I hope everybody who participated in NaNoWriMo found it helped them to create something wonderful.

Every year when November comes around, NaNoWriMo gets me thinking about writing. Ideally I'm thinking about it more than just in November, but this particular event makes me think about writing in the context of forming productive and sustainable habits.

Even though I love to write, the demands of work and family often make finding time to write a challenge. While I was in graduate school I did no creative writing at all.  It was not long afterwards that I got the bug again, and I started listening to the podcast Writing Excuses, which aims to advise and inspire new writers. I can't speak highly enough of it. I took a creative writing class from Brandon Sanderson the year before Elantris came out, and it was phenomenal. Listening to Brandon, Howard, Dan, and now Mary was like taking that class all over again, but for free.

The one thing missing from the podcast was the writing deadlines imposed by a class. One of the reasons I took the class was to motivate me to write, and external deadlines are really effective for me. Knowing that I have to have something to show for myself by a certain date works for me.  I thought about signing up for another creative writing class, but it seemed like a costly way to keep myself motivated.

When Writing Excuses discussed the advantages of joining a writing group, I realized that this could be a way to self-impose regular deadlines, to make myself write regularly. Ideally I would develop the self discipline to write without any kind of external motivation, but that's where I was. I joined up with a local writing group through meetup.com, and the experience has been excellent. I'm meeting people of varied backgrounds, varied levels of experience, and varied perspectives, united by their love of writing. I offer to share my work as often as I can, largely to keep myself writing. (Still working on that self discipline thing.)

So you'd think that participating in NaNoWriMo would be a no-brainer for me. Of course I'd want to join thousands of people who unite for a surge of writing, giving one another moral support and encouragement. But it's not as straightforward as that, at least not for me.

The problem lies in establishing sustainable habits. NaNoWriMo encourages people to make a great big push, to set aside other commitments and write that novel you've always meant to write. And I do think that anything that encourages people to exercise their creative impulses is a good thing. But I wonder- at the end of the month, how many of the ragged participants keep writing on December 1st, even at a reduced, more sustainable level? If people are like me (and of course I assume people are going to be like me. What other measuring stick do I have? Besides, I like being me. You'd like it too) they are probably going to be so burnt out by the unsustainable effort, or so behind on all other commitments, that they do not feel ready to take up the pen again for a long time. Perhaps even, next November.

Anything that gets writers to write is good, so I'm not bagging on NaNoWriMo. But I think I'd do better working to establish a writing as a sustainable habit, one that can coexist with the other aspects of my life. Someday I want to be a professional writer, and that means learning to write continually, not in annual bursts. But I love the excitement and energy to create that accompanies NaNoWriMo, so my plan is to participate next year, but with more modest goals. For me, it would be a noteworthy achievement to write every day, regardless of the word count. That's going to be my NaNoWriMo goal next year- to establish a sustainable regular writing habit before then, and not to miss a day in November. The goal to reach 50,000 words is irrelevant- what matters is channeling the desire to create.

It was in this frame of mind that I listened to Howard Tayler's discussion of what to do if you fall short of your NaNoWriMo goals, linked below.


His words matched my own sentiment. If you don't make it, treat it as though you missed a deadline with the editor, set a reasonable time frame to finish your book- and then finish your book. The artificial goals set through NaNoWriMo or through participation in a writer's group are immaterial. What matters is their intent- to get people to create. To write.

So write.

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    July 2012