“Who were you before the Fall? / I was a singer, saw the future …”

I had ambitious plans to get up early yesterday and push hard to hit 60K of exploratory draft by the end of November, but spent the day instead fighting off a cold by reading and nursing many cups of tea, so 55K for the month it is, plus another 2K written before the month began. Still another maybe 10K to go to finish said draft, and then a bunch of drafts after that … I decided to do NaNoWriMo when November lined up with the right part of my process for it this year. Usually I’m in the middle of some draft other than the first one, because at least 80% of my writing time is spent on drafts other than the first one.

When I validated my word count at the NaNoWriMo web site last week, the following text came up:

Congratulations, novelist! You won!

I found myself a bit bemused, because I couldn’t remember the last time I thought of a novel as winning rather than finishing. You win contests, I thought. You finish jobs. The past couple decades have been all about becoming someone who thinks of writing as my job, rather than just this thing I do, after all.

But after a time, I decided the wording wasn’t actually wrong. Because the thing that’s been the most fun about doing NaNoWriMo has been being reminded of what it was like, in the beginning, when I’d never finished a book and was terrified I couldn’t, when I’d never even finished a short story and was wondering if I ever would, when the very idea of writing anything for real–even though it was what I’d dreamed of all my life–seemed a little bit crazy.

That’s what NaNoWriMo is really for, bridging that crazy gap between hoping/wishing/dreaming/wanting to/being afraid to and actually taking that first leap out into actually doing. And it’s also for having other people around you, cheering, getting just how amazing making that leap is.

A lot of work comes after that leap. Reading the NaNoWriMo twitter stream, it was clear that some writers understood this better than others. Maybe that’s okay. If anyone had told me how much work was still to come after I’d finished my first novel (heck, after my first novel was on the shelves–which was in the mid-90s, because my career wasn’t a straight-line sort of career) I might well have been frightened into giving up. That first leap needs to be giddily celebrated.

At times, especially at the start of NaNoWriMo, I felt a bit jaded as a writer, reading all that giddiness, knowing how much work lay on the other side of it, at least for those aiming for publication (which can be the goal but doesn’t need to be). I found myself wanting to give advice on things writers ultimately have to learn on their own, in their own ways; I felt like a bit like maybe I didn’t really belong there at all, for all that the prod to push a little harder on my draft was kind of nice.

It was good to be knocked out of that jadedness a little, too. It was good to be reminded that ultimately, writing is supposed to be, along with everything else, crazy joyful fun–that that’s one of the reasons we all started writing. It was also good to be reminded that every stage of the writing process needs celebrating, that there are too few milestones and we need to enjoy them as often as we can.

So I’m good with having “won” NaNoWriMo. My only gripe would be with how those who wrote less than 50K this month sometimes refer to themselves as having “failed” NaNoWriMo. The opposite of writing 50K isn’t failure; it’s Keep Writing.

Actually, that’s what follows any and all word counts. Today, a lot of NaNoWriMo regions are planning TGIO (thank god it’s over) parties. When I first saw that, my reaction was to think, What is this over of which you speak? And then I laughed, thinking maybe, just maybe, I’ve become a bit obsessive about this writing thing through the years.

But on the other side of all the celebrating, it’s not over, not really, not ever if many of us can help it. We have words to write and stories to tell and ultimately … that’s pretty awesome.

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