Shut up and Write: My first NaNoWriMo

Unused creativity is not benign, it metastasizes. It turns into grief, judgement, sorrow, and shame. We are divine beings and we are by nature creative.” Brene Brown

I am a collector of ideas. I have dozens of half-used notebooks, my hard drive and google drive are full of poetry fragments and story premises, and my phone is starting to fill up with song clips. I LOVE ideas, and I love their potential. Having a very inflated view of my own greatness, I treasure each idea like it could be the next bestseller or the next chart-topper. Of course, once I start trying to actually get that idea on paper, and take it from idea to art, and it’s not that brilliant diamond I was hoping…well, there’s just not a point then, right? Quality over quantity? Hence the legions of half-baked ideas who lie orphaned in my wake, squeaking out “Please sir, I want some more,” to my distracted mind that’s already obsessed with the Next Great Thing.

Poor little ideas.

Quality vs quantity is a false dichotomy though, isn’t it? Because it occludes that other, more true aphorism: Practice makes Perfect. I never practiced much for music lessons growing up. I feel like I need to go back and apologize to my music teachers. I had enough natural talent to make marginal improvements each week without spending more than five minutes in practice. But when I was in college, I took lessons in drum kit, and I discovered something really revolutionary: the more I practiced, the better I got.

What the what?!

That’s crazy.

I finally discovered that actually doing a thing – even when you know you’re not doing such an awesome job at it – helps you get better at the thing.

Clearly, I am really great at coming up with ideas.

Someone shared the above Brene Brown quote with me a few months ago. I hadn’t written much, prose, poetry, or music, in a long time, and when I sat down to try to work out an idea, my frustration at my lack of utter brilliance drove me away from the table and to some less risky activity. Like Netflix. When I heard that quote – the notion that creativity  metastasizes  – ouch, it hit a little too close and went a little too deep.

The same person who shared the quote with me gave me this suggestion: sit down at the piano and play just for fun. Don’t aim to compose a masterpiece. Write just for the enjoyment of writing, not for a bestseller. Forget the product and enjoy the process.

The strangest thing happened…when I stopped trying to create a finished product and just created for the sheer fun of it, I actually started creating things. AND having fun. (And watching less Netflix.)

So what does this all have to do with my first NaNoWriMo? First, in case you don’t know what NaNoWriMo, it’s National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write a 50,000 word draft of a novel in the month of November. Crazy, right?! Who could turn out anything good of that volume in a month? That’s kind of the point. It’s to kick the butts into gear of people like me, who will languish over a sentence until it drips with golden honey and never get beyond a paragraph. It’s to write your crap draft, but dammit it’s a whole draft, you did it, congratulations! Now you can go back and fix it. It’s kind of a brilliant idea, I think.

I’ve been aware of NaNoWriMo for a while but never had the guts (or the freedom?) to take part. This year, working on a writing project over google drive with my long-distance bestie (over at Write Where You Are) made me realize that yeah, I actually can write things beyond the first paragraph. So as we decided to make a push on our draft in November, I had the crazy desire to add another draft on top of that and finally develop one of my orphaned ideas.

Here we are, a week left of the month, and I’m at 33,000 words. And let me tell you, it has been painful to type out those rough, imperfect, and awkward sentences just to get my thoughts on paper. A very painful, helpful process. Practicing.

But Practice makes Perfect – or, if we can please drop the alliteration, Practice makes Better.

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6 thoughts on “Shut up and Write: My first NaNoWriMo

  1. This is exactly what I’ve been doing with my art. I would constantly start a project and never finish it because it wasn’t turning out how I envisioned it. It took me starting my blog Afros365 to realize that it isn’t about perfection but about the journey. Like Nike says “Just do it.” The rest will come.

  2. This is amazing. I am new to blogging and my worst fear is for it to drop off like so many of my creative projects I’ve attempted and left at the slightest sign of failure. It’s so encouraging to read this post – hope you got to 50,000!

    1. Congratulations on starting blogging! One of my favorite ways to jumpstart a rhythm of blogging is to commit to blog every day. A couple years ago I challenged myself to blog at least 100 words a day for 100 days – the principle is similar to NaNoWriMo, I guess. I hope you keep blogging! And I did get to 50,000 🙂

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