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NaNoWriMo as a Path to Enlightenment? Sara Completes Her Novel

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Remember young “Sara’s” post on NaNoWriMo? For those of you who have been curious about where the process of writing her unauthorized autobiography took her, I am pleased to announce she has successfully completed her novel. The process finished just as strongly for her as it began. I received this from her this morning:

It’s hard to describe all of my feelings and impressions about this process because I’m still so close to it but a year or even several years from now I think that I’ll look back and say, “You know, all of that started when I decided to write a novel.”

It sounds absolutely crazy – “I’m going to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days.” I’ve never written fiction outside of school assignments. I had no ideas about plot or characters or anything remotely novel-ish. But I wanted to go through the experience of writing a novel and find out where it would take me, so I decided to do it.

Probably the best decision I made early on was to scrap all pretense of a traditional novel and instead write something along the lines of a third person diary, like Jane Goodall scribbling field notes while observing the life of “Sara”.

That decision served two purposes: 1) it took away any expectations about what my novel “should” be and 2) it allowed me to capture all of those thoughts that had been rattling around in my head for years, the thoughts that always seemed simultaneously too silly and too serious to recognize and commit to paper.

It was like taking a vacuum cleaner to my brain and I was shocked at how much that vacuum cleaner collected. The thing that surprised me the most about the writing process itself was that the faster I typed, the faster the ideas came to me. The typing fueled the thoughts, not the other way around.

So how has my perspective changed since starting NaNoWriMo? For one thing, I feel much less judgmental toward my own thoughts. When I find myself with those silly/serious thoughts I’m much more likely to let them “be” – to recognize them and give them psychological space instead of shoving them into the attic of my brain.

I’ve noticed a similar mellowing in observing my actions. A whole month of wearing the Jane Goodall hat in observing yourself is bound to affect how you see yourself. I’ve seen myself take much more of a “well that was interesting” approach to judging my own actions. I think it’s no coincidence that I’ve also started seeing connections between cause and effect, action and reaction, in my daily life where I didn’t before. Those tiny little flashes of self-awareness can add up to significant improvements.

Maybe the biggest shift caused by my writing experience has been that I feel excited about the future. I don’t feel stuck in a rut anymore. I never would have expected that writing 50,000 words that I don’t intend for anyone else to ever see could have that effect, but it happened. I can’t totally explain the how’s or why’s of my new energy but I think it comes from doing something so crazy and outrageous and yet also so SAFE.

I knew that no one would ever read this novel (or even want to), so I allowed myself to be stupid. And clumsy. And juvenile. And talent-less. The only thing that I DIDN’T allow myself to do was to stop typing before 50,000 words.

With such a simple tactile goal, I could focus on the process, not the outcome and that has made all the difference. Because the fun is in the process. Yes, I felt a bit of a rush when I hit 50,000 words, but that rush wouldn’t have been worth all the effort I put in over the course of a month.

The effort was worth it though. The frenetic typing at six o’clock in the morning, the exhausted encouragement of “just two more minutes”, the sigh of relief when the fifteen minute timer beeped (or even better, the decision to keep typing right through it), the occasional shock of “oh my gosh, that idea ISN’T complete crap”. Those moments were TOTALLY worth the effort.

And now I want to find more of those moments because I know that they’re out there.
Laura, you know that the traditional “American dream” model of success has never really motivated me. The dream house fills up with junk, the new car smell fades, the big screen TV sucks away your life.

But I got so much joy out of a process that didn’t cost me a penny and didn’t require years of misery to earn. All because I approached this with the intention to enjoy the process, rather than hanging all of my hopes on a short-lived high of elation at the end.

What I hope to take from all of this is that I don’t have to angst over the horrible question “what am I going to do with my life?”. There are millions of ways that I could choose to spend my time and in the end which ones I choose probably won’t matter that much. What matters is what I bring to that chosen activity NOW, not what I hope that activity will bring to me maybe, someday.”

“Sara”

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