For the Love of all things #NaNoWriMo

Chelle Honiker
Nov 1, 2018 · 7 min read

I love October. The falling leaves, the post-birthday Autumnal rituals of pumpkin spice lattes and all the cliche things we’re supposed to love as cliche #basicgirls: Candles, scarves, and leaves. You know the drill. There’s a meme for everything.

But I ADORE November 1, when #NaNoWriMo kicks off. It’s a blank page. A new start. Fresh. It’s even better than a New Year for me because it’s when I can say to everyone, “Hey. I can’t do {insert the thing} — you know… it’s #NaNo.” Wink, wink. I’m in a cool club and can’t possibly interrupt my process, m’kay?

I have permission to be a total asshole. I need to get the words down. I need to spend some time actually writing the words, but I also need the creative brain cloud space to imagine those words. I need to sit and think pensively and ponder characters and their quirks. I need to think about inciting events, and 3-Act structure and all the stuff that goes into writing the words.

For one glorious month, I can unapologetically spend time in my craft. My love. My passion. My art. I get to immerse myself fully in the life I want to have the other 11 months of the year.

And it’s glorious. Sublime. My aspiration in life.

I get to be verbose and type as many words as I like without editing or second-guessing myself because the point is just to get the words down. I tell myself just open a vein and bleed, like Hemingway. “Just go bird by bird, like Anne Lamott,” I remind myself.

Fuck all the way off with you, punctuation and context. We’ll fix that shitty first draft later.

Here’s a sentence about misty mornings. Perfect. Let’s add one describing a castle. Check! Written myself into a plothole? MAKE THEM ALL VAMPIRES. It’s a shitty first draft. Break that shit.

It doesn’t even matter if I can’t think of what to write. The point is to show up, put your ass in the chair, start typing letters, and that bitch of a muse will appear. You have to summon her and wrangle her gossamer wingspan to the ground and make her tell you her secrets. She’s not precious. She’s yours. She’s on your fucking payroll. You decide if she gets her manna or ambrosia or whatever muses eat and drink.

My only job for the next month is to show up and get 1667 words down. They don’t have to be good words or spelled perfectly.

There are no backspaces in NaNo.

That sounds like a meme, right? I mean, let’s face it. I will backspace, but the point is not to kill chunks or sections of work. Keep moving forward. Keep the pace. Get better, only because you’re doing the work and anyone gets better at anything with repetition, right?

Show the fuck up.

I used to get really stressed out and strung out about #Preptober. The month before #NaNo where I would buy princess notebooks (bullet journals, natch.) and some gorgeous new pens and sign up for word tracker websites and plan sprints with my friends and fellow writers.

I still do that. But now, I feel it’s a little like going back to school and that pencil-smell thing that Tom Hanks’ character talks about in “You’ve Got Mail”.

He’s writing a letter to Meg Ryan’s character about pencil bouquets as they celebrate Fall in New York — which is my favorite — and he’s articulating all the lovely things about Fall and leaves and shit. Things I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, in fact.

And he says, and I’m paraphrasing, and (sidenote) I am going to be completely imprecise and mostly wrong about this because were it not #NaNo, I would look up the video and watch it, and cite it properly. But it IS, in fact, #NaNo, so I won’t do that. I’ll paraphrase the hell out of that shit, and I’ll write a paragraph about why I’m not researching it and employing brevity.

See what else I did there? I said “employing brevity” when I could have just LEFT THE LAST 4 WORDS OUT OF THAT SENTENCE. But that’s #NaNo. No precious snowflake self-edits allowed. Just get down the words. Also, ignore the fact that you’ve used the word precious like 42 times already and the word “like” is a filler word you will delete later.

But I digress.

Back to the quote. Tom Hanks’ character emails Meg Ryan’s character and says that if they knew each other in real life, he would buy her a freshly sharpened pencil bouquet, auspiciously because the smell of fresh pencils is one of his favorite smells in the Fall, probably invoking some back to school memory.

I love it. I also mis-used the word auspiciously in the last paragraph and it’s #NaNo, so I’m ignoring it, although it is bugging me. This is the point of the whole thing.

November is a fresh start. So, I’ll sprint using my tomato timer to write as many words as possible in 25 minutes. I’ll drink more coffee than humanly possible. I’ll take 5 minute breaks to stretch my legs and think about my next sprint.

I’ll play the hell out of my Spotify playlists that I created in October to create the mood for whatever scene I’m writing and get lost in this lovely world of my own creating, buoyed by the fact that there are kindred spirits doing the same thing. That their asses are in a chair and they’re feeling the same things as me. Love, hope, frustration, angst, excitement, and wonder. They love their characters. They kill their characters. Their characters are their friends.

This used to be weird to me. It’s not any longer.

Each year with #NaNo I’m more amazed at what I produce. What my brain has the capacity to think and dream of. How much faster I get every year and how much more creative. That’s the part I remind myself of during the rest of the sloggy shitty months of too much everything else and not enough of this.

I also toss the self-doubt, and the, “Holy fuckballs, I wrote THAT piece of flaming crap sentence?” and I just remind myself that in the end, I’m a writer.

It’s my art so I can claim, “I meant to do that” when it’s horrible, and just hope you believe that you’re not as elevated as me intellectually. But really, I know that’s a terrible sentence, and I can do better. So I show up the next day and summon that bitch of a muse.

I love that it’s my art, but in the end, so I’m not a starving artist, it’s my job to show up and write down what my brain tells my fingers to type, or my mouth to dictate. Sense comes later. It’s probably some kind of good testimony that I don’t remember every sentence I write, because in all truth, I don’t remember writing some stuff. Especially during #NaNo. But that’s ok. The Zen, and free-flow, and free-association is a good thing. A necessary thing. It’s like a frozen hydrant where at the beginning a little water trickles out, but by the time the water is gushing. Somewhere, buried deep in the gush, is the good stuff. Somewhere in the gush is the stuff that I need to polish and elevate and rework and wrangle.

Somewhere, in the gush, is what I really want to say. It’s just really important to say all the other shit to clear the field, like a surgeon when they ask for suction to get the blood out of the way so they can see the spleen or some other mysterious organ they’re working on.

Clear the field. Get everything out and then clean it up.

Women get this because we clean our closets out from time to time. We have to pull all the shit out and it looks like we’re hoarders for a hot minute while we sort and assign value to the things. Then we put things back in the closet with the colors sorted and the tops organized together and the pants organized together and our shoes matched. Then we look at all the stuff we are throwing out, donating, or pawning off on some unsuspecting family member and we’re amazed at how much stuff we had initially.

That’s writing. You clear everything out and write all the words. Then you go back and pull out the ones you definitely want to keep — much like during the closet fiasco, you decide that super cute Foo Fighters hoodie is a keeper — and then move on to the ones you might want to keep. Slash, hack, slash, hack.

Then, you send that still-shitty-but-not-quite-first-draft to someone else to read. And then iteratively do it all again. Until it’s what you meant to say in the first place.

And it all starts, at least for me, with #NaNoWriMo and the gorgeous fresh first day November 1. And the words that keep coming, to my utter surprise and delight that I get to do this. This is the real life I’ve made for myself and I get to hang out with other people that also get to do this and love it and encourage each other and drink coffee and play their playlists and sprint together to create something magical.

Or not.

The main thing is just putting your ass in a chair and saying what you have to say. The very best, most thrilling part of it all, is just taking a month to discover your voice, challenging yourself to try something new, being disciplined enough to show up every single day, without fail, letting yourself write whatever comes into your head and not worry about how good or worthy of reading what you write actually is.

It’s just about getting 1667 words written every day for 30 days. Which is exactly how long this piece actually is.

Chelle Honiker

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Caffeinated ☕️ Writer ✏️ Mama 💫 Founder 👸 Foo Fighter 🎸 Speaker 🔊 Trainer 👩‍🏫 Traveler — Building a Vagabond Empire one byte and flight at a time.

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