Last fall I took a very large step and shared some short stories I’d written with a friend of mine. This was a monumental moment for me because until that point I’d never let anyone read anything I’d ever put on literal or virtual paper. But we connected in a literary sense and I thought she’d be able to give me real feedback on my work.
I remember the text I got the next day. “You’re really talented!”
Due to my midwestern protestant upbringing I very sheepishly replied something along the line of “Awe shucks, thanks. It’s just something I do in my spare time.”
But then something surprising happened. My friend kept plugging me for more. She kept asking if I had anything else in the works, or if I’d ever considered submitting to literary magazines. I laughed, out loud, in the middle of my office. I never took writing classes, I didn’t major in English Lit. and I certainly never thought about sending something in to a magazine. Hell, most of my stuff ends up in a notebook on a shelf and never gets looked at again. My friend kept insisting that I should try, and offered to help me get started. She suggested I sign up for NaNoWriMo.
Now, writing a novel sounds overwhelming to me. I’ve only ever dabbled in short stories, and only as they’ve popped into my head. Writing, to me, has always been a way for me to empty the excess junk floating around my mind to make room for important things like “how to pay bills” and “diagrams for a vegetable garden design”. If it hadn’t been for my friend, it would have stayed that way.
I took another leap and signed up on the NaNoWriMo site. Instantly I was connected to a local group of people that were apparently working on the same project. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a commitment to write 50,000 words through the month of November. There aren’t any real rules, it’s just a way to monitor your progress, be encouraged by other writers and at the end you can submit your completed work for a chance to be the “winner”. If you want, I encourage you to check it out here.
My wife was very supportive, particularly after she realized she would get a solid hour or two of TV time to herself each night. And so I committed to sitting in our home “office” every evening to write. Instead of a novel, I chose to focus on what I knew, short stories. The intent being to develop a series of stories that I could wrap up into a collection. After I realized I wasn’t making any kind of hard commitment to finish something, it took a lot of the pressure off and made it that much more fun.
The first two weeks I was burning through my goals. The more I wrote, the more ideas came to me. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to be at work, I wanted to stay home in a robe with a cup of coffee and draw story outlines on the walls. I was on pace to hit 50k words with no trouble at all. Then, it just stopped. Altogether, suddenly.
Thanksgiving rolled around and the typical family drama associated with every holiday ensued. I stopped spending nights in my fortress of solitude and succumbed to meeting year-end goals at work instead. And, rightfully so. After all, paying bills is something of a necessity. For now.
The end of the month of November came and went, along with my anticipated 50k word count. But the creativity didn’t stop. The story ideas kept piling up and without sitting down each night to drop them off somewhere, my brain was getting full again. Now, three months later, my writing schedule isn’t as intense, but it is way ahead of my “pre-November” efforts.
I’ve started to share more of what I write with friends and family. People I trust to give me honest feedback. No one has told me I’m terrible. And even if I am, I’m at a point where I don’t care. Truthfully, I don’t care if anyone is reading this right now or not. I’m not going to log in every hour to see how many notifications I’ve gotten. I’m writing because it’s fun, it’s healthy, it’s creative, I enjoy it and because I really do want to make a go of it.
So was my NaNoWriMo experience a failure? From the standpoint of the goal of the project, I guess it was. But it’s turned me on to a side of myself I’ve largely ignored for a long time. If you haven’t done it, I encourage you to give it a shot. Meet some other writers in your local area you would otherwise probably never see. Push your limits and see what you’re capable of. What do you have to lose?