Recently, I considered buying Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.
Amazon’s “most helpful” critical review of the book stated, “For me, I’ve read it all before— maybe I already did my own project and didn’t realize it.”
Dear most helpful critic: If you’d actually done it, you’d know it.
I thought I’d learned all about writing from my shelf full of writing books, my UCLA Extension instructors, and the numerous online gurus who generously share their knowledge.
But I’d never really, truly done the thing until Nanowrimo.
My earth-shattering insights (let the eye rolling commence!) include:
1. Soak up basic story structure. Even if you love writing by the seat of your pants, milestones will keep you from getting blocked and keep your inner critic at bay (more on that below).
2. Vomit onto the page. A successful screenwriter friend once told me: “You’ve got to vomit onto the page. It’s not pretty, but it’s cathartic and you can clean it up later.” In other words, write your first draft without censorship. In order to do this, you’ve got to…
3. Distract that troll. Devise ruthless tactics to contain your inner critic. In fact, give it a name. (I got this from Fi Bowman.) My inner critic is Citirc (pronounced Sit-Irk) the Troll. Not very original, but it sums him up and sounds vaguely Anglo-Saxon.
To keep Citirc quiet during Nano, I left an asterisk where an idea needed research or a hash mark where the plot needed work. Then I vaulted over that area and kept writing, promising I’d come back later.
In short, Nanowrimo taught me how to write—not edit, not rewrite, not research.
Before Nano, I’d tried to do all those things while creating a first draft. That’s like hanging a gorgeous pair of silk curtains before you’ve installed window frames. It can be done, but what’s the point?
Back to The Happiness Project—I’m glad I ignored that review and read the book. Gretchen’s whole point is to take her experiences as a starting point and devise your own Happiness Project. A living, breathing project that’s yours and yours alone.
And, bless her nerdy scholar’s heart, she lists her sources, just in case—unlike the Amazon’s helpful critic—you haven’t read them all. But she does that at the end, so you don’t get bogged down in research while creating.
Gretchen also suggests writing “personal commandments.” Nano has inspired me to create this one: “Morning starts with tea and 250 words.”
I tumble out of bed, brew a pot of tea, and while drinking it, pound out 250 words (about one double-spaced page) on my novel, instead of using that time for email and Twitter. As we’ve read a thousand times, one page per day equals a book in a year.
So why are we afraid of actually doing the thing? Is there something you’ve finally done after analyzing it to death? What made you finally get off your duff? I’d especially love to hear from late bloomers who’ve tackled this problem.
By the way, I didn’t “win” Nanowrimo—I only made it to 35,000 words. But now I’ve got Citirc so well trained, he barely grunted.