For the last three years, every November, I have walked into National Novel Writing Month with a blank document, an idea, and about a metric ton of please-let-this-year-be-THE-year.
If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, the concept is simple: writing 50,000 words within the month of November. That’s 1,667 words every day for thirty days. It sounds easy enough, but the execution is another animal entirely.
The first year that I joined in on the frenzy I had never actually tried to write a novel before and, frankly, I’ve seen toddlers more steady on their feet than my plot lines. I only managed to get to 10,000 words before I got completely stuck. While I definitely a little disappointed, I can’t say I was exactly surprised. The year after that, I spent most of October plotting out my idea, developing my characters and focusing on the message that I wanted to convey. I was excited about it, and I felt good about the things I was coming up with.
So, naturally, four days into November, I decided to switch to a completely different project.
I know what you’re thinking. I know. It was just one of those ideas that hit me like a ton of bricks, and I couldn’t drop it, so I ran with it. I had done virtually no plotting or character development, but that idea still carried me to about 30,000 words. Definitely closer by a long shot, but I still didn’t make it to that finish line and damn, did I want to feel that ribbon snap across my chest.
When this past November rolled around, and it came time for NaNoWriMo to start up again, I’d already been talking to my writing partner about it for months. I had an idea I felt wildly passionate about, characters that I really cared for, and two years of routine story-building under my belt. I was ready. My game face was on. And this year, I did something that I had never been able to do before: I put writing above everything else. I turned down plans with friends, I didn’t go anywhere unless I could bring my laptop, I ignored phone calls—unless I was at work, writing this novel was it.
And I got to 50,000 words.
I was dragging myself along by my nails there at the end, but I did it. I don’t think I would have if I hadn’t had enough confidence in what I was doing to actually make it my top priority. I just couldn’t have done it. This was the first time in my entire life that I said, “Right now, my art is the most important thing.” It was so empowering to me as a creator, so I want to issue you guys another challenge. Right now, think about the thing you are the most passionate about—be it music or reading or drawing—decide on a length of time, and completely dedicate yourself to that thing for the duration of it. It could be an entire month, or a week, or even just a few days. Just make sure that every decision you make during that time will benefit the thing you’ve chosen, and see what you learn about yourself.