At about this time last year I was working on revisions for a book manuscript. I’d been querying for a few months, and had gotten some great constructive feedback, ideas I was eager to implement. I even had an editor (one I’d met at a local conference) who, after seeing the latest draft, had requested a peek at a revised version. And so I was working on revising my book.
This guest post is by Lisa Koosis, a prize-winning short story writer and a twelve-time NaNoWriMo winner.
Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Family Circle, Abyss & Apex, the British-Fantasy-Award-winning Murky Depths, and Blade Red Press’s Dark Pages anthology, which was shortlisted for the Australian Shadows Award.
Well, okay, so maybe “working” isn’t exactly the right way to phrase it.
What I was really doing was thinking about working on revisions.
Maybe even agonizing about working on revisions.
All right, I confess. I was doing everything but working on those revisions.
My avoidance came about for a number of reasons: burnout after years of writing, years of revision and querying and rejections; self-doubt (for many of the same reasons); a. new job that had new and greater responsibilities; an overall lack of momentum. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line was this: I was getting in my own way.
Getting in one’s own way is a problem I think most writers suffer with from time to time (often, for some of us). [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] Sometimes the reasons for it live outside of us—family demands, work obligations, the assorted time constraints of a world that doesn’t stop just because there’s a book to be written—and other times the reasons are more internal, brought on by fear and exhaustion and self-doubt, the echoes of the voices of people who’ve told us that we’re just not good enough. But with an editor waiting to see my revisions (and being a firm believer that no opportunity should be allowed to pass by without at least trying to seize it), I knew I needed to get myself moving forward again.
As a long-time National Novel Writing Month participant, I knew that there was nothing like a high-speed approach to plow through roadblocks and get myself back on track. I also knew that Camp NaNoWriMo was just about to start, and so I signed up.
A month later, while I hadn’t completely finished my revisions during camp, I was well on my way, and more than ready to fly through the rest. And even better, I was happy with what I’d accomplished, not just the quantity but also the quality. I had, as I’d hoped, gotten out of my own way.
So why is Camp NaNoWriMo so effective? I have a few theories.
Unlike November’s 50,000-words-in-30-days approach, Camp NaNoWriMo lets you set your own word-count goals, as well as offering the choice of working on non-novel projects and also revisions.
Writing is such a solitary activity, and one of the charms of both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo is the sense of community that surrounds both events. In Camp NaNoWriMo, participants are sorted into cabins, which are essentially small writing groups (up to 11 people) where writers can chitchat, commiserate, celebrate, nudge and support each other during the process. Sometimes when you just can’t get out of your own way, another writer going through something similar or who has been there and broken through, might be just the voice you need to replace the naysayers in your head.
Importantly, community also provides a sense of accountability. Other people are rooting for you to succeed, but they’re also there to give you a little prod when necessary. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!]
Quantity over Quality
Although this applies more to writing than revising, sometimes it’s this more than anything that can get a person moving because it’s so incredibly freeing. What I’ve discovered over the last few years is that the more I learn about my craft, the harder it is to just get words on the page. My inner editor constantly shouts at me about pacing and characterization and word choice and point of view, so much that sometimes I can’t hear the voice of the story. NaNoWriMo’s high-speed approach encourages just getting words on the page and worrying about all the other stuff later.
And showing up to the page every day has its own benefits. Personally, I’ve found it leaves me wide open to creativity in a way I’d never felt before. While I’m participating, I’m an antenna to the universe. Ideas are everywhere. You just have to be open to them and writing every day, writing fast, helps with that.
For me, signing up to participate is a pact I’m making with myself. A commitment. It’s a contract that says: I will make my writing life a priority. If only for the month, I will prioritize my book over the dirty dishes and eating three square meals a day and watching my favorite TV show.
Above all else, during these years when I’ve started to look at writing as a business as much as an art, NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo have reminded me to also look at writing as something fun, as the thing I started to do because I loved it, because it was as much a part of me as my skin or my heartbeat.
This year, I’m getting ready to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo for my second year in a row. My reasons this year are very different…but also somehow the same. I’ve gotten in my own way again, and I know the push of camp will get me moving forward. And I find myself eager to begin, to once again find that place within me where there’s freedom in the act of writing.
And those revisions? While the editor ultimately passed on my book, those revisions weren’t for naught. Approximately two months after participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, I signed with a wonderful agent. It’s amazing what getting out of your own way can do for you.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.