By: Jason Evans
It's five minutes after midnight on Friday, November 4th. I'm with a bunch of students, grandmothers, professionals and retirees at a Perkins restaurant on I-25 and Colorado Blvd. in Denver. I'm here because it’s National Novel Writing Month. About 20 people are with me, talking, laughing, eating and writing the great American novel.
So why am I here?
I started doing Nano in 2012. I completed the 50,000 word goal that year, then finished the novel in December. (It was a YA sports novel. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.)
I've participated in NaNoWriMo every year since. I’ve won more than I’ve lost, but that’s not the point.
1. NaNoWriMo is about art.
One of the things that makes up the human experience is our ability to appreciate and create art. There is nothing more human than the desire to express ourselves, to tell our story. A song, a poem, a piece of architecture, or a slice of pie can transform the artist and those who appreciate art.
Art can speak truth to power. It can bring down the mighty and uplift the oppressed. Art can inspire courage. Art can teach, tear down walls and move people to act politically. Art can also bring people together, like it did on November 4th. But art without strife, without tension or pressure is rarely at its best.
Did you know director John Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone were given 28 days to shoot the
first Rocky movie? What did they get for their work? 10 Academy
Awards nominations and wins for best editing, best director and best movie.
2. NaNoWriMo applies pressure to art.
That’s the other reason I love NaNoWriMo. Thirty days, 50,000 words. You’d have to be insane to try and write a book in 30 days! That averages about 1,667 words a day, every day. But people all around the world not only attempt it, they do it! They do it with jobs, and midterms. They do it with babies on their hips and while they fix dinners. They do it at five in the morning and at midnight. Just thinking about it inspires me to write.
And here’s another point. Very few of those novels written in that Perkins restaurant will ever see the light of day. Many people will never finish. Some will finish and query editors, knowing it’s a longshot. Others will simply be content that they got to 50,000 words, while some will self-publish. And that’s OK.
3. NaNoWriMo forces you to drop your desire for perfection.
These people I’m sitting around aren’t here to become the next George R.R. Martin, or J.D. Robb. They’re not here for fame and fortune. They’re here because something deep inside them tells them they must be here. That if they don’t try to get this story out of them, they’ll burst.
So, I pull out my laptop, looking around at everyone else on their laptops, fire up the ole’ girl, and begin writing. I write off and on for three hours. It’s not my best work, but it’s on the page.
And that is the last thing I love about NaNoWriMo. It forces you to get something down. Nora Roberts once said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” Participating in NaNoWriMo forces a person to look at their desire for “perfect art,” and club that thing like a seal.
You can’t wait for inspiration. You can’t wait for the perfect dialogue or plot or character arc to be laid at your feet. You just have to sit down and write. It ain’t gonna be perfect. But do you really want it to be?
Leonardo Da Vinci once said that “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Writing in NaNoWriMo proves Da Vinci’s wisdom.
When I worked at the renaissance faire in Southern California, I got pretty good at making basic costume pieces. Things like doublets and shirts. People would pay me to make clothes that the management would approve. (Have I mentioned the costume Nazis?) Every item of clothing I made was filled with flaws and failures. I know because I made them.
Here’s the thing, though. The people who paid me money didn’t see them, or at least didn’t mind them. (If they had, I would have remade the garment.) But if the customer buying the art doesn’t care, why should you?
I’m going to tell you a little secret. Your art will never be perfect because you are not perfect. This is not a slight. This is the reality of the world. But the thing that makes your art worthwhile is its flaws. The scars you carry that your readers pick up. The themes you unconsciously come back to over and over again. These are the things that make your art a part of you.
“But what if I fail, Jason? What if I don’t make it to 50,000 words?”
Then you have 40,000 words, or 15,000 words or 6,000 words of your story written on paper. That’s a victory!
4. NaNoWriMo always gives another chance.
Author Aaron Michael Ritchey likes to say that in the writing game, “There are no rules.” I believe him. So if you don’t “Win” NaNoWriMo this time around, take Christmas off and revisit the novel in January. At least part of it is written now. Or, come back to it in the spring or summer for “Camp NaNoWriMo.” You can set your own word counts during camp and complete that novel.
If life gets complicated, don’t give up. Next November is only a year away. To have written a novel in a year is doing more than some professional authors. (George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you.)
By the time this blog is published, we will be squarely in the middle of November, and way too late to sign-up for NaNoWriMo. I hope I have inspired those who’ve already started to continue their journey in book writing this month. For those who’ve just found out about it, you can still sign up for http://campnanowrimo.org
Art for art’s sake can be a beautiful thing. But don’t take my word for it, go write your book!
About the Author: Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s where he watched way too much television, but was introduced to literature by his grandfather and his favorite middle school and high school teachers. He wasted his youth working at the So Cal Renaissance Faire (a dangerous place because it’s the gateway drug to other historical costumes,). In his leisure time he’s an educator, a writer, and a bon vivant. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, with degrees in History & Renaissance Studies, a teaching credentials from CSU Los Angeles, as well as a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. He currently resides in Denver with his wife, the fetching Mrs. Evans, their three dogs and a mischievous cat who calls him his thrall.
You can follow Jason on Twitter @evans_writer
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Jason’s website and blog is at www.jason-evans.net