If you’re a writer you know what it’s like to have a “writer’s brain.” You meet people for one second and get caught up fantasizing about their life stories. Your imagination goes into overdrive just from hearing a song on the radio. You get so attached to characters in books that you have extreme emotional reactions whenever anything bad happens to them.
Your brain never stops moving. It never stops plotting, dreaming, building, investigating, and finding new roads to travel down.
This is the blessing of being a writer—and the curse.
Because it is this same writer’s brain that is responsible for one of the problems I hear about from writers all the time. The issue of never finishing anything. The conflict that arises when the writer tries to choose between multiple projects. The “too many ideas and not enough time” syndrome.
In my opinion, this is exacerbated by the culture we live in, which constantly gives us the message that everything should offer us unlimited choice—Netflix, the jams and jellies aisle at the grocery store, every category that exists on Amazon…you know what I’m talking about.
But the truth is, if you ever want to get anything done as a writer you have to embrace limits. You have to necessarily kill some dreams so that others can live. Regardless of what’s contained within Netflix, Amazon, and your local grocery store, YOU really do have limits, in the form of time and energy.
And if you’re serious about writing a book, you have to get serious about how you’re going to spend both.
This is why NaNoWriMo works for writers who have struggled with writing for ages.
Because NaNoWriMo forces you to make a choice and limit yourself.
First, you have to choose one idea for a book, and let all the rest go. Then, you have to be careful and conscious about how you spend your writing time on each day. Which scenes will you choose to write over others? Which characters will get the lion’s share of your attention? And, maybe most importantly, what will be ignored, turned off, decided against, and judged as unnecessary when it comes to your writing life?
Any writer participating in NaNoWriMo very quickly learns that discipline is the key to making it through. There simply is no time to let yourself get distracted by social media. There is no time either to read writing guides, hem and haw over your outline, or polish your opening lines until they’re perfect. If you don’t put boundaries in place and let yourself be limited by them, you’ll never make it.
This is the part of the writing process that most aspiring writers don’t imagine when they think of becoming a writer with a long list of published titles behind their name. In fact, quite the opposite. Most have pictured themselves with unlimited time and freedom to work with every character and story possibility that occurs to them.
But seasoned writers know that this is not at all the way it goes.
If you are a writer who is already committing some part of your day or week, regularly, to the practice of writing, then you already know the thing that thousands of new writers find out every year at NaNoWriMo time. Being a successful writer is not all about giving your imagination free, unlimited rein—instead, it’s more about reining it in. Choosing one idea for a novel out of the ten ideas you would love to pursue, and sticking with that one idea through a first draft, lots of revisions, and then the publishing process.
It’s not the most fun part of the writing process, I won’t lie to you. But it is one of the most practical skills you can learn as a writer. If you can cultivate the will to choose one thing, shut out everything else that wants your time and attention, and work on that one thing, doggedly, your odds of being successful as a writer go up astronomically.
This is why NaNoWriMo is so valuable, for any writer. It’s not about cranking out huge word counts, although that is a nice side effect. It’s about getting the hang of disciplining yourself as a writer. You learn how to choose your ideas carefully, and how you spend your time even more carefully. After 30 days of making writing a priority, it’s hard to go back to wasting two or more hours a day bingeing on Netflix or the news or people in your life who don’t do much more than gripe and complain.
NaNoWriMo teaches you how to limit yourself, and how to make those limits work in the service of your creative dreams.
So get ready, writers. Get those limits in place now.
Because tomorrow it begins.
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