Did you do National November Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) last month? It’s a month-long sprint that challenges writers to produce 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th.
Despite being involved with creative writing for my whole life, I’ve only participated in NaNo for the first time this year. (I know!!) Though I should note: Because Novembers are uncharacteristically busy for me—I prioritize a lot of family celebrations, which entailed traveling for almost half of the month—I set my personal word count far lower than 50,000.
So while I can’t speak to meeting that lofty goal, I learned a lot about myself as a writer, the creative process, and writing at airports.
1.) My art is for me and no one else.
What I love about NaNo is that it relies solely on intrinsic motivation. There’s no payoff, no prize, no promise of publication, and the only prize is the feeling of individual accomplishment at the end.
The beauty of a purely self-motivated endeavor is that it relieves a lot of extrinsic pressures and incentives. No one else has input or expectations. Every time I sat down to write, I was alone—and free to take full creative authority.
2.) Making time to write means having the resolution to say no to other things.
I spent this past month declining social invitations so that I could write more. Once I committed myself to my writing goals, I realized how much pressure I felt to say “yes” to hang out with people I only half-liked, or to respond to bland interactions on social media. NaNoWriMo showed me that writing meant sacrificing those things, and it empowered me to dedicate time to myself and my own aspirations.
Of course, even hard-core introverts like me have to keep their relationships healthy. For me, time with loved ones comes first, year-round, so I didn’t write when I was with family. I had told my close friends beforehand what I was doing, and that I’d be in touch again in December.
3.) Relatedly, if you want to write (or paint, or draw), just sit down and do it.
If you pursue a creative passion along with a full-time job, you can’t be picky about the moments when “inspiration” strikes. I’d work toward my daily word count whenever I could: at dawn, after work, during lunch breaks, while waiting at San Francisco International Airport. (No joke. I almost missed the announcement for my flight once.)
The truth is, unlike a class or a job, art doesn’t have time blocked out for it. I had to be strict about scheduling writing, and carving out time in the day that I didn’t know I had until I took advantage of it.
4.) You can’t edit what you don’t write.
I love editing. But when I usually write, a sentence is tweaked and perfected my head a million times before I commit it to paper.
To get to my daily word count, I ended up sticking a sticky note above my desk that said, “You can fix it later.” It was painful at first, but often led me to surprising developments that I didn’t plot out beforehand. So, NaNo helped break (okay, maybe whittle away at) my habit of perfectionism. Baby steps.
5.) I never want to give this up.
Honestly, the best takeaway from NaNoWriMo was that it reminded me of my journey with creative writing. I had given it up in college, thinking that I should focus on more “serious” pursuits… only to loop back and realize that writing was that rare thing that gave me a sense of excitement, drive, and grounded sense of self. My art makes me love and respect myself—and that’s something that nobody with any kind of creative impulse should ever have to compromise.
How was your NaNoWriMo experience? How have you incorporated your artistic passion (in any medium) into your daily life?