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NaNoWriMo Killed Her
By Penelope Jensen
December, 2007, 07:35

Did I succumb to the seduction of compulsive word counting and incessant discussion monitoring? Did I find reasons to do the writing "later"? Did I fail to achieve 50,000 words because I don't actually know that many words? Yes, yes, and no.

Of course, I know enough words and some will inevitably be repeated anyway but I couldn't get 50,000 of them down in black in white on my computer screen in 30 days. As any procrastinator will tell you, "I have my reasons."

For example, the amount of laundry needing to be done on your average month suddenly grew. Cleaning projects that were once easily ignored became aggressive, loudly demanding immediate attention. The cats were feeling especially neglected and needy during the month of November, and who can resist those sweet, imploring eyes; you've all seen Shrek, right? Then of course, there was Thanksgiving with family obligations and mounds of cooking followed by hours-on-end of eating. And those are just a few of the distractions that interfered with my word count.

I wanted to participate fully, be present for my fellow writers and engage with new friends via the regional and topical discussions. I didn't want to miss an invitation to a write-off event wherein participants gather at a local venue and write. The energy of such gatherings promises to inspire and shove you out of stuckness.

And don't tell me that if you are trying to achieve a certain number of words, you don't need to count how many you've already written. Of course you do. You need to count your words at least once every 15 minutes to make sure you are on track and to give you that "I can do this" feeling.

And such was the demise of this writer during my first NaNoWriMo challenge. It was not for naught, as they say. I learned a lot about myself, the writing process, concentration, The Zone, and my family and friends.

One of the reasons I wanted to take this challenge was to exercise what I like to call "total freedom writing" anything goes, don't bring a map or a plan, follow whimsy and stream of consciousness. I tend to get hung up with my inner editor, negotiating word choice and the application of punctuation to the detriment of making any real progress. I wanted to completely abandon any inhibitions and run nakedly through the vast expanse of white pages and black words.

It was absolutely wonderful! This is a sense of freedom I will keep close and use to remind myself to have no fear when the dark clouds of self-doubt are looming. The Land of No Judgements is the most fantastic place I've ever been (emotionally).

It is in this land that I found The Zone. A place I had heard about, but couldn't really imagine until I experienced it myself, this place of endless oxygen, clarity, and free movement is addictive. This aspect of the NaNoWriMo challenge helped me tear myself away from the distractions trying to hog-tie me into defeat and submission. If I got nothing else out of the experience, this one is a forever shining gem.

I did take Baty's advice by telling every one of my friends and family that I was attempting to write 50,000 words a short novel within the 30 days of November. I did try to create a schedule whereby I could nail down specific spaces of time for the writing. And while the support from my people was mixed, my discipline to the schedule was miserable. For details of how I failed with the schedule, revisit paragraphs three and four above.

At this point, I am less than 7,000 words in. I'm still unclear about what genre I'm writing, and I still don't know why I'm following these particular characters or what their story will ultimately be. There has not been a lot of action so far, but the characters are well-sketched and I do care about them. That's got to count for something.

Many of you wrote to me to lend support during the NaNoWriMo challenge. Thank you! These booster shots of encouragement were like my favourite desert with no calories, delivering an energy rush without the bulging thighs. Without your enthusiasm to balance out some of the neutral support I was experiencing, I don't think I would have even gotten as far as I did.

So, the event didn't really kill me, no. But it did kill some of my preconceived notions about writing a novel. It also killed some of the expectations I have for getting outside support and encouragement. While I did have quite a few cheerleaders, I need to find a way to keep their voices ringing in my ears to drown out the others that didn't get it. No one outright said anything discouraging, but I can read faces and I know when someone thinks I'm a lovable fool.

I would recommend NaNoWriMo to all writers. It's good training and gets you in shape in ways that other writing does not no matter how many words you end up with and no matter what kind of story evolves. The insight you gain into your world and yourself is unique from and unattainable through other methods.

And now I close this article with a farewell. I have enjoyed working with IN for 14 months, and now I'll be moving on to other gigs. With Annie, Jim, and Christian on-board, I feel confident that bases will be covered and the good work of this ezine can continue smoothly. I've learned a lot here; thank you, Rowdy and Julie. Perhaps our paths will cross again.  

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Penelope Jensen considers herself a citizen of the world, interested in the human condition and exploiting it for the sake of entertainment. Penny would love to hear from you.

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