Do you ever sign up for something, like a potluck, or a 5K run, and then feel like you really wish you hadn’t bothered?
That’s kind of how I was about National Novel Writing Month, the online phenomenon where writers write fifty thousand words during the thirty days of November. This fall, it had been decided that Book Country, where I work as the Community and Engagement Manager, would be a sponsor of NaNoWriMo 2013. Book Country is Penguin Random House’s online writing and publishing community, and like NaNoWriMo, we are all about connecting writers. For the same reason that I love working at Book Country, I love the idea of Nano—a bunch of people, sitting at computers, smartphones, and tablets all over the planet—taking part in a conversation about writing, language, and what it means to tell a story. I blithely signed up, and started telling people that I was doing it.
I love the idea of writing 50K words in thirty days like I love the idea of potlucks, and the idea of running a 5K. But slaving over a casserole the night before a potluck, or getting up at 5am to run on a cold overcast morning? Those are hard tasks to actually execute. I was starting to get a bad feeling that NaNo was going to be a slog, and an uphill one at that. On Book Country, there’s no pressure: our members write as much or as little as they like. But if a Wrimo doesn’t reach 50K words, they don’t “win.” If there’s one idea I really don’t love, it’s the idea of being a loser.
As Halloween approached, I found myself making promotional memes for Book Country and NaNoWriMo that had a distinctly morbid feeling, using fonts named “Exquisite Corpse” and “Shlop.” It’s fair to say that NaNoWriMo had me spooked. But there was no going back now—too many Book Country members knew that I was doing NaNoWriMo. Had I set myself up for failure?
What scared me the most was the possibility of interminable exhaustion at my real job. Would I be able to pay attention in meetings? Would I get sick of staring at a computer screen? Would I be distracted by the novel plotting that was happening in my head, so much so that I couldn’t perform my job well? All around me were Halloween-themed zombie references, and that’s what I feared I’d be like to my coworkers—unfocused, unproductive, unhelpful, crawling like a zombie through our projects.
A while back, I’d arranged to take a vacation day on Monday, November 4th, so that I could spend some time with family and visiting friends, but these plans fell through. I almost told my boss that I would reschedule the time off, but something told me to just take the day.
Stocked with leftovers from the weekend in the fridge (and plenty of diet Coke!), I sat down Monday morning with the resolve to just “NaNo”—write without stopping—for as long as I could stand it. I had no other plans. If not on this day, when would there ever be a more perfect time to dive in?
For the next 12 hours, I punched word after word into my keyboard, stopping for short breaks to Tweet and to check Facebook (and to announce my word count progress, of course!).
NaNoWriMo, as it turns out, is a much different beast than other obligations I’ve taken on: it’s a blast!
That day, writing didn’t feel how it normally feels: analytical, studied, focused. My writing was a sloppy mess. My neck ached from spending the day hunched over my laptop. When I closed my eyes, I saw a glowing Google doc with the word “NaNoWriMo 2013” swimming at the top.
I ended up logging 10,666 words.
It felt like splashing red paint on a white wall: wild and crazy. It was the same feeling that I get after a fun party (or potluck), and I had as much breathless energy as I feel after a long run. It wasn’t just that I could brag about my word count on social media (though of course I did that right away). It was that it hadn’t felt like work; more like a 12-hour conversation with an outgoing, boisterous friend.
A useful vacation, too, in terms of writing: I learned things about how I write when I let go —what words I tend to repeat (“Smile,” “awkward,” “intimate”), what’s easy for me to come up with at random (dialogue, describing the way things smell), and what stumps me time and time again (descriptions of facial expressions).
That day of NaNo-ing was so much fun that now when I go back to my project, I feel inspired to just keep going, even if that only means a few hundred words tapped out on my phone during my commute. It all adds up, and it feels more like hanging out with a friend than writing a novel. I bring that energy into my workday with me, letting it be the escape I look forward to before and after I’m at the office. On Book Country, I’m telling our members how much fun I’m having, and I am encouraging them to do NaNoWriMo with me.
For those who are doing NaNoWriMo, and like me, are afraid of it becoming a drag on your energy level at work, do whatever you can to carve out a big chunk of time in the next few days, at least four hours. Use it to just sit with your novel and get to know it, so that it becomes a friend to you. If you’re among friends, you have nothing to fear.
Lucy Silag is the Community and Engagement Manager for Book Country, Penguin’s online writing and publishing community.