I should have titled this blog post: How Not to Start NaNoWriMo. But instead I went with something a little more motivational.
Sigh. My NaNo month is getting off to a slow start. Why?
I looked back.
I didn’t really have a choice. See, I was writing my second book when the copyedits came through for my first book. So I had to put book two down in order to finish book one (which was an exciting adventure of its own!). Now I’m writing book two again (and using NaNoWriMo as my motivator/deadline/piano hanging over my head). But in order to get my head back into book two, I had to read what I’d already written. And then it was really easy to start fixing what I’d already written. Which means I’ve been doing more editing than creating.
Looking back over what you’re writing, while you’re writing it, presents two potential pitfalls:
1. You realize what you’ve written sucks and you lose motivation.
2. You try to fix what you’ve written and you lose momentum (and time).
Unfortunately, I’m guilty of both.
Last night I groaned to my husband about my first draft. “Ugh!” I said. “This is the such a shitty first draft!” (See how I borrowed Anne Lamott’s phrase there?)
He asked, “Well, is it better than your last first draft?” And then he asked, “Is it better than your first first draft?”
Grudgingly, I said yes.
“Then you’re making progress. Keep going.”
(Let me pause here a moment to say: my husband rocks.)
Jumping from copyedits of the first book — which had already been through a few revisions and was pretty darned polished! — to re-reading a partial first draft set me up for failure and frustration. What was I doing, comparing a polished manuscript to a rough-hewn first draft?! Oh silly, silly me. Even though I had to go back and read what I’d written so I knew where and how to pick up the story again, getting back into the game has been like trying to ride a bicycle uphill. Ugh. Thankfully, I feel like I have a handle on the story again and can start picking up speed. I’m eager to see those NaNo numbers rise.
When it comes to creative work, momentum is a kind of tenuous thing. Once you have it, try not to lose it, especially by going back and rereading what you’ve already wrote.
Whatever you do, keep moving forward!
So, at the last minute last week, I jumped on the NaNoWriMo wagon…kind of. The manuscript for my second book, While You Were Gone, is due to my editor soon. I’ve already written a huge chunk of it, but still have a long way to go before I can call it done.
So I’m going to use the challenge, camaraderie and accountability of NaNoWriMo to kick the project into high gear. Don’t worry: I’m not counting what I’ve already written in my word count, because that would be uncool.
My goal is to finish before the end of November. Here’s hoping.
I haven’t added any writing buddies to my profile, though I know a bunch of authors participating this year. If you want to add me as a writing buddy, my NaNo name is RedPenOnFire. (Goofy, I know. Don’t judge me. I created the account during a moment of weakness, when anonymity felt less threatening.)
I’m going to blog about the issues I run into as I go, so if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, too, you might find some advice or commiserating in this month’s posts.
To all those doing NaNo, I commend you and I am cheering you on! Now go write!
Then, inevitably, he blows everything up. Not literally. I mean, just when he’s starting to gain momentum and really make something happen, he trips himself up. Sabotages himself. Sets what he’s doing and what he’s done on fire and walks away. And all of us watching it happen shake our heads and sigh.
It’s like he’s programmed to self destruct.
Artists (writers included) are known to be a temperamental lot. You know the stereotype: the tortured artist. We find community in our angst and court our pain in search of inspiration.
Which is fine, I suppose, if that’s all you want to do. But I have to wonder if at some point that kind of drama becomes our work instead the art we were creating.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield refers to this kind of behavior as a form of resistance. Julia Cameron refers to it as “the twitch, the flu, the deadly disease” in her book Supplies: A Troubleshooting Guide for Creative Difficulties. It’s that thing you allow to get in your way so you don’t have to accomplish the thing you’re really meant to accomplish.
I used to be this way. I used to unravel my work so I never had to get where I wanted to be. Why? I’ve asked myself that a lot. The best answer I’ve found is that success means change and change can be scary.
Reminds me of that Marianne Williamson poem:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
I wish my artist friend would read The War of Art or Supplies, or Marianne’s poem. But, like a kind of depression, when you’re in a pattern of self-destruction, you don’t really want to hear the answer. You just want to keep being roiled up in the confusion and drama and somedays.
But the answer is pretty easy. (Okay, it’s hard, but also…easy.)
You do the thing you’re scared of doing. You go that extra step. You finish the work. You put away the matches and let the thing live and breathe and shine instead of burning it to the ground.
I think James A. Owen might say it best in his book Drawing Out the Dragons:
“If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.”
Are you programmed to self destruct? Whether you’re able to hear this now, or whether it just sits in your subconscious for a while until you are ready, the truth is this: you don’t have to burn what you’re building.
Just put the matches down.
The more years I live on this earth, the more I understand there is power in letting go.
Letting go of what you want. Letting go of what you’re better off without. Letting go of the outcome.
When my daughter was younger, she was very attached to her toys (well, she still is). She never wanted to give anything away, whether to sell in a garage sale or to give to a charity. Again and again I would tell her that if she’s clinging to what she has, her hands aren’t free to receive new things, different things, better things. Sometimes she understood. Sometimes it was a battle.
All that time I was telling her this lesson, I was also talking to me.
Writing — more specifically, revising — is teaching me this lesson now. This idea of cutting away what your story is better off without so there’s room for something new, something better — even though you love what is already there.
It can be painful, the letting go. But what I’ve found time and again is it’s always better, after. What comes as a result of letting go is always surprising, and always greater than what I imagined it would be.
In my first rounds of edits with my editor, I had to rewrite the ending of my book so it fit the new two-book structure we’d created. This was very difficult for me. I loved-loved-loved my ending. But it wouldn’t have made sense in the story arc if I’d left it as is. So I cut the chapter and wrote a new ending. That new ending completely opens up the possibilities for the second book.
If you never let go, there’s never room for possibilities.
It comes down to ego, I think, or maybe security. We think we know best and we close ourselves off to the suggestions of others. Or we want to stay with what we know, what’s safe.
Letting go involves releasing what we think we know, releasing what we think we deserve, accepting that we’re not as in charge as we think we are.
When I think back through my life, I can count several situations where I let go of my expectations and the outcome, and it literally changed my life. (And I do mean literally, not the actually not-literal way some people use the word.)
So, ask yourself: is there something you have a death-grip on today? What would happen if you released that grip? What would happen (could happen) if you let go?