A lot of irrational things annoy me.
- The term “animal style” at In-N-Out
- Crisp, overdone foley sounds in movies or television, like “sexy” whispered voice-overs on ads, crumpling paper/plastic, or the sound of footsteps. (Wanted to Hulk out every time they amplified the tap shoes in So You Think You Can Dance last season. Ugh! I’m making fists just thinking about it!)
I’m sure I annoy people with the things I do, too — like turning everything into a F*R*I*E*N*D*S reference (just annoyed myself by typing the asterisks between the letters) and, now, apparently, by being a part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
I really don’t understand the hostility. I get the stress from agents whose inboxes strain beneath the weight of the naïve each December, but most participants know better than to query their raw product, and most of the criticisms I read are not from agents but from writers. Perhaps they’re tired of hearing about it. Perhaps they’re evil. Perhaps it’s just the sound of the word NaNoWriMo that makes their skin crawl the way the word dander freaks out my mom. Maybe you all want to slaughter me for my poor grammar and sentence fragments. We’ll deal with that later. Right now, I just want to explain why I participate in NaNoWriMo.
In The One Where Phoebe Runs (video here), Rachel is embarrassed by Phoebe’s headlong running style and shuns her, not wanting to seem ridiculous by association. She doesn’t get the value or appeal of such a thing. Phoebe explains that it brings back the fun of running, the joy from when you were a kid and ran so fast you thought your legs would fall off.
NaNoWriMo, to me, is like running until you think your legs are going to fall off — and loving it.
When I first began writing in grade school, I did it because it was fun and made my friends laugh. When I took up fiction writing again as an adult, I did it because I’d had a really tough couple of years with unemployment, the loss of my dad, and my toddler’s bout with melanoma. Writing was therapy. Writing my heart out made me feel happy again. Alive again. Put color back in the world. I still love it. I still enjoy it. But now I spend most of the year fussing over it, getting serious, running it through workshops and critique groups, agonizing over every word, stressing at deadlines. Worrying about what people will think.
Then November and NaNoWriMo arrive with arm-flailing abandon, reminding me to let go every once in a while, feel alive again. Join the galloping, galumphing, windmilling parade.
Writing is usually a solitary pursuit. Lonely. Even when you belong to a class or a critique group, you’re all pursuing different goals, are at different points in your stories, and you’re there to get down to business and be serious. These are not bad things. Most of us belong to writing groups and are grateful for the resulting improvement. NaNoWriMo, however, is different. In November, writing becomes a social activity. You no longer feel alone. You’re in it together. Writers from all over the world congregate on one site to
crash its servers celebrate the joy of writing until our legs fall off. We’re allowed to cheer each other on, we bring back the joy, and we walk away with a stitch in our sides from laughing. And sometimes a couple of new friends.
Do I think this is the way to go full time?
Do I think I’m there to write a masterpiece?
Heck no. It might happen, but I’m not concerned about that.
I’m just there to run my legs off and rediscover the magic. I want to put aside my inhibitions, limber up my twisted imagination, and fall in love with what I do again. When I’m doing NaNoWriMo right, I know it because I once again feel that heady rush of new love. I can’t wait to get back to the story, I think about it day and night, and I (obviously) can’t stop talking about it.
I wasted too many years of my life not knowing or enjoying who I was because I was too busy toeing the line, forcing myself into herd mentality because the moment I stepped out of the mold, the Eternal Junior High Mean Girls of the world were ready to taunt me, torment me. Shun me. The world would see I was “crazy.” As much as I hated to be noticed and labeled as a brain (You’re such a brain. I hate you!), I feared the least deviation from perfection and hard work because that would expose that I was a sham, an idiot, and thus subject to more ridicule.
So I need NaNoWriMo’s help to let go of that. I like being allowed — encouraged — to be BAD, to be WRONG, and to see that no harm will come from it. In fact, a lot of good comes from it. Being able to laugh at yourself is a major skill in life.
People complain that those of us who are celebrating writing “crap” are wasting an opportunity to do something serious and valuable and “good”. I disagree. First of all, one man’s good is another man’s crap, and vice versa. Second, I think they’re missing the point of what this month means to people like me. This isn’t my only opportunity to write. I write all year long. I revise, rewrite, and edit all year long. I treat my primary novel with the care and seriousness of a parent. I don’t go into NaNoWriMo with the aim of producing the next great classic. I don’t pose for a woodcut portrait on Barnes & Noble’s walls. I use NaNoWriMo to revive my creative energy so that I can go on to strive for a masterpiece, whether through extensive rewrites and editing of my NaNo novel or through starting something new with the momentum I gain. It’s a workout.
I should have a better concluding paragraph, but I don’t. I’m sleepy and have thousands of words to write before I rest. That makes me happy. So I leave you with the following — a dramatic recreation of how I feel about the sound of crackling paper and amplified tap shoes, brought to you by Ms. Phoebe Buffay and Ms. Pacman.