NaNoWriMo is short hand for National Novel Writer’s Month and every November thousands of people come together — online and in person — to write a novel. I chose to participate because I had been in a physically and mentally abusive relationship and I needed a way to get my story down.

The month-long marathon originated as a way to help people jump start their writing. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, an average of 1,667 words a day, which is doable with some pre-planning and dedication.

Half the battle for many of us is sitting down to write. Here’s what helped me:

  • Don’t go back and read what you’ve written
  • Don’t edit
  • Don’t try to create an immaculate, polished product
  • Don’t second-guess your instincts
  • Do allow your words to flow freely
  • Do write through any resistance
  • Do be kind to yourself
  • Do remember this is your story and you can tell it however you want

So, I wrote. Free flowing. Most of it made no sense. My words weren’t strung together correctly and I left out chunks of what happened. Anyone else reading it would have struggled to understand my writing. It was not a literary masterpiece, but that wasn’t the point.

I wrote to give myself a platform to vent and air my grievances. I wrote to spill my heartbreak– even if my writing was only ever read by me.

There’s often pressure involved in starting any project. And I felt an added layer of stress because I knew I would be revisiting some of the worst days of my life — times I wish I could forget.  Moments I had blocked out. I felt anxious and a part of me didn’t even want to participate.

I decided to be gentle with myself. As I sat down that first day in front of my laptop and opened up a blank document in Word, I tapped out the working title of my novel – ‘Shitty First Draft.’ Just seeing those words me put me at ease, and I was able to refocus on the reason I was doing this – to get my story out. And hopefully, although I wasn’t sure at the time, writing would provide some catharsis.

What I discovered along the journey surprised me: deadlines were a blessing. Daily word counts and an overall goal didn’t bring unwelcome pressure. In fact, that magic number of 1,667 was actually a brilliant means of holding myself accountable, especially on the days when I didn’t want to sit down and work or was feeling completely uninspired. (I am particularly gifted in the art of procrastination and this was no exception.)

There were days I didn’t reach my word count, and days I didn’t write at all.  But I now know that accountability is a learned skill and that goals and deadlines are powerful motivators. I also discovered that my stubbornness could be stronger than my procrastination, and I found myself twice as determined to catch up. I proved to myself that once I’ve set a goal, there’s no way I’m not crossing the finishing line.

The biggest surprise was the day I wrote the most difficult part of my story. The most painful part. I would never have sat down to write about it without a deadline. Even looking at the chair and desk where I had put my laptop filled me with fear. I physically felt sick. My stomach was in knots. I thought it would be horrible to take myself back there mentally and emotionally.

At first, it was horrible. And draining. But afterwards, I felt lighter. Like I had finally dropped off two huge suitcases of emotional baggage.

I’m an artist — I sing, paint and write music — and I truly believe in the arts, particularly writing, as an avenue for healing. But you don’t need to identify as an artist to write your story. You don’t need to have written a damn thing in your life.  

Writing is for you. Writing can give you a voice. Writing your story is a way to take your power back and, as Brené Brown says, “write a brave new ending.”  

Facing your fears, walking through them, and then seeing that you’re still standing on the other side is an incredibly empowering process. And whether you ever sit down to write about your experience or not, just know that you have faced and overcome many challenges in your life, and you will continue to get through them.

Take some further steps on that beautiful journey of healing. And above all, know that you’re not alone.

If you would like to find out more about NaNoWriMo, visit their website at www.nanowrimo.org and check out the great work they are doing through their nonprofit organization.

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HemaPicHema Nair is an artist, writer and singer from England currently living in New York. She’s an avid believer in  gratitude, positivity and following your heart. Writing for Report It, Girl has inspired her to begin blogging. Follow Hema on her Instagram at 365grateful247.

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