The Joy of Creation
Last November, I wrote just over 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. While I typically grind away on my freelance gigs, I have never pushed myself harder when it comes to my personal writing. I've been slowly ideating, planning, and writing/prepping a fantasy series since I was 16 years old, and I squeezed every possible word out of my brain during this challenge. And in ten years, right now is the clearest my ideas have ever been.
Why? I stopped overthinking and just wrote.
50,000 words might seem like I overdid it a little bit. Why not work on a manuscript slowly? Slow and steady wins the race. True, but my brain has never liked slow and steady. I'm wired for hard deadlines and last minutes and the adrenaline rush of sliding in something great just before time is called. Fortunately for me, this approach has never landed me or my work in the fire. For the longest time, I called this part of myself a huge procrastinator. Even in high school, I just couldn't force myself to work far ahead of schedule and save myself a couple late nights, which became all-nighters in college. Plenty of articles call procrastination a choice or a coping mechanism for perfectionism. Some articles say that if you procrastinate and it goes well, it affects the part of your brain that deals with rewards processing and causes you to repeat the scenario that caused you to "win." Still others point out that creeping deadlines increase epinephrine and adrenaline production, which leads to increased neurological focus.
I'll admit to being a bit of a perfectionist. As a writer, I have to be. But over the years, I've done some of my best work by working in that "under pressure" mindset. I am driven by deadlines and achievements.
That's why it took me ten years of writing and editing and rewriting to get past the first few chapters of an every-changing story. I switched from passive ideation orbiting occasional bursts of inspiration to purposeful creation no matter how I felt in the moment. It was a stretch to say the least.
National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known to its participants as NaNoWriMo, takes place annually every November. The challenge is to write a novel — which, by definition, is at least 50,000 words in length — in 30 days. I'd considered participating in NaNoWriMo in past years but never committed until last fall. I came up with a full, detailed outline that had a beginning, a middle, and an end and followed it almost to the letter, give or take a few plot point expansions. I've outlined before but never to this extent. On the days I was excited to write, my outline empowered me to fill in the blanks I'd left between the bullet points. Towards the end of the month when I was exhausted and desperately trying to meet my daily word count, my outline kept me on track and gave me direction. I kept writing.
I wanted to make it to 50k and win.
One month later, I did! NaNoWriMo forced me to grow and gave me a self-imposed deadline that pushed me as a writer. Finally writing this story reinforced what I've known for years: You can't fix a story that doesn't exist on paper. Some days I made the word count. Some days I didn't. I was behind and slowly caught up day by day.
I won't let myself edit a single word until I have a completed manuscript on my computer screen which could take a while. My current outline only contains one of two plots I plan to include in this first book. I haven't decided if I want to start on edits before or after I write the second plot line, but there's already plenty that I want to change!
After several months of intentional sabbath from fiction — apart from the occasional bursts of inspiration captured by my Notes app — I chose to participate NaNoWriMo again at the first opportunity. April 1st marked the start of Camp NaNoWriMo, a slightly less intense challenge. Instead of writing a novel, you set your own goal for the month. My goal is to write the next 20,000 words of the novel I began in November. Based on the words I've already tracked, I have a feeling I'll surpass my goal.
Picking up my draft after not touching it for four months felt amazing. I didn't spend any time preparing myself to reenter this world of words I've created other than rereading the last chapter I'd written to refresh myself. (I immediately wanted to rewrite most of it.) If I'm honest, I didn't need to prepare. Some part of my mind is always processing my plot lines and character arcs. If anything, I'm worried the next 20,000 words won't finish the outline I'm following. Including the secondary plot I have yet to plan, I'm starting to wonder if I've undertaken a 150,000+ word project.
But those are the kinds of fantasy books I love to read.
I've always written for myself before writing for others because my writing is full of stories and characters I've loved and held close for a long, long time. My heart and soul are hidden in plain sight inside each word. Stories have been my escape into what is greater and truer and somehow easier to understand than reality. Recently, I've felt the burden of wondering how others will receive my writing. What they may need to hear. What truths I want to convey. What lies and darkness I want to fight.
Who I'm writing for.
I've been given a story to tell, and I want it to mean something. If I end up with a manuscript that's even a quarter as good and true as books by J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, I will have succeeded as an author. I always come back to this quotation from one of my favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings as the reason we need stories of hope and light:
“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it's worth fighting for.” – Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
I've been preparing my own stories for an entire decade, and finally telling it has made me feel like I'm waking up again. Back to some truer, younger version of myself that looked out the window and dreamed for the simple joy of it. Writing for the joy of creation and discovery instead of needing it to be perfect. I don't yet know all that my books will hold, what people need from them, but I'll figure that part out later.
A few months ago, I shared with a friend my writing journey and my hopes and dreams surrounding future publication. Her response brought tears to my eyes because it's all I've ever wanted to be: "The world needs another Tolkien." There are a few moments throughout your life where you feel entirely seen by someone else. Tolkien and his legacy have inspired me since I first picked up The Hobbit as a child. I couldn't ever claim to be him, and I have a long way to go, but Tolkien is the reason I am a writer. He's the reason I studied English in undergrad, studied abroad at the University of Oxford, and a partial reason I hope to return to academia one day to continue studies of medieval literature. His academic interests and personal writings introduced me to world mythology, forgotten languages, and epic tales of Faerie and legend. I hope that one day, the words I've written in 2022, 2023, and beyond speak to someone in the same way his writing spoke to me as a ten year old, the way that artists have spoken and inspired other artists for millennia.
Why do I write? Because if I need this story, at least one other person out there needs it too, and that fills me with unexplainable joy.
Until next time,