“National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing,” declares the NaNoWriMo website—a backhanded, tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that you have to be a little bit nuts to try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
For one thing, creativity isn’t something you can force. With apologies to Yoda, it’s one of the fundamental truths of creativity: the more your mind focuses on “trying,” the less capable it is of “doing,” or at least of tapping into anything that comes from that “deep gut,” semi-unconscious space from which the richest, most authentic creative inspiration springs.
For another thing, the pace required to generate 50,000 words in 30 days is patently unreasonable for anyone with a full-time job and/or a social life.
And yet, the absurdity of this goal seems to be part of the point. Empirical evidence abounds that writing a novel is an inherently unreasonable thing to do; it’s difficult, time-consuming, and rarely results in anything that most people would define as “success.” Unfinished, unpublished, and/or unpopular novels are as common as dandelions on an April lawn.
So why are we even talking about this annual collective bout of madness? Here’s the thing. While I’m always writing—The Daily Vault sees to that—I’ve been in a bit of a drought this year as far as fiction, and while part of me has been itching to get back to it, for one reason or another, I haven’t.
Which is maddening, and also how I came around, after years of dismissing the very idea as ludicrous, to a sort of grudging commitment to NaNoWriMo. I’m not going to try to write a novel in the next 30 days; I’m a jogger, not an ultramarathoner. But I am going to commit to working on fiction every single morning this month.
Where that commitment will lead is anybody’s guess… but it will be, at a minimum, a step forward, or several. And that’s how novels get written: one step at a time. One word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time. Over and over.
Persistence, as a friend once reminded me, is the whole ball of wax. And sometimes what’s needed is simply to persist, and find out where the trail you’re on leads.