I write to you this post at a timely moment. November hosts the annual challenge many writers will take up: National Novel Writing Month. The objective of NaNoWriMo is to compose a 50,000 word manuscript within the dates of November 1 and November 30. Whether or not you accomplish the assigned criterion by November’s end is entirely up to you. Nobody tells you to do this, monitors your progress nor penalizes you for not fulfilling your self-arranged benchmarks. These loose guidelines are liberating and maddening. There’s not really even a winner; everyone gets a certificate. “So what’s the point?” A Muggle might ask. Not that you need to justify yourself, tell the Muggle you do it just to see what you can do. (In your head, feel free you pretended to tell the Muggle to piss off and leave you alone.) While I think it’s fantastic that you want to see what you’re capable of (I’m trying to break into the publishing industry after all), I say go for NaNoWriMo with caution — especially if this is your first major piece of writing. The threat of writing to a deadline can be just as damaging to the creative process as it can be an aid.
To better visualize why I am wary of deadlines, consider the imagery evoked from the title of this post.
When cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner, you will have guests who are hungry, probably fasting in anticipation of the feast to be had later. Naturally, they will pester and swarm like flies, seeking any morsel to satisfy their immediate craving. This is one of the key words for this post: immediate. Like everything worth doing, creating a good story takes time, effort, and patience. So too does the turkey. You can’t — and shouldn’t — rush yourself. Time simply won’t allow it. Pull the turkey out too early, it’s still cold and everyone gets frustrated, egged on by their hunger; pull it out too late and people have already likely filled up on chips, salsa, and wine. Either way the result sets you back to doing more work, doubting that you’ll ever get it right. If you had taken the time to regularly check the temperature, prepare the sides, and anticipate the length it would take to make it properly, instead of subjecting yourself to the pressures of others, you would serve a perfectly cooked bird for all your hungry readers – I mean guests.
NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to see if you can commit to writing — if it’s worth your efforts. It’s great for those who need a “solid” deadline. Otherwise, they would not find the time in their life to tell that story. I’m here to tell you don’t stop after November. Better yet don’t wait until November to write.
Make time to work on your craft. If you love it enough, then you will wake up every day with “when will I get to write?” in the back of your mind. It’s the best feeling in the world when you don’t ever have to force yourself to think about doing what you love.
If you’re starting to see your characters come alive, the potential for twists, and opportunity to build your world then don’t rush it. Take your time. Enjoy crafting your story. It does wonders to the spirit and your confidence. You will see your surroundings brimming with the potential to inspire your world. You will pay more attention to your life and those in it.
External deadlines can only do so much to motivate you. Sometimes, I fear, they can be more of a hindrance than help. They can add pressure and stress to a process that should be as enjoyable as floating down a river in the sunshine. Writing should never become a chore. Finding the discipline to write even when you don’t want to is different than hating it. You feel good about yourself after you’ve done it — even if it’s not immediately after. Chores don’t have the same effect.
To provide an excellent example of not letting deadlines control your life, think of George R. R. Martin. Fans have been calling for the penultimate novel of his fantasy epic for longer than many readers would care to utter aloud. Yet we all wait patiently for George to pen his next tomb because we know something like A Song of Ice and Fire takes time and care to create. As eager as I am to have the book out after Season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I am happy to wait. To me, it just meansGeorge really wants to put all his best efforts into this book. Winds of Winter will only be published when it is ready. He will not pull it out of the oven until it is crisp and dripping with intrigue as is the nature of all great works of art.