One year ago, a friend challenged me to join her in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – which occurs every November. (www.nanowrimo.org). It started in SF ___, and the point is to write 50,000 words in November. We were, then, in our second year of medical school.
I’m mostly a poet (a year ago, I might have said “only”), and, a year ago, I’d never written any hold-together-able short story – that is, beginning, semblance of middle/end – longer than 2000 words. If that.
But rather than turn down a challenge….
Before November 1, I was terrified. I had no idea what I was going to write. Could I modify it and try for 100 poems? Write something non-fiction about Peace Corps? Try to write some short stories? How could I write a 50,000 word (that’s about 200 pages) story when I had no plot in mind, nothing, nothing, nothing….
Then it was November 1, and, while sitting in a café, (s/p a Book Festival – perhaps that helped with inspiration, too) – a voice started telling me a story. And I wrote it down. I didn’t even know (her) name for a few days, not until she went to work and someone called her by it. And I didn’t know exactly how things were going to turn out in the story (I still don’t) until about 2/3 into November. I didn’t figure out her motivation (ie, she didn’t reveal it) until about that time, or later.
And it was an incredible and thrilling adventure. Every night, sitting down to write (tried for an hour a night…sometimes made it… and more hours in the end) was like sitting down to read a book, because until I started typing, I had no idea what was going to happen. Somehow, somehow, I got to 51,000 on November 30. I’m around 60,000 now on that one, with more to go – and a lot of cutting and editing to do.
And my friend and I both won – ie, we got the 50,000. Together. (or in tandem). It was an amazing month. It’s like being part of that collective unconscious (…Jungian) into which we were all tapping, everyone writing, all having this experience.
It doesn’t really matter what you write – that matters to you, and the transformation matter. It will happen. It’s not about being “good”, technically or in whatever other aspect.
Writing is a way to discover things, explore new ideas, employ and exercise the mind and imagination. And when you let yourself go, with abandon, without self-consciousness, there will be new thoughts, new connections, new solutions that you could not have pieced together otherwise. The beautiful thing is – when you’re going for word count – you’re certainly not editing, because that takes away words! That can happen later. Just write, write, write. And don’t self-edit, limit, or stifle.
It’s how I see African dance, in a way. To do it – to really do it – you have to let go of everything. Everything. There is no counting, there is no self-determining of beats or numbers or rhythms. The drums determine. And by following the drums, you become part of the music, you are reacting to it and you are in it, you are integral and integrated, and you can’t think about how you look or what you’re doing or how you’re doing because something else is driving you. And that, precisely, is when it becomes right, exquisite, and everyone is doing it slightly differently but it’s all beautiful and all works together as part of the whole. As such, writing does not have to involve conscious thinking. It comes.
You don’t have to do NaNoWriMo in the haphazard way I did. Some people are capable of planning or prefer it that way. Or you don’t have to plan at all.
You can start pondering now. Or wait until Nov 1, waking up….whenever… and do it then. Or a few days later.
You don’t have to write fiction. One friend just said she might try it with letters. Write ideas. Whatever. And even if it isn’t 50,000, for November, it could be a goal to try to write something every day (which I’d only once before even had the discipline to do. As someone who tries to be a writer….)
Both my friend and I, now in our third year of medical school, are going to try again. We might not finish this time, but….that doesn’t matter as much as the process.
I did this because of her, last year, and so this year I really want to recruit more people. Anyone. Everyone. And yes, everyone can write.