The Fear Chronicles: Why I’m not Scared In November

One of the things I said I would write about for Today’s Author was fear in relation to writing. I mentioned in my introductory post that when it comes to having deadlines, fear takes a backseat. And when it comes to NaNoWriMo, fear may as well be in the trunk. There is something comforting about giving myself a challenge, and leaving no room, none whatsoever, for failure. And yes, I would view it as a failure if I didn’t complete my 50,000 words.

So, to avoid this failure, here are some things I’ve done to help me finish my “novels” in NaNoWriMos past and some things I recommend:

  • Turn off the self-editor, and view this month as an extended exercise in freewriting. Freewriting is something I teach to my students in basic writing classes as a trick to just get over themselves. Freewriting lets them initially scrap the things that will matter later: structure, grammar, punctuation, paragraph breaks, an introduction and conclusion, and yes, even content. Just write. Get it out, though it might be crap (it will be crap). Ignore your self-criticizing, self-editing, self-questioning side. Crawl out from under your many neuroses, and let the subconscious take the driver’s seat (ah, the car metaphors are revving up . . . see what I did there?)
  • Remember that production is the essence of NaNoWriMo, its raison d’etre. And community. Embrace those two truths. If you’re not a particularly prolific writer (and I am not), then allow (read: force) yourself to be prolific this one month. If you’re not a particularly communal writer, then force yourself out into your community—meet up with fellow writers at coffee shops and bars, and take some comfort in staring at each other over your laptop screens, faces crinkled in consternation and lit with hellish screen-glows. Make your personal suffering a shared suffering. It makes all that sighing and hair pulling and sudden chair overturning all the more meaningful. No more must you be the crazed first wife of Edward Rochester, thrashing about in the attic of Thornfield Hall, alone and ignored—you can have friends to share in your mania.
  • Check the stats often. One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo is seeing how your city matches up to other cities around the world. You can see if your city is falling behind Rio de Janeiro, or Paris, or the entire city state of Monaco. If you’re competitive, this should get you going.
  • Post on Facebook that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Make others hold you accountable. And post your word count every day, even if it seems annoyingly self-congratulatory. Get those thumbs up and words of praise!
  • View the writing you do in November as a kind of meditation, because it is. As anyone who has tried meditation (or anything that requires consistency…exercising, for example) knows, it sucks in the beginning. It is often painful and feels pointless. But there is something to be said for persistence, and learning the art of longevity. November 1-8 might feel like a jumbled, jangly mess of terribleness, but hang on. As your mind gets into the groove of consistent writing, it will come to crave that time, and the days that follow will change. Sinking into your writing chair, or standing at your computer (as some of us do) to persist in this particular challenge will feel more and more familiar, expected, and ultimately needed. In essence, you are changing your mental make-up this month; you are changing your routine. And that means you are giving your writing itself a (perhaps) much-needed change in scope, in length, in style, in content.

So, don’t be afraid. No fear in November—that’s the mantra. Enjoy what you produce.



Craft a specific, measurable, creative writing objective for February

Empty Box ThinkingFebruary is upon us.  Christmas decorations were taken down weeks ago.  Department stores are showcasing their newest swimwear collections.  Visitors of Today’s Author are incrementing their word counts weekly.  Oh, dear!

I must be honest:  I frittered away the month of January and accomplished nothing when it comes to meeting my creative writing goals.  But it’s no mystery to me why.  The reason, simply, is that I currently don’t have any specific, measurable, creative writing objectives—and that’s not a good thing.

Professionally at work I’m paid handsomely for a job well done.  But my organization doesn’t just throw cash my way.  No, instead I’m paid on performance against specific, measurable objectives.  My manager and I draft objectives in January, we review progress at mid-year and revise where necessary, and finally we review again at year-end.  Without specific, measurable objectives, I’d probably focus my effort on de-scaling the office coffee pot or hunting down the person who keeps leaving an oatmeal-coated bowl soaking in the sink from 8:30am to 4:00pm.  Without written objectives, I wouldn’t spend my time focused on the most value-add activities.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the writing community is aflutter with thousands of motivated authors in the months of October and November. These authors have a specific, measurable objective to write 50,000 words in thirty days, a.k.a., to participate in National Novel Writing Month.  It’s both specific and measurable—50,000 words, 30 days.  Many authors go one step further by announcing their participation to their friends, colleagues, and fellow supermarket patrons.  This works to multiply the accountability factor because, well frankly, nobody wants to demonstrate their failure to deliver.

So, what can authors do the other ten months out of the year, you ask?  Good question.

The Today’s Author site offers a handy-dandy, nifty-difty, wiz-bang feature called Comments.  Just scroll a little further down and a post a comment indicating your own specific, measurable, creative writing objective that you want to accomplish during the month of February.  Here’s mine:

By February 28, write, edit, and finalize a 1500 word short story.

There, it’s official.  My February creative writing objective is online for the world to see.  And if I fail to deliver, I will be subjected to the mockery and ridicule of an astute collection of authors using a well-rounded vocabulary.