It’s that time of year where I’m flooded with phone calls from panicked writers who are trying desperately to prepare for NaNoWriMo. For me, the end of October is always filled with these kinds of last-minute coaching sessions, in which I talk writers down from the ledge and convince them that all will be okay and that they CAN make it through NaNo.
From all these years doing all these frantic phone calls with writers, I have noticed a pattern. Writers who have done NaNo before definitely seem to have an easier time of it, because they already know the thing that first-timers have to learn on their own:
You can prepare all you want, but that doesn’t mean things will turn out the way you expect.
This is a very hard truth for the human mind to accept. We are a culture engaged on a constant basis with the high level of fear that runs through our society, and many of the things we are afraid of are future-oriented and media-driven. This makes it difficult for us to stay present with what is happening in our own experience right now in our own lives.
We are so afraid of what might happen—of the unknown experiences that lie on the horizon—that many of us are in constant planning mode. If we have a plan, a to-do list, a strategy, a bullet-pointed outline—some sort of concrete, logical thing that we can show someone else to prove that our idea is a good one—our efforts won’t be wasted, and we have proof that we somewhat know what we’re doing. We can tell ourselves that we are safe. Everything will go according to plan. We are prepared.
Except, this is a lie. The reality is that you can prepare all you want for things, but in the end, life will go how life will go. Events will occur that you never saw coming. People will enter and leave your world without warning. You will grow and change in ways you could never even have imagined. Life is life and most of the time, it has no interest in adhering to our plan, our strategy, or our bullet-pointed outline.
And making art, in any form, is just a microcosm of life.
This is the single most important thing to keep in mind as you race your way through the crazy month that is NaNoWriMo: Writing a book (or even just 50,000 random words) is not something over which you can exercise full control. Yes, you may have a plan in place and that may be helpful to you, up to a certain point. But after that point you’re just basically strapped onto a rollercoaster and the ride has started. It’s too late to get off, even if you take some twists and turns you weren’t expecting and feel like you’re going to crap your pants.
Another important thing to remember: NaNoWriMo tends to work for writers because there isn’t time to get caught in the same old hang-ups you’ve had for years around writing. You don’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence with your story idea anymore. Either you’re in, or you’re out. NaNoWriMo demands that you commit your most precious resource to the creative process: time. And once you experience an entire month of ruthlessly devoting time to your writing, it changes you in a deep way. After NaNo, you have no more excuses. You KNOW it’s possible, it’s just a matter of doing it.
So, you’re all in. You’re making the time and you’re writing. And you also feel like you’re on a rollercoaster that you can’t stop and you can’t control. How do you get through it and keep your sanity intact?
You have to just go with it.
Now, I know all you control freak perfectionist writers out there are reading that sentence and feeling VERY unsettled by the thought of “just going with it.” But it really is the thing that will save you during NaNoWriMo. Start with your plan, yes, and try to stick with it, by all means. But…if the plan goes awry, if your story takes a turn you weren’t expecting, or things don’t pan out the way you thought they would, don’t be afraid to let go of control and fall into the flow. Don’t be afraid to let yourself be carried along by your own creativity and the natural rhythm of the intense life experience that NaNo can be for writers.
Letting go is probably one of the hardest things we can do as artists, and as humans, but it is also one of the most rewarding. When we let go of our attachment to what the outcome should look like, or how it should feel to us, we open ourselves up to so many more possibilities. Magical possibilities that we’ve never even dreamed of, because we were too busy trying to plan everything out. Making art is one of those magical possibility portals in life that can take you to places that will blow your mind.
NaNoWriMo is almost here. You might have your plan in place, but are you ready for the real magic? If you’re willing to let go and go with the flow of life, you might just get even more than you bargained for out of the whole experience.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.