One of the toughest parts of trying to be a writing coach is achieving the proper level of cheerleading. If people are paying you for a class or for one-on-one instruction, it’s not too complicated — your (constructive) criticism and support is what they are buying with the fee for the class or coaching. I would no more tell the worst official student or coaching client that they should give up writing fiction than I would tell a parent to give up on a baby because it isn’t walking two weeks after he or she was born.
Or dancing. (This joke comes to you courtesy of the year 1996.)
But what about the writers who look to you for support or encouragement — not even critique at this stage — that you offer for free, as a way to pay it forward to give thanks to the muses that helped you become a for-profit teller of tales? This is the case with the NaNoWriMo worldwide write-a-thon, which is in November and asks writers to pen 50,000 words during the course of the month, words that tell a single story that you begin and complete in that time. (Of course, what a writer has at the end of that is a very rough draft which will then be rewritten and reworked, but you need the raw material before you can bring it to life.)
This cat knows what I’m talkin’ bout.
And so it is the same with the July version, Camp NaNoWriMo. This is a wonderful opportunity for those writers who want to do something other than the 50,000-word novel, instead maybe a 30,000-word novella (that’s what I’m working on), or a book of poems (two in our group are doing that), or a full revision of a manuscript, or whatever you would like to work on. (Interesting is how the poets are handling it. Because there is a 30,000-word minimum for participatnts to be considered “winners” for the month, they are splitting their poetry books into 30 or 31 even slices, and as they finish each chunk [ideally once a day] they give themselves 1,000 words. It is this kind of ingenuity that is sparked by Camp NaNoWriMo’s relatively lax requirements.)
I will thank you for not undermining my authority, younger and funnier Jim Carrey!
Not one person in our 11-writer cabin — and this includes Yours Truly — is even close to near the wordcount he or she had posted as a goal. Some people are still at 0, some (points at self) are at under 5,000 words, and some haven’t updated their progress since the beginning of the month so there’s no way of knowing, but one can assume that radio silence ≠ incredible success.
But that’s okay! And what’s more, going through the process — even if you don’t do what you had hoped — is valuable to writers and to humans in general. I love my cabinmates whether or not they finish or even start their projects. They stuck their necks out to be a part of the community of writers, and that’s brave.
All of that said, I really want to help my cabinmates to succeed at Camp NaNoWriMo if they are looking to do that. The best way for me to do this is to get some brasselfrackin’ consarned words done my own bad self! So I wrote the following on our Camp NaNoWriMo cabin’s Facebook page, to try to give my peeps some inspiration.
“Yeah, wow, consider me inspired. w00t or what have you.”
All right, guys, it is July 13 as I am writing this. Camp NaNoWriMo has not — THUS FAR — been a huge success for our little cabin. Part of this may be because the month of July was chosen for us, not by us, and maybe it’s not the ideal time for some of us to hit it on a big project. That’s certainly valid. But there are other reasons why our word counts may be sorely lacking:
1. The writing bug sometimes takes a little time to get out of its chrysalis and onto the, um, sugar bowl of, uh, words. (If you can’t tell, this was a metaphor I made up on the fly –THE FLY! HAHAHAHAHA! Ahem.) We might start with 3,000 words done by July 15 and then end up doing 30,000 (or however many) in the last two weeks. As any novelist will tell you, there’s a physical feeling of momentum once you get really writing your book.
2. It’s too goddamned HOT to write. Not as valid as No. 1, but certainly something to take into consideration. Of course, winter might be too cold, spring might be too damp, fall might have to many nice days to spend them inside …
3. You don’t exactly feel inspired by your Dear Leader’s word count. It’s true, my own efforts have been really pathetic, mostly because I started working on one project when the publisher said it liked a different idea of mine and asked for that. Since then we’ve been hashing out the plot and I should be good to go by tomorrow. Then, I hope, my word count will jump like a track and field superstar (they jump, right?) and I can be a bit more of an example to follow for you guys.
4. Only 1 in 6 writers finish their project in the month. Maybe the other 5 get really good stuff down but just write more slowly, or maybe they get stuck in rereading and revising their stuff (a HUGE mistake for NaNo), or maybe they just don’t have or don’t care to cultivate the discipline it takes to sit still for an hour and bang out some words. So if you don’t finish your project, you’re in the majority and shouldn’t feel bad.
5. Rereading and revising instead of plunging forward. You were warned, you were told the folly of trying to revise instead of just writing for this project, but (maybe) you went ahead and did it anyway. That is certainly your prerogative, you’ll do what you want to do, but it’s deadly for NaNo time. For those who are doing revision as their Camp NaNo project, you’re for one reason or another not actually doing the revising OR writing new material. This, again, is fine — we’re not trying to save lives here — but I hope you’ll reconsider that strategy for the second half of the month.
6. You have given up or just realized you don’t want to do this. THIS IS PERFECTLY VALID! But maybe drop us all a message on the cabin message board and let us know we shouldn’t be trying to pep up someone who has opted out of the game. NO SHAMING, because it’s not shameful! NO GUILT, because it’s not hurting anyone else and maybe not even yourself. NO WORRIES, because creativity thrives on freedom … until it needs to thrive on asses in seats. (But you know this.)
All right, then, lecture over. I do hope you’ll let us all know any thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes, what have you, anything about your experience that you think we’d find interesting or enlightening. And I’ll try harder to do the same for all of you.
Whaddya think of that? Was that not some incredible support of my writers whether or not they get much done? Am I not a wonderful — not just coach or cheerleader, but wonderful humanitarian?!?
Thank you. Really, you’re too kind.
NOW GET WRITING, EVERYONE! Or at least reading. Be a pepper, come on.*
* And this comment was brought to you by the year 1982.