Making Writing a Joy | TechWell

Making Writing a Joy

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, kudos to you. If you didn't, there's always next year.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place each November. To participate, you register with the NaNoWriMo website, familiarize yourself with the rules, and then write a novel of approximately fifty thousand words during November. Yes, fifty thousand words! Fortunately, there's lots of guidance and support available online and in local chapters.

I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, so I can't fathom how anyone can earn a living—let alone have a life—while pumping out fifty thousand words in a month. Sure, it's only 1,667 words per day (right—"only"!), but if on one of those days you have a dentist appointment, or the kids get sick, or your workload doubles, you've got to make up for it.

I've probably written five hundred thousand words in my books, newsletters, and articles, but that's been spread out over twenty-five years. Yet, thousands of people have participated in NaNoWriMo, often starting with a mere thread of an idea and bursting forth by month’s end with a full-fledged novel, or at least some approximation of such.

Detractors, such as some interviewees in this podcast, claim that NaNoWriMo focuses on quantity, not quality. But that's exactly the point. As StickyMinds editor Matt Heusser said, people tend to be scared of writing. That's a shame, because these people are full of ideas and experiences worth writing about. By focusing on writing fifty thousand words quickly, you don't have time to question whether it's good enough. And you avoid the bad habit that many writers have of stopping every three words to edit them.

If want to get past a fear of writing and the very thought of fifty thousand makes your brain freeze, start with something smaller: a short story, or a two-page essay, or a one-page article. Even just a couple of paragraphs will do. Commit to writing for some specified period of time or some specified length of output.

Your initial product won’t be polished. That’s where rewriting comes in. For my own writing, I think of the starting point as producing the “zeroth” draft. It's the raw data: a brain dump of what I think I know on the topic. I expect it to be messy, but no matter, because no one else is going to see it. Once I've downloaded the raw data, I can rework it to become the official first draft. I put it away for a few days, because my brain will continue to work on it without my needing to be there to help. Then I can work on revising and editing.

One of the thrilling things about writing is that in the process, you often come up with ideas you didn't know you had. I sometimes look at what I've written and wonder, Where in the world did that come from? It's just my mind going to places I didn't consciously take it—just as is happening with this article.

NaNoWriMo is a very flexible model for moving forward with your writing. You can adapt it to any length at all. You can use it for nonfiction. The goal isn't to produce a New York Times best seller; it's to learn to have fun writing. Still, more than a dozen people have published novels that came out of their NaNoWriMo experience. Anything's possible.

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