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NaNoWriMo: The Path to Enlightenment?

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"I've decided to write an unauthorized autobiography." My client announced her intention to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo.

"Well, this should be interesting", I thought.

I've been watching this young woman, whom I will call Sara, dance around the edges of launching from her parents' home and her search for a career that would support her for a while now. Not an excessively goal driven woman, Sara readily admits she could happily live in her head for quite a long time under the security of their roof. We 'mature' adults just haven't made life on the outside look all that appealing, unfortunately. I hear this from young people fairly often actually. Who wants to race headlong into our over-working, stressed out, bigger-better-faster-more way of life? Much easier to curl up with a bowl of popcorn, a little HBO, some MySpace surfing, and hope the parents aren't eager to empty their nest any time soon.

Sara contacted me to help her shake herself free of inertia and she has made progress in overcoming some of her fears. Progress such as, "I realize there isn't really much to be afraid of. I could easily re-create my underachieving lifestyle on my own if my parents kicked me out." She says this tongue-in-cheek, of course, but it will give you some indication of just how stuck she has been.

Considering her NaNoWriMo challenge, I wondered, "Where's she going to get material? Daydreams, sure, but a novel's worth?"

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the keyboard. Adopting a "Jane Goodall approach", Sara began to observe herself. More importantly she began to observe her mind.

This is an excerpt of her "field notes", sent to me this morning.

… this weekend, I spent most of my writing time observing my main character's reactions to the realization that she has made her life ridiculously complicated just because those complications created a playground for her mind to play in. But she doesn't like the playground much anymore now that she knows it can't provide any real lasting happiness. It's not a more noble or enlightened diversion than doing crossword puzzles or watching soap operas.

The problem is that whenever 'Sara' told herself "OK, no more playground for me! I'm going out into the real world!", her first question was "how?" and suddenly she was back in the playground labyrinth and as far as the real world was concerned she was living unconsciously, letting life pass on by. But this weekend she made a startling discovery. She realized that to live consciously and deliberately and fully engaged with reality is a simple two-step process: decide and do. That's it. Everything else is a potential distraction.

Let us pause for a moment while I attempt the never before successfully completed quadruple piroutte backflip mambo jazzbox happy dance capped off with a booty shake and can I get a "Woo hoo!"

Sara is accomplishing via NaNoWriMo the high level self-awareness countless people try and fail to achieve through meditation and similar centering practices. The structure of the writing task, with the prescribed number of words, is making her show up to the page every day, whether she knows what she is going to write or not. She commited to the process and she's doing it without expectation. Failure to keep the commitment, along with the open-mindedness and freedom from expectation that Sara demonstrates, is why so many people abandon what could be extraordinarily beneficial centering practices. The path to self-knowledge is surprisingly easy to travel when you engage in it in the egoless way that Sara is approaching NaNoWriMo.

Now, one weekend of insight does not enlightenment make (typically), and Sara understands that. She goes on to write:

Stepping out of Jane Goodall mode now, what's amazing is that I thought of this as I was thinking about my writing. When people talk about writing a novel they talk about technique and structure and creativity exercise but they're really talking about writing a GOOD book. I'm not trying to do that. I'm just trying to write a book and all that requires is typing keys on a keyboard until I choose to type THE END. That's all. If I someday decide to transform my book into a good book I can do that by editing, but if I tried to write a good book to start with I would never start, let alone finish.

And I started to see how much that mirrored my life. I'm so obsessed with creating the perfect life that I never get started creating a life for myself at all. But just like writing a novel, creating a life isn't complicated: decide to do something and then do it. Everything else is editing. And it's silly to worry about editing when there' s no story to edit.

So… thus far my character hasn't gotten up the nerve to really start writing her life yet. She's very attached to her dictionary and MLA handbook and is worried about leaving them behind while she types at the keyboard. But at least she realizes now what she needs to do and that reading more books or drawing more plot diagrams would only be procrastinating.

Rock on, Sara. Can't wait to read the book. May your character never cease to surprise and entertain you!

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