There was no hill, just flat ground. The words that came so easily before were stuck.