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NaNoWriMo 2020 Update #3

Par today is 31,673 words.

As of writing this, I’m at 31,865 words. I haven’t written for today yet. So it’s still safe to say I’m doing all right this year.

Today i want to ask: Why do you write?

Everyone writes for different, often deeply personal reasons. I’ve been thinking about these reasons a lot in the past week, in conversations with other NaNoWriMo participants.

Some people write merely because it’s fun. Some people write because they’re reclaiming their voice after trauma or abuse. Some people write because they are working through mental health conditions, and the writing helps in some way. Some people write simply for love of words or the genre that they’re working in.

Whatever the reason for writing, it’s valid and it’s important. And it’s important not to lose sight of that reason for writing.

When I was in high school, I read an essay by Isaac Asimov in which he wrote “I write for the same reason I breathe: because if I did not, I would die.” [I don’t know if that’s the exact quote but I know it’s close]. It’s the kind of words that stick with you, and especially for someone like myself, who writes in part as a way of managing mental health problems (as I’ve written about before).

I don’t think it’s that dramatic for most people, of course. And most people will never be as prolific as Asimov, and that’s ok. He’s an outlier. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge that for so many of us, storytelling is how we feel human, and it’s how we have fun.

But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes the fun disappears, and when that happens, it may not be worth forcing the words either. If we started writing to feel better, perhaps we should stop writing when the writing makes us feel worse. Or at the very least, take a step back and try to remember why we fell in love with words in the first place.

Imagine, for instance, you had a sport you really loved. Let’s say basketball? That’s a sport people love, right? You play basketball because it gives you life. It makes you feel human and helps you work through stuff. It feels good.

But you get caught up in your numbers and stats, and you join a team that pushes you to play all the time. It’s fun for a while. Then, imagine you get an injury. Maybe one of those injuries that isn’t really dramatic at first, like tendonitis. Doing layups now hurts sometimes, and it seems to be getting worse, not better. Your teammates push you to “drive through it”. If you keep pushing, though, you’re just going to keep making it worse. You need rest. You need to work through the tendonitis, take some time away from basketball and focus on getting better. But you listen to your teammates, and you keep playing, even though it hurts, even though you’re ignoring what your body is telling you. Pretty soon, instead of basketball being your place of solace and fun, it becomes another locus of trauma.

I’ve had tendonitis (for all my performative “I don’t know sports,” it’s actually an old ice skating injury that comes back now and then) and while the solution isn’t to stop being active completely (that can actually make it heal slower), it does require being aware of when things hurt and taking a break when your body says to, and doing certain exercises and treatments alongside gentle activity to keep you in tune with your muscles and joints rather than fighting against them. That’s why I chose it for the metaphor, really; it took me literally a year to get it treated because I thought it was just a bruise or something and thought I could just push through it. And sometimes it comes back, and that means taking bodily inventory again and returning to the treatments.

My point is that writing can, if we don’t tend to it carefully and respect what our emotions and word counts are telling us, become as much pain as the things we use writing to escape from or manage, and I think it’s worth acknowledging that.

For me, NaNoWriMo is an important part of the year’s rhythm, a time when I reconnect with fiction writing and it just feels wrong not to do it at this point. But I have a nagging feeling that there’s something about NaNoWriMo that doesn’t work for a lot of people, and I think it may even be deleterious to some people. And I wonder if it isn’t some of the same effect that certain traditional pedagogical strategies have had on so many student writers who come to me damaged, saying “I’m not a writer” and “I can’t write.”

I don’t know if the year will come when I have to sit out NaNoWriMo for a writing-related injury (to extend my metaphor). I don’t know if the day will come when it hurts. But I do know that there are people for whom NaNoWriMo feels like trying to keep playing when you have an injury, and I think their perspective here matters.

If the writing isn’t fun anymore, if it’s not giving you something back, then it isn’t worth doing. Write because you want to write. Your reasons are your own, but if those reasons are no longer being served, there is no reason to force yourself to keep writing. I’m not saying that you should quit entirely; the reasons you started writing are likely still there. I’m saying that it’s ok to take a step back and gather yourself together; not everything needs to be done in 1,667 word increments.

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