For me, NaNoWriMo is about one basic thing: building discipline.
I have, to my everlasting surprise, made kind of a career as a writer since 2005. I’ve been published in some cool places, even appeared on TV several times to talk about the subjects I covered. I’m still proud of that work and grateful I was given the opportunity to do it (and will gladly do it again, if someone has an opportunity).
But I know that one overarching weakness for me as a writer of anything, in general (besides lots of parenthetical statements and overuse of dashes), is simple discipline. It affects everything else.
I know, if you’re a professional or even just someone who loves to write and you’re reading this, you’re probably saying, “oh, Steve, NO ONE is as disciplined as they want you to believe,” and you might be right. What I’m saying here is where I’m concerned, dude, you have no idea.
On one hand I truly am committed to remaining a student of writing. I think in any discipline—music, writing, art, etc—you have to keep learning until you can’t learn anymore (that is, till you’re dead). I still study grammar, story structure, the hero’s journey, outlining vs. not outlining, etc. I don’t rest on having gotten a check for this stuff sometimes, I still work at the “craft.”
But one crucial thing every reasonably successful writer who has bothered to address the process says is vital to keeping on, however, I don’t do—I don’t buckle down every damned day and keep at it. I don’t give myself word count quotas. I don’t block off X amount of time and just work on something. I know there’s a school of thought about the process of writing that says that’s fine. That for some people this shit may just work like that. I may be one of those writers… but my experience adopting a fitness and regimen kind of says my general style isn’t “it’s cool, I’ll just wait till I feel the spirit.” I tried that approach with exercise in the past and it was a bad idea. I quit. I got fat, which for my body was a very bad thing, as I’m prone to severe hypertension and have a family history of brain events (strokes, etc). No, I need to establish a discipline first, a proactive and consciously organized method of doing what I’m doing, then go at it every damned day, if need be. Some days can be shitty. On Saturday I planned one workout and ended up realizing I didn’t have the mojo and it’d be ok if I cut it in half. Point was, I did it. I did something. I have to go at a writing project, particularly fiction, in the same damned way.
So that’s why NaNoWriMo, for me. I don’t really care for the whole NaNo “thing” of “pep talk” emails, etc. (though local “write-ins” they do around here might be interesting, because I can be a sociable guy) and can’t imagine bothering with NaNo forum discussions (I haven’t posted on a classic Internet forum of any kind in 2 years, that I can recall). But the end of November 50,000 word deadline—that does appeal to me. It may be an artificial way for me to goose myself into becoming a more productive writer in general, sure—but that’s the point, and who cares if I get there “artificially?” It’s worth the effort if I get something decent out of myself one day.
I guess if I continue the fitness analogy then writing for NaNo’s (kind of arbitrary) goal isn’t unlike signing up for a 5K just so I have a reason to run each day. Either way, the experience is going to be good for me and will change what I do in some basic way. I’m good with that.