Thursday, December 4, 2008

Teh Internetz: Lessons from Winning NaNo

As I emerge into a new world where I guess we're going to get a real president and stuff, I can't help but feel nostalgic about my NaNoWriMo experience. As I shared with you weeks and weeks ago, I participated in an online push to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And I did it. Whee, confetti.

This was the first time I had done NaNo, and it was a crazy month. My days were full of hurried writing. I took my new teeny tiny laptop everywhere I went. I wrote in coffee shops, in wine bars, in grocery stores, in Union Square, and on the subway. I wrote during lunch breaks and before work and after work and on the weekends. I wrote lots and lots and lots of stuff.

Maybe 20% of what I wrote is actually usable.

The structure of NaNo is unique because you get so worked up about hitting your word count, you'll write anything. You go from day to day, trying to dig yourself out of the hole you created yesterday when you decided to watch House instead of write. You're throwing in adjectives and adverbs and flashbacks and background information just to stretch the words out. The vast majority of it? Complete crap.

But the point of NaNo isn't to write something fantastic. The point is to get in a safe zone where your creative brain is forced to produce. There is no second-guessing, no self-editing. There is only your fingers and your keyboard and no filter in between. And that is a precious thing to experience.

Imagine what we could write if we weren't worried about writing well. Imagine how freeing it would be to write without the expectation of defending your creative choices to a class of fellow students or a writing group of clove-smoking colleagues. Imagine writing something that came straight from your neural synapses, the primordial ooze of thought. Something proto-fictional. Something raw.

And yeah, okay, chances are it sucks. But for every 2,000 words of suck, there might be a glimmer, a phrase, a sentence of pure, unadulterated genius that you would have never arrived at unless you'd gone through this concentration camp approach to writing.

I may not have a great novel right now, but I do have a 50,019-word framework from which to fine tune my great novel. And that sure as heck beats writing nothing for years and years. So maybe NaNo isn't for you. But maybe locking yourself away and just forcing it to come might be the way to go for some of us.


Jill said...

Congrats TJ! I've wanted to do this for a long time, but I never have the motivation. Maybe I'll start my own, and call it NaNoMo Squared, because I'll give myself 2 months. Good plan?

Cindy said...

Kudos for actually finishing! I want to do it every year, but there's always something else.