Last night I reached 25k words in my attempt to reach the finish line of NaNoWriMo. The entire experience has been eye opening on a number of levels, and I've learned (or relearned) a couple of things.
The first and most obvious lesson is something I knew already, but had forgotten over the past couple of years: writing is hard. Back in college, I used to wait until a couple of hours before any given deadline and crank out the requisite number of pages at that time. This resulted in pretty good grades (when I actually handed the paper in), and deadlines tended to spice up what was otherwise a pretty dull activity. I can distinctly remember one time writing the first word of a 20 page final paper 4 hours before the deadline, and getting it done with a half hour to spare.
For some reason, that kind of "academic" (the quotes are extremely intentional) writing came pretty easily to me. Most times I didn't take it seriously because, quite frankly, I didn't find it that difficult to throw up a smokescreen analysis wrapped up in pretty language for the purposes of getting a decent grade.
However, I once took a poetry writing class and the experience was entirely different. It was a lot more difficult to BS my way through things. This might sound strange, because poetry is such a subjective thing... surely I could've just spit out some free verse and handed it in and passed. But for some reason I took it a lot more seriously. When writing in "academic" tones, I was just arguing for argument's sake. When writing poetry, it was a lot more personal. What I wrote said something about me.
So it is with fiction, I suppose. When I started this I didn't think 1667 words per night would be that difficult. It is. I've had to let go of making things perfect, and just write. I always knew that writing was difficult: whether or not I like John Grisham or Tom Clancy, I've always respected that they have the discipline necessary to sit down and engage in the act of writing.
The second lesson I've learned applies to a broader scope than just writing. When someone hears I'm writing a novel during the month of November, the thing I most often hear is: "I wish I had time to do that."
Now, some of those people are definitely busy. I have no clue how people with kids and a full time job are capable of doing NaNoWriMo (although there are plenty that are if you read the forums). But there are just as many people that easily have the time. They've just chosen not to prioritize it.
I think this applies to things like working out, reading books, or just about anything. People love to say "I'd go to the gym, but I don't have time."
Bunk. You've got time, you just haven't prioritized going to the gym above other things. I'm guilty of this myself. I haven't been to the gym consistently since high school. But it's not because I "don't have time." It's because I'm lazy. It's about that simple.
I can understand prioritizing things like family and stuff ahead of writing a novel, going to the gym, or learning to ride a unicycle. But any time you sit down to watch TV or play a video game, you've got time to do something else.
This is not an indictment of playing video games or watching TV. Those things are relaxing, and relaxation is important to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. But I will say this: since November 1st, I have had to force myself to watch less TV and play fewer video games because I've prioritized this over those other things.
Third and final, I'll share something from one of the NaNoWriMo FAQS:
If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It's just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists.
This goes back to point two about "making time", but we all know that not all novelists are great "artists" whose work will stand the test of time. They're just people who had the discipline to sit down and get done what almost everybody says they'll do "one day".
Perhaps the reason some people who style themselves artists don't have that much respect for "popular" authors is because they seem to believe that they could do what they do "if they had time".
To them, I say this: make time.