Life Happens


It’s November, which means it’s NaNoWriMo time. For the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month, a phenomenon whose popularity seems to grow every year (In 2017, over 402,000 writers officially took part worldwide). Participants try to write a draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words in one calendar month. That means writing between 1,500 and 2,500 words a day, depending on how many days a week you get to the desk.

“Why bother?” you might ask. Are the drafts any good? Probably not. Stuff written that fast is usually a mess. No, the point of NaNoWriMo is twofold: first, write so fast and so constantly that you don’t have time to question yourself. You’ve just got to get it down and keep going. Second, finish something. Know what it feels like to actually arrive at something that looks like an end, to know that novels are meant to be finished, not just started.

I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, but for many years I wrote one of these essays every day, five days a week. It was one of the best assignments I’d ever given myself. Because I didn’t want to spend all day crafting each piece, I wrote the essays in no more than 40 minutes. That turned out to be enough time. None of them were perfect, but they got better and better. I learned to find where they came from, how to access that part of myself regularly, and how to really finish something. And I learned how not to worry about how good they were because I’d just be writing another the one the next day.

When I was a young writer I heard an anecdote about Gustave Flaubert, author of the meticulously crafted Madame Bovary. One evening he emerged from his workroom, sweaty and triumphant, and declared, “Today, I wrote a sentence!” I’m sure it was a good sentence, but it’s possible to romanticize creativity, to turn it into a grand struggle whose value is measured in exerted effort. The truth is, great stuff can come quickly and easily if I let it. But to let it, I have to admit it’s not a big deal.

Yes, it feels great when it’s really flowing; and yes, I always feel like I rediscover a lost part of myself when I find a satisfying ending; and yes, it’s always a little miraculous when I watch a piece come together on its own – but I don’t think that’s a big deal. I think that’s just life. As soon as I stop worrying and doubting and controlling and just get out of the way, life happens in the form of a story, and it’s wonderful and I’m glad for it but it’s just another apple from the tree. Life isn’t a big deal – it’s all there is, and writing reminds me I’ve always been completely a part of it.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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