This post first appeared in slightly adapted form here.
November is here, and besides the end of daylight savings time (ugh), the annual renewed focus on gratitude (not so ugh), planning for turkey or tofurkey or turducken or what have you dinners and all of that other fall goodness, it's also time to set daily creative goals that will haunt us from the time we wake up until the time we lay our weary, under-writing-achieving heads down on the pillow at night.
So. NaNoWriMo, NaPlWriMo, NaNoDrawMo, Na, Na...na...na gonna do that at anymore, whatever you call your particular creative ritual poison, they're all happening now. (There is actually a WikiWriMo that lists the "timed artistic challenges" for every month, in case you want to take one on in, say, April, and skip the seasonal hype altogether.) Meanwhile, for those of us who are past, present, or potentially future participants in Na-mos of any kind, here are a few hints for how to write every day--or try--with our sanity intact, and maybe even with some words on pages or screens, and a strengthened community.
1. Group participation
People who need people may not be the luckiest people, but chances are they are writers.
NaNoWriMo has almost 474 registered novelists in my DC region. That's a lot of people willing to suffer for their art, and more importantly to maybe talk to me about it. That's a good thing, because writing anything, of any length, can be lonely work. (Hey, I've stopped to bother two friends on Gchat just in the course of writing this post and I'm not even halfway done.) Commiseration tends to be part of the creativity game, so why not join a group to talk to about how you're not writing? Or maybe to share your happiness after you've gotten it done, either way. Camp Nanowrimo allows you to "make a cabin of likeminded writers."
You can grab NaNoWriMo badges here, among other inspirational gizmos and gadgets. And don't forget hashtags. The #nablopomo and #nanowrimo tags are rocking already. And I have a Facebook group made up of a group of my friends who will read my words and tell me what they think, too, which is priceless to me. Now I just have to use all of these amazing things.
3. Set mini-challenges
Nothing says we can't participate in the biggie writing challenges on our own level and our own terms, which can be time-limited or thematic, or even both. Team up with a friend for daily check-ins about writing progress. Make your own challenge "one page a day all month" instead of a whole book. Just because you can't—or don't want to—do a whole something doesn't mean you can't do anything.
4. Know your limits
Each year when I tried NaBloPoMo I knew by November 2 when I had failed to post on November 1 that I was too busy to commit to a daily challenge. I have a bunch of reasons: My jobs are writing-intensive and I owe my clients before I owe myself; I have family and friends and a dog who require a ton of time and energy, and also? I need sleep. Plus? Maybe I don't wanna. But I could make the agreement to try to write once a week, and that's way better than the NoBlogPostsNoMo schedule I've been on for the better part of a year. These pep talks from authors on Nanowrimo Young Writer's Program site--and I love that there is a whole section for young people!--made me feel better about doing what I could do, which is better than nothing at all. This quote from Ally Condie isn't on the site anymore, but it lives here and I still love it.
I'll tell you a secret. I've participated in NaNoWriMo, but I've never written a novel in a month. But I still love writing along with the others who are. I like to think of the "Mo" at the end of NaNoWriMo as "More." So November is often my month of writing more. I find more moments in the day to write down a sentence or two, more space in my life to think about the novel and what it could be and who the characters are. I let them linger in my mind a little longer, I cook things like pancakes for dinner so I have more time to write, I jot down more notes on the backs of school assignments or send more texts about the novel (questions, ideas, etc.) to myself.
I love writing long Instagram captions. Some people don't like it that I do, and it is for those people that the unfollow button, and the ability to use it on me, exists. I have the capacity to copy and paste the code from my Instagram photos over to my blog, and along with them, my over-long caption. Tada: Blog post. I can use the platforms where I am all of the time these days instead of my blog--namely Facebook and Instagram--to jumpstart me. Instagram can be considered a micro-blogging platform, which means that I have not only posted every day in November so far, but almost every day of every month of the year.
That blank white box in my blog CMS can be the most terrifying sight of my day--when I actually allow myself to look at it. Sometimes finding a common thread in my content gives me more motivation to keep coming back to it day after day. This can mean theme or structure, or both. I did my own #30DaysofFlowers practice on Instagram last year, because I suddenly found myself surrounded by beautiful flowers at a time when I really needed them, and I felt like sharing them. It gave me some focus and a reason to use a hashtag--the latter goal more questionable than the former, by far, but I ended up with some really pretty flower shots at the end of the month, and I admit, I was more motivated because I had a theme. I may have even missed a day, but no one cared, and I wasn't really counting after awhile because I was having too much fun. The blank canvas can be less intimidating with some focus.
7. Begin knowing you can stop.
When I do NaBloPoMo, I tell myself every day that it's okay if I don't post. It was a self-imposed challenge, right? If it wasn't fun, it was just a fast track to insanity on the eve of the busiest time of the year. If I get burnt out on blogging (which besides my job has always been something I've done here on my own site for the love of it) it would make for a very sad December for me and for all of the people who had to live around me. There would be no pithy blog posts about tinsel and bows or more pressing issues of the day. For no reason.
Take the pressure away and watch me go. Imagine that.
8. Write (or shoot, or post)
Yes. Eventually you do have to produce some words, or pictures, or drawings, or tears--whatever gets you where you want to go in terms of daily creative output. Otherwise it's all just much ado about not posting, and not writing, and I don't know about you, but that's a direct route to getting on my own nerves.
So. Whether it's your novel or your newly rejuvenated blog, or free-writing on a Tumblr, or a Facebook note, or whatever works for you, maybe these November challenges could be just the ticket if you want a fresh start, some new voices to engage with, or you're just in need of a new challenge of any kind.
I'll see you December 1, just in time for NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month, naturally.)