In November 2007, I participated in a little writing challenge called NaNoWriMo (an awkward acronym for National Novel Writing Month), in which participants are challenged to write a novel ... in a month. Granted, the challenge is really just to write 50,000 words in 30 days - a rather short novel - which you don't even have to finish. And it doesn't have to be any good.
You just have to write it.
And write I did. At first I did my best to stick with the recommended 1,667 words a day, but by, oh, November 3rd, I was already losing it. Some days I'd come home exhausted from work and find contentment watching prepackaged plot twists and quirky characters on TV (Heroes and Pushing Daisies), rather than trying to write my own. Other days I'd be at a loss, so agonized over what to write next, that I just avoided sitting down in front of the computer at all. Ultimately it was the thrill of knowing that at that very moment, 100,000 other people felt a similar sense of overwhelming despair - and the desire to kick their asses - that kept me going.
Still, when November 30th rolled around, I had a mere 36,000 words written - 14,000 words short of my goal. For eight hours that evening, I sat in front of my computer and I typed, and I typed. And I typed. My hands shook from the effort. My body tensed, shoulders rounded, legs twitching. My eyes lost the ability to focus on the LCD monitor. Blindly, I continued to punch keys at random. My characters didn't know what the hell they were doing, but I kept writing, with every 1,000 word mark a mini victory. And with 5 minutes to validate the word count and 10 minutes to spare, I won NaNo.
The point of NaNo is not to write a Pulitzer winning novel in record time, nor is it likely that the printed manuscript will be worthy of anything more than leveling a lopsided desk. The point is just to write, even if it's crap. The point is to get in the habit of writing daily, something even great authors seem to have trouble with - or something that they claim to have trouble with - really, who can trust a fiction writer?.
Along with being able to smugly announce on December 1st that you have written a novel (never mind that it sucks), you get bonus points if the act of writing becomes a liberating experience and the drive to write a lot - fast - overpowers your obsession with editing as you go. The true serial novel killer is that damn OCD obsession we all seem to have as we struggle to find the perfect words and the perfect plot twists and the perfect character revelations, resulting in the closest thing we could get to the perfect novel, which looks suspiciously like a blank Word document.
You are a real winner when you hit the 50,000 word mark, Zen-ing out while writing those last 14,000 words, freeing your mind and your fingers to feel out the story together, to hell with perfect anythings.
So what is Life After NaNo? I'm not sure, as it's only a week later and my hands are still shaking, although the doctors are saying my hunched shoulders and new-found nearsightedness should clear up eventually. Will I ever finish writing my novel? Are my writing habits fundamentally changed, the OCD beast slain at last? Who knows?
Will I be participating in NaNo 2008? Hell, yeah!