NaNoWriMo and facing the blank page together

Sage CohenUncategorizedLeave a Comment

One of the ongoing debates in my household growing up went something like this:

Me: “But Mom, all the other kids are doing it!”

My mom: “If all the other kids were jumping off a bridge, would you jump too?”

Of course, this is not a question meant to invite an answer–it is intended to interrupt an unreasonable request with a kind of logic that evades most children. Because, what Mom was missing in her grown-up rationale is this: YES, we would most likely jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it. That’s just how human nature is.

Whether it’s a good idea or not matters far less than the community around us and the choices they are making. And adults are equally likely to jump when they see their peers jumping.

A friend recently shared with me her “no you may not” comeback which seems a bit more to the point and leaves no loopholes: “Because I’m the mother and this isn’t a democracy.” But I digress.

In 1999, when a handful of young aspiring novelists decided to commit the month of November to a novel-writing marathon, they translated this age-old adage of jump-when-others-are-jumping to: write-when-others-are-writing so effectively that it has snowballed into a well known movement: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which led to NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) in April.

If this kind of epic writing fest is right up your alley or definitely not your thing, you have probably already plugged in or tuned out. But many of us are in some kind of middle ground. Perhaps it’s simply not realistic to dedicate such an enormous amount of consecutive time, or we have too many conflicting commitments during the designated WriMo month, or maybe we don’t have a project in the works that warrants this kind of attention.

With November right around the corner, I’m curious if there is a middle way—one that invites us to ride the energy wave of NaNoWriMo with more modest (or authentic) expectations of our output. Something equivalent to skipping over the bridge, or standing next to the bridge and studying jumping techniques, or jumping on a trampoline instead.

If you’re feeling totally in sync with writing 50,000 words in a month, fabulous! And if you’re not, I invite you to experiment with riding the wave of momentum in your own way that is authentic to who you are, what you want to accomplish, and the margins you can realistically afford to create for your writing.

When my son was four years old and NaPoWriMo was just around the corner, I was writing so much for clients and sleeping so little that my hands and arms were painful and slow. I decided that at most, I could carve out one writing hour every day for a month. And so I promised myself that I would dedicate that daily hour throughout the month of April to write for my own pleasure, even if I had to wake up in the middle of the night to do it. Period.

In that month, because I had somehow applied the right amount of pressure to show up at the page combined with the permission not to produce anything in particular, almost an entire volume of first draft poems poured through me. Some I finished and published quickly. Others I’ve been refining and reimagining ever since. But what became of those poems was less significant than the fact that I’d found a way to ride the slipstream of a collective, national effort to write. And in doing so, a goal I wouldn’t have dreamed possible 30 days earlier became reality.

Yes, Mom, I jumped off the bridge because everyone else was doing it. And, because moving forward in good company is one of the most efficient and enjoyable ways I know to meet my own goals. Plus, I’m the mom now, and this is not a democracy.

[Adapted from Fierce on the Page]

Here are some possibilities for making NaNoWriMo and group-write work for you:

  • Join the NaNoWriMo community and ride the wave.
  • Join me in the Writer’s Digest Author Exchange where you can hang out with many of my favorite Writer’s Digest authors and a global tribe of writers getting inspired and informed about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. (I’ll be hosting the conversations there November 5 to 11)
  • Make November your NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) and write a poem every day. (I’m hard at work on a Poem-A-Day class that I’ll tell you more about soon! If you’d like daily inspiration, encouragement, and engaging prompts, I’d love to keep you company for 30 days of poeming!)
  • Make your own NaProWriMo (National Promise to Write Month—or week, or weekend, or Tuesday nights) commitment to yourself: one that is aspirational and yet also within reach. Leverage the great writing momentum of NaNoWriMo to sustain a rhythm that is all yours.
  • Tell us how you’ll spend your November here, in the comments! Or maybe even make a promise that we’ll hold with you all month long.

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If you’re a mid-life mom looking for a group of kindreds to “jump off a bridge” with (and find our wings on the way down), I’ve got you covered! Fresh Start is a one-day workshop to get your groove back! We meet in Portland, OR on September 30. Registration closes on September 25. Learn more here!

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