Writing and Failure

Last month, I wrote a blog post on the writer and rejection (If You Get Rejected, Should You Quit Writing?).

Here are some further thoughts on rejection by several oft-published writers, including the likes of Margaret Atwood: Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure.

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

 

Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? That’s right. Every November thousands of slightly crazy people all over the world (200,000 last year) participate in this month-long novel-writing frenzy. “The goal,” says the NaNoWriMo web site, “is to write a 50,000 word (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.” But wait, fingers off that keyboard! You can’t start before November 1. You can prep (i.e., outline, make notes, etc.). But the NaNoWriMo guidelines say you’re not allowed to actually start writing the novel before the “starting gun” fires.

Some of you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s not for me. That’s for veteran writers with several books under their belt.” Not true. Sure there are lots of experienced writers who participate. But NaNoWriMo is actually perfect for the individual who has always wanted to write a novel but is too daunted to actually begin.

“Because of the limited writing window,” says the web site, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality.” The site goes on to say, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.” Perfect for breaking the meanest of writer’s blocks!

There’s even plenty of support and community surrounding NaNoWriMo. Just check out their web site (below); there are forums, groups, and ways to share the experience.

Have I ever participated in National Novel Writing Month? Hell no! (My body hurts just thinking about sitting at the computer for that many hours.) But if you think you can do it without hurting yourself, then go for it! It’s certain to get you past any writer’s block.

So, get yourself ready. NaNoWriMo starts in just 4 days. But don’t forget to sign up!

To Sign up for NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org

To read more about NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/about/whatisnano

For the guidelines: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/about/hownanoworks

Establishing a Writing Habit

 

I tell my students and clients all the time (gently yet emphatically): “You’ve got to establish a writing habit.” It’s about opening up the channels so the creative juices can flow. Once those channels are open and flowing daily (at least 5 days a week), writing becomes second nature, resistance dissipates, and projects begin to write themselves. . . .

So, why has it been weeks (or months?) since I’ve had my own regular writing habit? Why have I put off writing a blog for . . . oh, five or six years now? When others ask, “How’s the writing going?” my answer is, “Oh, I’m not doing much of my own writing . . . I’m helping other people write.”

This is true, and it’s a good excuse, right? Altruistic? Noble? Of service? Or . . . am I doing what my clients and students do when they say, “Oh, I have a really busy schedule” or “How can I write every day when I’m not inspired every day?” or “I sat down to write but I ended up on Facebook.”

Often, beneath any of these excuses is a darker, more hidden reason for resisting writing:  Fear.  We know that as soon as we sit down to the computer, that snarky little voice inside our head is going to start growling at us, telling us how pathetic we are as writers. It’s an unpleasant—even painful experience—so naturally we resist it. Naturally we fear it. The thing is, we’ve got to sit down anyway. We’ve got to sit down, and sit down, and sit down, despite the snarking little voice. For many, sitting down daily to write will get them past this incessant Inner Critic. The channels will open and the voice will grow quiet, or at least faint, or may even disappear all together . . . at least intermittently. For others, the voice will continue to snark no matter how often you write. If you’re one of these people, you’ve just got to keep reminding yourself that anything the Inner Critic says is inherently . . . a big fat lie.

One trick I like to pass on to my students is this: If your Inner Critic is on a particularly gnarly rampage one day, just write badly. Yes, that’s right: Write crap. (Try it out and let me know what happens!) It’s kind of an aikido move: If someone comes at you with an attack, join their energy, rather than resisting it. It’s also similar to Anne Lamott’s “mantra,” shitty first draft (I didn’t swear in cyberspace; I’m just quoting!). The premise is if you give yourself permission to write as badly as your Inner Critic says you will . . . sooner or later, you’ll probably have a few gems slip in under the radar. You may even end up writing something really good. But you can’t get attached to that result; you’ve got to give yourself total permission to write badly.

So, as I finally set out on what has felt like a monolithic task of blog writing, I’m sitting in my chair at my computer, feverishly chanting . . . “Shitty first draft! Shitty first draft! Shitty first draft!” . . . Won’t you join me?