I’m taking on a NaNoWriMo challenge with a writer friend of mine; I won’t be writing a novel but I have made a commitment to write every day for a month. After agreeing to do so, I noticed that 2nd November is also National Stress Awareness Day and the coincidence gave rise to some very hollow laughter. I imagine all the writers just starting out on a month-long sprint to complete a 50,000 word novel in a month are all too aware of their stress levels. It made me think about writing and stress; having completed a Masters Degree whilst running my own business and facing some significant personal challenges, the two appear to have been hand in hand for a very long time.
On reflection, writing is perhaps the only thing that saves me from feeling drowned by the stress of everyday living and the lurking dark shadow of depression that waits in the corner. When I write, I feel completely free. I can plunge into another time, world or dimension. Of course, reading also offers that same comfort but where reading is a haven from the world, writing allows me to face it head on; I can take something jumbled and ugly and turn it into something beautiful.
So if I love writing so much, why is NaNoWriMo even a challenge? Why not just buckle down and write like that every month? Writing can be hard; it comes with a lot of frustration and rejection. Sometimes you get your hand burned one too many times and you’re afraid.
For one month, all I have to do is keep writing. The work produced doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to fit a given theme or echo an established voice, it doesn’t have to go anywhere. There are so many things that I have to do or want to do or ought to do that the idea of something that I just do inspires me.
I know it’s not going to be all plain sailing –the fastest way to empty your mind sometimes is to sit down with a free hour to write. I know, too, that I might see people on twitter boasting of daily word counts in the thousands and look at my own shaky couple of lines and feel worthless. I might send the work I’ve written to my friend when we have a weekly exchange and discover every word she’s written is magical and every word I’ve written needs changing.
Having a month to reset my writing habits and expectations has to be a good thing in the end – I’ll come out of the month bursting with new ideas or eager to get back to the things I was working on before but either way, I will have learned something new about myself and about my writing.
I know a lot of people sneer at NaNoWriMo just as they remain cynical about the value of awareness days. To those people, I say go ahead and mock but ultimately, it does help people to talk about things that they’re struggling with, whether that’s stress or writing.
In truth, I don’t care what other people say. I’ll be away at my desk along with nearly half a million other writers across the world, trying to create something new. Maybe that’s part of the appeal of the challenge – to complete it, you have to ignore the cynics and the critics (especially the savage inner critic - mine appears to have had lessons from the JK Simmons’ character in the film Whiplash), say a big fuck you to everything in the world that might stop you creating and just write.