NaNoWriMo and Muzzling Your Inner Perfectionist

This isn’t a post about winning NaNo. Just thought I’d get this out of the way first.

I should also point out that in my case, the perfectionist isn’t so much an “inner” aspect of my personality, but more like a super-parasite that’s taken over the entire ecosystem. Type A. “Wears stress like a badge of honor.” You know the drill.

And I really didn’t plan on signing up for NaNo. I registered my novel late on October 31st after a burst of fierce can-do attitude took over me while I rode my bike home after school. Nevermind I was in the middle of revising another project, or that the idea wasn’t fully formed inside my head. I signed up. I started writing. And then, as these things go, life got in the way and I was reminded why, exactly, I didn’t think I could do NaNo this year. Cue tons of missing words, feelings of guilt and shame and hopelessness.

You know. The usual.

NaNo isn’t quite over at the time of this writing, but this isn’t really a post about “finishing” in the last moment. “Finishing” isn’t the point.

NaNoWriMo puts great emphasis on muzzling your inner perfectionist. Just write. Don’t worry if it sucks. It’s okay not to have a plot. And yes, those are all valid points, particularly if, like me, you’ve rewritten a sentence over and over again because you didn’t like the word order, or the particular word choice.

But the dark side to that is when you decide to make a race of things, and fixate on word counts and meeting targets on time. The perfectionist is back, only this time, under a different guise.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the 5 years of NaNos I’ve seen, and why I don’t consider this one a loss, despite the fact that I will most likely not hit my word count:

– Community is awesome!

– Write-ins are awesome!

– We all have different problems with our stories.

– We can all benefit from talking our problems through.

– We can all benefit from plowing on with the narrative, even when things aren’t going so swell.

– Sometimes life happens and it gets in the way of your writing. That’s not a bad thing. You are more than your word count.

-You can learn a lot from projects that don’t work. Really.

We hear a lot about writers struggling with block. Less frequent are the accounts of writers having to give up on a story because it just isn’t working. I can’t guess the reason for everyone else, but I myself find it hard to admit that all the time and effort I poured into a project (even if it’s just in terms of planning it,) is going to go to waste.

But it isn’t. Not really. And not finishing NaNo doesn’t necessarily mean that I will never finish a book. Here’s a sample list of reasons as to why I “failed” this year: I’m passionate about my Uni work and wanted to put that first. I had a bunch of sports events I really wanted to attend. I had a ton of books that were interesting and important for me to read so that I develop. My story idea wasn’t more than the first few pages. Contemporary is a genre I like reading, not necessarily one I like to write in. I needed a bigger plot. I needed a villain.

More to the point, I had so many things I wanted to do, by the time I got to writing, I was literally out of spoons.

Lesson learned. Don’t write when you don’t have a clear idea as to what you want to write about. Don’t write when you have deadlines. Don’t write unless you’re ready and willing to carve out a space in your life.

I may not have gotten the T-shirt and sticker this year, but as far as I’m concerned, 2014 is a NaNo win for me.

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