November 5, 2020 § 25 Comments
In November, 2004, I joined NaNoWriMo for the first time. The goal was the same as it is now: write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. To prepare, I read No Plot, No Problem! by NaNoWriMo’s founder Chris Baty. I took its philosophy to heart: I didn’t have to know what I was doing. I just had to fast-write a draft and allow my creative subconscious kick in, thus preventing anxiety about “writing well” to stall my progress. I looked forward to releasing control of craft and letting the story travel wherever it wanted.
NaNo writers connected through the message boards where we exchanged encouragement and tips for getting those 50,000 words down. Our chats also revealed the tension pervading the United States as we prepared to vote for either John Kerry or George W. Bush for president. Most supported Kerry, hoping for less nationalistic, more socially progressive policies. I, like many, held my breath, voted, and hoped for change.
Three days into NaNoWriMo, George W. Bush was elected. The mandate for change had not materialized. Many writers found themselves overwhelmed by sadness, anger, and even despair. Some dropped out, unable to see the point of fast-drafting a novel while the country veered toward an ever more right-leaning agenda. Uncertainty and fear about the future clogged their creative energy.
I was among those struggling with an emotional crash. The thought of writing my first novel, which I’d so anticipated, sparked an existential conflict: I wanted to write, but I couldn’t find a reason to. The whole project now appeared trivial. Whatever powered my creative mind had been short-circuited. I was empty. I wanted to forget everything, lie on the couch, and sink into the distraction of TV.
But I was stubborn and I hated to lose. I couldn’t bear the thought of December arriving with no draft, no sense of accomplishment, no banner on my NaNo profile declaring me a “winner!” How could I finish, though, trapped in this fog, the question why bother pulsing in my mind?
Baty’s strategy—no plot, no problem—had guided me through my first 4000 words. Perhaps I could expand that idea to help me through this confusion. If I could write a book flying blind, not knowing the plot, could I write a book without knowing the answer to why bother?
A mantra came to me as I considered how to work through creative stagnation: write anyway.
Write when it seems pointless.
Write when my mood tanks and my work is mediocre.
Write when I don’t know what I’m doing and I believe no one cares.
Write when everything seems unknowable, unpredictable, even frightening. Trust my subconscious and its desire to create without needing to justify it.
The idea was simple, but the follow through was difficult. I scribbled WRITE ANYWAY on a sticky note next to my laptop and sat down at my desk. Distractions called to me—the ease of television, the comfort of a good book, the clear purpose of a few loads of laundry. I managed to type a word, a phrase, then a sentence.
The first few paragraphs I wrote on November 3, 2004 came as easily as yanking teeth out of my head one by one. This sucks so bad, I thought.
I looked at my sticky note and refocused: this sucks so bad, but write anyway.
I was surprised at the little emotional boost I got. I still remember that day, thinking George W. Bush is president but write anyway.
The world is chaos but write anyway.
I’m scared but write anyway.
When I hit 1667 words, I sat back and breathed. I felt lighter. Energized. I did it. The immediate act of writing had carried the power to de-stagnate my emotional state and refocus my creativity. I didn’t need to fix my mood first or have anything figured out. I didn’t even need a reason.
Writing tethers me to the world in a way nothing else does. Today is November 2, 2020, and I’m still coaching myself: I don’t know who will be president, what’s happening to my country, even what will happen to me. But I’m going to write anyway. It’s my remedy for despair. It’s how I will survive.
Amy Grier earned her MFA at Lesley University. A singer and classically trained pianist, she has taught music and English in the U.S. and Japan. Amy has a master’s in East Asian Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and one in Literature and Writing from Rivier University. Her prose and poetry has appeared in Poetry East, eratio, Streetlight Magazine, xoJane, and Dream International Quarterly. Her memoir-in-progress, Terrible Daughter, is about surviving childhood with a mentally ill mother.
Wishing you well with NaNo. I could not this year. I just couldn’t.
I opted out this year too. I have plenty other writing to do 🙂
I love this post. “Write Anyway” is a fantastic mantra. The reason I participate in NaNo every year is because I love the thought of all the creative energy let loose on this planet as all these writers take part at the same time. Maybe were the glue holding this spinning ball together.
You may be on to something! I feel like the dramatic act of writing does create its own power.
I needed these words so much this morning. With hope and fear each claiming victory, and a hole stared through my back window three days running, I will write anyway. It’s the most honest thing I can do right now. Thank you, Amy. What a wise and generous gift.
Many thanks for those kind words 🙂
‘Write anyway’ — oh where to begin with my personal appreciation of these words?! I have no new thoughts to add here to the existing commenters but as I said on Facebook, this could be the anthem for our country within a country, by which I specifically mean our country of writers. And not just professional writers or successful writers. I am thinking of my student writers, whom I urge to keep journals and notes and to cultivate the habit of writing. Just write anyway. You won’t feel worse. You won’t regret it. Thank you, Amy! Thank you, Dinty and Brevity!!!
How about “Just write. You won’t feel worse!” for a mantra? It makes me laugh. 🙂
It’s now on a sticky note on my desk as I too am attempting NanoWriMo for the 2nd or 3rd time. Thanks for the mantra and good luck to you!
I’m pulling for you Amy!,
Thanks for writing this.
Thank you! I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo, but I appreciate this post nonetheless. We can’t let “those guys” keep us from our work!
Right. Sometimes I think “Am I really going to let this person get in the way of my work?”
Love this—thank you. I’m sending it to my writing group.
I hope your group finds it encouraging, especially in “these uncertain times”
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[…] kindred spirit in the 11/5/2020 Brevity Blog when I read writer and editor Amy Grier’s post, Write Anyway. Amy’s in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and is finding COVID-19, a […]
Amazing mantra that many writers could use—those who overthink, don’t feel motivated, are too busy, think their manuscripts suck—and I’m glad I came across this. Thanks for this, Amy!
I think you just described every writer I know. 🙂
I’m still signed up for this year, but haven’t written a thing yet. In previous years I didn’t realize you could outline and do prep work and the 50,000 word goal was strictly first draft writing (forehead, meet desk). It was late October (still nothing written) when I remembered NaNoWriMo and wanted to do it.
But I underestimated how much anxiety had sucked out my brain power and all I could think was of the election (I wonder how many authors are writing dystopian works or how to survive the Trumpocalypse, or 1001 ways to make pandemic sourdough bread this year…hmm…). My imagination was gone and even thumbing through my writing prompt notebooks trying to get that creative juice flowing (and plenty of fresh coffee) just made it more frustrating because I couldn’t get it.
I lay there half-asleep this morning trying to be calm and drift and let my mind wander and maybe come up with something. Fiction was a no-go (at least, not novel-length), but I considered something I hadn’t before. I’m trying to do an outline this morning to organize the thoughts and have a basic writing blueprint, and perhaps this afternoon I’ll have enough to give it a shot. Kept chickening out every year, and I don’t want this freaking election to take it from me this year.
I sure know how you feel. The good thing about NaNo is you can play catch up, if you’re so inspired. The other good thing about it is 50,000 words is an arbitrary goal. Anything you write is a win, even an outline. Just do what you can do and it’s progress.
‘Anything you write is a win, even an outline. Just do what you can do and it’s progress.’ everyday?