NaNoWriMo and the Lure of the Half-Blank Page
Whelp, here we go again. NaNoWriMo time. The Internet has not yet figured out a way to imbue the written word with a tone of voice, so until Google gets on that, I will tell you how I am write-saying those statements: with a combination of trepidation, skepticism, excitement, and hope.
I'm a late-comer to National Novel Writing Month, and I'll admit that I have a whole heap of mixed and sometimes contradictory feelings about the very idea. See, I write novels for a living, so every month is Novel Writing Month for me. My books take me years to write and edit, so when someone tells me she's going to write a novel in 30 days, my face tends to freeze in this weird, strained grimace that says "Hmmm, cool!" but actually means, "I've already thought of 16 ways to hurt you."
Writing a novel (or more specifically, according to the official NaNoWriMo rules, writing 50,000 words, which is not precisely the same thing) in a month is ambitious to say the least, and pretty much ensures some terrible writing by placing more emphasis on quantity than on quality. It's the reason many agents and editors hole up for the month of December, when barely edited NaNoWriMo manuscripts come rolling into their inboxes like a tsunami of deranged monkeys demanding bananas.
But why do I want to punch all those Usain Bolts of novelists in the face? Here is the revelation that has lead to my evolution in feelings about NaNoWriMo—it's because I'm scared. I'm scared to do what that NaNoWriMo novelist is doing: to write with abandon, to write without thinking, without reading it over, without concern, without that imaginary editor sitting on my shoulder. And that is exactly what NaNoWriMo is actually about. Not writing, but facing your fears about writing.
I'm currently working on my fourth YA novel, and I have to say, it doesn't get easier. I've been thinking about, researching, outlining, and writing this novel for almost three years now. What I have written is still not "there." Some days I dread opening the document on my computer. I'm no stranger to the empty page, and, in fact, I find all that blankness invigorating. But it's the half-empty page that's my problem. Before I can pick up where I left off, I find myself drawn like a moth to a flame back to the words I've already written, appraising them, revising them, finding them one day brilliant and another day clunky and tired. I get so preoccupied with what I've already written that sometimes I barely write. I take two steps backward to move one step forward.
That is okay. It's my process. But this NaNoWriMo, I'm going to try something else. I'm going to step outside of my comfort zone. I'm going to face my fears by not facing what I've already written and instead forging ahead, unencumbered by the pages behind me and with the momentum of a ticking clock and almost 300,000 other writers at my back. I have 17,240 words of what will probably be a 70,000-word novel. I will not finish it by November 30. That's ridiculous, but it's also not the point. The point is that I will spend the next 24 days stringing new words together and ignoring old words. I will discover, not judge. I will write, not edit.
This was supposed to be a pep talk for you, and here I've talked all about myself. But this post isn't for those Sparklers who have already written 10,000 words. This post is for those Sparklers who are feeling ambivalent, skeptical, nervous, and maybe a little bit scared of NaNoWriMo. Take a chance. Face your fear. Free yourself to move forward for 30 days. There will be time to look back later. I wish you luck, and I hope you'll do the same for me.
How far are you in your NaNo novel? Does this make you want to start one?