Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2012, 1:39 pm
Lessons from novel experience
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By Liz Strader
If you caught my November column, you'll recall I mentioned that I was undertaking the daunting task of writing 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days through participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).
I'm proud to report that I did indeed successfully complete this harebrained challenge, and I'd like to share with you some insight to apply to life that I gained during that crazy month.
-- First, if you examine a project (a task at work, an upcoming event, a situation in your life) in its entirety, it can often be completely overwhelming and cripple you into indecisiveness.
Breaking it up into little pieces, it is much more manageable. This also allows you to see progress you've made more easily and to rejoice in your small accomplishments. Writing 50,000 words seems like an impossible feat to tackle all in one month, but it translates to just 1,667 words every day.
That, my friends, is doable by even the most novice of novelists.
-- Next, commitment to a project when it is not court-mandated or required to maintain employment can be difficult if you don't agree to hold yourself accountable for failure and let others rejoice in your success. My commitment to this endeavor was equal to one part desire to complete the challenge (because at first I greatly doubted my ability to finish this project by the deadline), and two parts peer pressure. I told everyone I knew, both in the real world and in the online social media universe, that I was a NaNoWriMo participant.
Believe it or not, the need to prove to others that I could do this outweighed my intermittent desire to give up; I definitely didn't want to have to explain to everyone that I failed, and the daily inquiries by friends and colleagues about my progress kept me going when I hit writer's blocks or slipped into a state of self-doubt.
-- Third, your own thoughts can be scary sometimes, but often in a good way.
Being left alone to dream up a story, characters, dialogue, and an imaginary world from what's floating about inside your head brings out the best (and worst) of your imagination.
This fast-paced way of writing, in which you are instructed simply to write without going back and editing anything until after Nov. 30, gives way to more than just dangling participles and nonsensical plot lines.
Once you make it to around the 25,000 word mark, your uninhibited imagination is in full swing and you've learned to just write what you are thinking and let those thoughts run wild.
This is terrifying for those of us who usually live the edited version of our lives, rarely saying or doing anything without first weighing every piece of the decision meticulously before coming to a logical conclusion based on the virtual pros and cons list we've created in our heads. However, I learned that letting go a little and allowing your fingers to just puke out what's on your mind onto the page can be very freeing.
Over-thinking a paragraph can be detrimental to the flow of creativity, and I challenge you all to apply some of this attitude to your lives. I'm not encouraging us all to act without thinking or make rash decisions that will negatively impact our careers or relationships with others, but relinquishing control just a little and refraining from micro-analyzing every life decision, past, present, or future, can make for a much more relaxing experience.
Essentially, "don't sweat the small stuff."
-- Fourth, reaffirmation of your talents is huge.
I was utterly taken aback by the large number of people who responded to my Facebook posts about this task with positivity and encouragement. Thinking maybe one or two of my closest friends would be the only ones who would check in to hear about my progress, I was completely surprised to find that many people who were but acquaintances through other friends routinely asked me how the book was coming and showed a real desire to hear what I was writing about.
These are the people I intend to keep in my life.
Surrounding yourself with others who genuinely care about your successes and to whom you can reciprocate that interest are the best people to keep around. You can lift each other up, and together you can ward off any "Negative Nancy" attitudes from those who may be envious of your desires to live your life to the fullest.
-- Lastly, if you take all the pieces above and put them together, you may just end up with a happier life. There may always be that nagging voice in your brain that says "There just isn't enough time," or "I don't think I could ever do that," but if we wait until the timing is just right to embark on a new challenge, to be with someone we love, or to make our lives better, we may never even start. Thirty days is very little time to write a novel, yet tens of thousands of people do it every single year.
Great things can be accomplished by simply making the choice to be successful and holding yourself accountable for that choice. There's a New Year's resolution for you, now go out and do it!
Liz Strader of Davenport is an entrepreneur, advocate, and working mom of three little girls.