December 11, 2007

Writing A Novel Is Impossible, Then Easy, Then Challenging

As any of my faithful readers may have noticed, my blogging dropped off the face of the Earth toward the end of November. My apologies. I was participating in National Novel Writing Month, an endeavor I highly recommend to anybody.

National Novel Writing Month (affectionately called NaNoWriMo) is a contest of sorts -- its participants are challenged to write 50,000 word's worth of a novel between November 1 and November 30. That's a pace of about 5 pages a day!

The novels don't need to be finished products, or even be good. They only need to exist at the end of the month. There are no prizes for winning. In fact, there isn't even technically a winner.

I've done NaNoWriMo for three years now, and finished two of them. One of the many things I have learned in the process is that NaNoWriMo is a wonderful metaphor for any of life's challenges. NaNoWriMo, like life, is a challenge against yourself. For when you set out to do big things, you are often your biggest obstacle.

In NaNoWriMo, as with any major task, you move through three distinct stages on your way toward your goal: Impossibility, simplicity and challenge.

An impossible challenge
At first glance, a major goal can seem almost impossible. In fact, the subtle fear that its accomplishment may not even be possible is often a good indicator that you are embarking on something significant.

This feeling of impossibility is an important measuring stick, for the value of an action is often relative. Going to the grocery store to pick up some shampoo, for instance, is not normally a significant action. But, if you have spent the past fifteen years struggling with intense agoraphobia, it may well be a life-changing experience.

Remember also that the key here is for a project to seem ALMOST impossible. That can be a fine line, but you will know when you've struck that balance. A balanced goal is characterized by a calm, confident sense from the heart that the project can be done, even though it may seem too big for you on the surface.

An easy challenge
Next, you become surprised by just how easy the project turns out to be. This is the most empowering part of the whole journey, and practically guarantees your eventual success. Sadly, this is the stage that quitters never get to. This is unfortunate, because it is so easy to reach.

We are all familiar with the old maxim that a journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step. In NaNoWriMo, the truth of this leaps into view. If you focused solely on the immense workload that stands ahead of you, you would never dare to begin. But a funny thing happens when you instead focus on a single day's workload. Writing 5 pages, though challenging, is easily done. And when you've written those 5 easy pages, you don't feel like you've done a mere day's worth of work, but actually feel that the entire project's success is within your grasp.

And the real fun happens when you've made it about 25% of the way toward your goal. Those first days of work, in addition to being surprisingly easy, also help to set the tracks for the remainder of the work. You don't realize it at the time, but your early work actually simplifies the work that lies ahead.

In NaNoWriMo, this is clearly evident. In the beginning, you aren't necessarily sure who your characters are, much less what they are or will be doing. But eventually, things in the novel being to take place as a natural result of the things that have transpired in its earlier pages. Soon, it becomes incredibly easy to write a novel -- it practically writes itself! But you will never experience the thrill of being carried off by your goal if you do not take those first steps.

A worthy challenge
Eventually, even the thrill of the surprising ease of your work dies away. And finally, the project becomes a worthy challenge. Though the work may be relatively easy, there is still a lot of it to be done. The question is no longer one of whether or not the goal can be accomplished but whether you are committed to doing the work that needs to be done to get there. You are now locked into a battle of self-discipline.

In NaNoWriMo, there are many reasons to write a novel in such a short period of time. But not all of those reasons will lead to success. If you merely wanted to "try something new", for instance, writing the first 20 pages might be new enough. After that point, it can be very difficult to finish. But if your interest is to train yourself in self-discipline, completing the novel becomes absolutely necessary. What self-discipline have you learned if you quit before the task is done?

The novel gets done only when you diligently sit down at the keyboard (or take pen in hand) day after day, for as long as it takes, until the job is done. That is the ultimate challenge of NaNoWriMo.

Discipline is the key discipline
In every major undertaking, there is a time when the fun disappears. There is a time when the task is no longer easy. There is a time when the reasons no longer seem reasonable. It is at those critical moments when the only thing that stands between you and your goal is the ability to put one more day's work into it despite all of your feelings to the contrary.

Discipline is the one skill that carries you through to the accomplishment of your goal. Discipline is what gives you the courage to keep going, even when you don't feel like it. And you know that your work is not in vain, for nothing compares to the euphoria of accomplishing a major goal.

So, what major goals do you want to accomplish? Do you have the discipline that it takes to accomplish it? The only way to know is to get started -- and to keep going.

Also at Babblermouth:
A Map That's Good Enough
3 Things: Time Management For Scatterbrains
Financial Freedom Series 1: Cause and Effect

No comments:

Post a Comment

Do you agree? Disagree? Be sure to tell me why before you go.