I’ve done Nano for 7 years now, and this year… This year is shaping up to be the best yet. And that’s weird to say because we’re barely a third of the way through it.
I don’t know if it’s the story itself, the fact that in one week I broke my all time, per day writing record, Twice!, or maybe it’s the fact that, for the first time, I’m not doing it alone.
Nanowrimo has a community behind it. It’s almost a secret club. (I say “almost”, but, yeah, it probably is an actual secret club.) But it’s one I have never really experienced fully. Oh, I talk about it. A lot. My friends know me as the Nano-Evangelist. I don’t shut up about it. But even so, every year that I’ve done it, I’ve kind of done it alone.
But not this year. This year I managed to convert a few people, and, while I can’t credit for the actual conversion, they each have come with their own ideas, it’s still been really great to be joined by a little band in the trenches with me.
The funny thing that I realized this week, though, is that all of them are doing their first year of Nano. I, of course, am on my 7th. So it’s been interesting, (read: semi-hilarious), to see them take a first swing at this beast. Because it’s all so familiar.
I failed my first year of Nano, missed a few days, fell behind, and petered out about halfway through. But, while I didn’t complete, I still count it as a good year because it taught me almost everything I needed to know to come back the next year and blow the challenge out of the water. And to come back every year since.
The thing I never tell people about Nano is that I almost wish people would fail their first year. Because in failing you will learn more about the actual process than succeeding. You will learn all the ways your brain can make excuses to not do it. You will learn to make peace with the voice that shows up, every day, to tell you to not do it. And once you learn that, once you understand that the voice is not telling you the truth, then you can do Nano. Then you can do anything.
One of my Nano-buddies messaged me over the weekend, in despair, because she just couldn’t find the energy to do it. I wanted to laugh. Not because I didn’t believe her or because she was being silly, far from it. It was because she said all the things I said my first year. All the things I still myself saying from time-to-time.
I can’t do this.
The words aren’t there.
I am failing so hard.
And the reason I am so thankful to not be the only one doing it this year is that I finally get to give people what I never got my first year. I finally get to use all this Nano-wisdom for its primary purpose.
So I told her all the things that I’ve learned to tell myself over the years. The Nano Pep Talks that I haven’t been able to give anyone else yet.
Just start. It’s the simplest, easiest, toughest rule.
Just start. You won’t feel prepared. You just won’t.
You will always have that voice that says you can’t,
and the art is in learning to ignore it and write anyways.
The story wants to get told.
I learn this every time I sit down to write.
The story wants to get told, and if you show up, it will too.
But it won’t write itself; you have to start.
It’s supposed to be hard.
If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
It’s supposed to challenge us because it’s growth,
and, God help us, it’s never not without pain.
Writer’s freak outs are so common, you can almost map them, like the 5 stages of grief. And it wasn’t long before my friend reached that oh, so common stage: This is Crap.
She said to me, “What if it’s just a bad idea?”
What if my story just sucks? What if it doesn’t deserve to get written?
I wanted to laugh again, because I’ve thought that, so many times. Writers have thought that, likely since the invention of the written word. That’s why I wasn’t worried when she said it, and why I didn’t hesitate to write back:
Who ever said it had to be a good one?
It’s easy to look at Nano and see the potential. A story you can hold in your hand, one maybe even that you can publish, or at the very least be proud of. Thus, the biggest fear becomes, “What if I’m wasting my time?” What if this is just a terrible story and I spent 30 days writing 50,000 words that were better off not being written?
But Nano is about so much more than that because it’s not really about the story. I’ve written 5 novels in Nano. I haven’t published any of them, yet. I hope to, but I don’t look at myself as unfulfilled. Because I still did it. I completed the challenge; regardless of what happens with the stories after that, I will have still accomplished something.
It’s like I told my friend: It’s the pursuit that matters. Maybe we write good stories. Maybe we write the best story in the world. Maybe we don’t. Maybe it’s crap. Point of order, it probably isn’t, but it doesn’t really matter.
Because it’s not about the stories we are writing. It’s about who we are becoming while writing them.
The kind of people who know how to not make excuses. Who know how to call upon our talents when we need to, not just when we feel like it. The kind of people who will show up.
The effort is what really matters, and it is never wasted.
The only way to lose is to not show up.