If you frequent the literary blogosphere, chances are you’ve come across calls to join fellow writers over on the dark side: the intense, but ultimately rewarding NaNoWriMo, which begins November 1.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Participants commit to creating a first draft of a 50,000-word novel, from start to finish, in just 30 days. Sound daunting? It is—crafting an entire book in a month is no joke—but the increasing number of participants each year (over 300,000 in 2013!) suggests that having a whole manuscript in hand by December 1 makes it all worthwhile. Then there are the success stories; bestsellers like The Night Circus and Water for Elephants originated as NaNoWriMo novels.
Even if you don’t have a novel brewing in the back of your mind, NaNoWriMo offers a secret tool that’s useful for everything from fiction to business letters. In fact, NaNoWriMo-ing your own writing just might change the way you approach the writing process itself.
Have you ever sat writing an essay, or a proposal, or a longer project, and wasted hours over a sentence or paragraph or chapter that simply wouldn’t come together? That’s where NaNoWriMo comes in.
The biggest challenge of NaNoWriMo is also its greatest benefit; in order to hit that 50,000-word goal, you need to turn out over 1,600 words a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, until the day inspiration runs dry or you can’t get past a stubborn bit of dialogue or a scene that’s not working out. So what do you do?
Well, you’re committed; you have to get those words onto the screen. So you push through. You write anyway. You write even though it’s not working the way you want it to; you write even though, frankly, you suspect it sucks. You write even though you know you’re probably going to end up rewriting it later.
And that’s the beauty of it. You write your way to the other side.
Sometimes the desire to self-censor and edit as you go gets in the way of your ability to actually get your writing done. If you’re struggling, take a page from NaNoWriMo and challenge yourself to write your way right over a problem. Get your word count down, even if the words aren’t coming to you easily. Good? Bad? It doesn’t matter; the point is that you’ll have written. You can always fix it later, but, as Nora Roberts said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
Now that’s a lesson you can take with you far beyond the month of November.
Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.