The Agony and the Ecstasy (or, NaNoWriMo)

I first did National Novel Writing Month in 2007. And I succeeded, too. I’m still happy with the overall work, but I have yet to go back and really clean the damn thing up.

And this brings me to the title of this post. Writing is incredibly hard, and often painful, when we’re in the middle of the process. Calling up internal voices means you have to listen to a lot of the things going on inside of you, and one of those things is self-doubt. My self-doubt is huge, actually, and manifests in all kinds of ways. Most often, when putting together a story of any kind, it shows up as an internal editor.

That internal editor questions everything that arises in my mind. It’s like a censor standing at the door to full consciousness, giving a once-over to anything that tries to get my attention. And that censor can never be satisfied. It speaks with an air of authority that makes it very difficult to ignore; it wakes up the fears of looking like a fool, being irrelevant, or being mediocre or incompetent.

It took me a long time to understand that anyone who’s tried to get ideas out of the head and onto paper or phosphor or clay or whatever also has this internal editor, this embodiment of self-doubt gone slightly mad. There’s a lot of comfort in knowing you’re not alone. But this doesn’t answer how to deal with the damn thing.

Long and the short of it? Try everything. But what worked for me was a technique a friend of mine uses for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a heck of a short-circuit around that censor. And it’s a technique I learned while I was getting a degree in playwriting about ten years ago. Simply ignore it. And ignore it like a freight train ignores a compact car on the tracks. Plow right through it. Don’t stop to ponder word choice, don’t worry about typos or capitalization. That’s what revisions are for. For now, you need to vomit out the raw stuff that will make your story. You’re putting out the base granite block that you will later sculpt into a story.

Just plow on through. The best recommendation my friend gave me was to tape a piece of paper to the screen while writing for NaNo, so you can’t go back and re-read or edit or revise or think too hard. The voice of self-doubt gets completely drowned out by the roar of all that idea-y stuff pouring out of your head. And I can tell you that it works. It absolutely does.

For some reason, a lot of us think that creativity is a deeply refined thing, with perfect precious results. And it’s not. Writing is just as messy as painting. Stuff stays in, stuff becomes central, and other things get written over. Quit worrying about the hows and whys and just do.

I’ll be doing, this month, for NaNoWriMo. I’ll even see if I can put up my progress as a widget on the sidebar. Don’t know if it’ll work, as I’m stull learning the ropes here. Anyway, if there’s one thing I’d like to leave you with, it’s that the agony we all feel when we try to put narratives down in any form is something we can choose to ignore. It takes discipline and practice, but it can most certainly be done.

Good luck!

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About incognitiously

A published author and a produced playwright, I'm someone who spends most of my time thinking about stories, writing them, reading them, watching them or hearing them. In short, I make stuff up, unless the truth is even better. And even then it's an iffy proposition. Currently researching the dialogic nature of transmedia storytelling for a Doctorate of Creative Industries at the Queensland University of Technology. View all posts by incognitiously

One response to “The Agony and the Ecstasy (or, NaNoWriMo)

  • Aaron

    Heh, I guess that wasn’t me, since I never heard the “tape paper over the screen” part before. :) I know I’ve told you the same thing about ignoring it, though. Put the words on the paper first, THEN go back to edit once the whole thing’s done. Otherwise you just keep second-guessing and rewriting the same few chapters, and you’ll never finish.
    I’m doing NaNo again as well. But you already knew that. :) Anyway, good luck! I look forward to reading yours. When it’s finished. ;)

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