Taking the No out of NaNOwrimo

Post Date: November 17th, 2011

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”

— Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

All of us intrepid writers out there are fighting temptations throughout this month so we can get something down on paper. 50,000 words of something–but really, more than “stuff.” Any creative act is a big yes and full of light. Messy and unformed as our thoughts look on the first pages, there’s such a beauty there, and yet we run from it to embrace lots of negative, empty, life-denying actions and thoughts. Why?

I don’t care if I make the 50,000 mark of my sequel to HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT–for now titled INEXTRICABLY–but I do want to emerge on December 1 with some sense of forward momentum and trust that this manuscript is worth finishing.

A tall order, perhaps, especially when the temptations are everywhere. Not just the laundry and everyday tasks that don’t have enough time to be done, but the dark and wayward thinking that derails the mind.

I don’t mean writer’s block; that’s its own mountain to discuss. For me, it’s lazy thinking. I don’t have crises of faith, but I do follow lines of thought that are worthless.

  • Like making to-do lists beyond the bounds of the day job, when I should be off duty, “driving the truck all night,” as my mom used to say, reviewing that which yields no fruit or pay 
  • Like spending precious minutes ranting and resenting the unsolvable–like the annoying habits of highly invasive and unconscious people
  • Like wondering what the Kardashians or the Braxtons are up to
  • Like stewing over how so and so didn’t do me right the other day when they did such and such
  • Like chewing on how if I could only change this unchangeable thing about x, then everything would be better, or…
  • Like guilting myself out for not being perfect in writing, discipline, or whatever I feel like beating myself up for

Needless to say, these minutes make many hours, and these habits sap creative energy. They are big nos that stop the flow.

Like my commute, for example: some days, I spend 40 minutes or more on any of the above worthless mind meanders when I could be plotting my story. Author Lisa Jordan asks, Why not steal those moments to write? I’ve generated so many good ideas when I start demanding I do, and suddenly, the tiresome commute becomes incubator, lab, office. I ask myself the simple question from childhood when I wanted a story to go on: “What’s going to happen next to Wendy?” That stokes the creative fires.

Off goes NPR and tales of political corruption and Wall Street greed; off goes the local station giving the celebrity dish and traffic despair. Instead I put on a favorite song, set to repeat, and after 20-some plays, I have new scenes, new threads, new dialogue for the novel.

Writing is about mind control. It’s about the muse, yes, and the creative impulse, but at the end of the day, it’s no different than being in any other discipline. What gets a person up at 5 AM to run and train for the half-marathon? The same belief in oneself and commitment past fear, laziness, and greed to get the seat of the pants to the chair, staying focused past the desire to check Facebook and email, and reminding oneself that this time is worthy, necessary time. Somedays that’s the most important mind control: telling myself I should make time to find the seat in the first place. Prior to sitting some writers fight many battles, mental demons of whether they even deserve to be present on the page. I battle whether to stay there.

The other day I went straight from work to a coffee shop and began Nanowrimo-ing. I ran into a fellow teacher I worked with in the past, who was hard at work with colleagues at his own table: grading, grading, grading. He and his colleagues, after a long, hard day in the trenches, went back to work with each other’s companionship and coffee to keep them going. I remember those years. Grading in that very coffee shop is what I used to do, day after day. I said yes to those kids’ papers and my job every day.

Writing is my job now. It’s no less important, meaningful, or spiritual than any other day job. Don’t listen to culture that calls it hobby, lark, detour. Do what you were made to do. Say yes, Lyn, and seek that light!

Writing Prompts:

  1. How’s Nanowrimo going for you? Or any writing project? Do you have a daily discipline, or is the project surviving on stolen moments now? Is it time to recalibrate and ask yourself where time hides and must resurface for your writing?
  2. What dark thoughts plague your thinking and trap you in the “no”? Where do these thoughts come from? What need do they serve?
  3. What light thoughts can drive you back to the page? Write a few lines that can serve as mantras or pep talks–succinct and quick messages to self–to get you back to the page.
  4. What did your favorite authors do to find time to write? 


  1. Bob Mustin says:

    “…staying focused past the desire to check Facebook and email…”

    You have me nailed there!

  2. Glad my description of self resonated with you! Is it just me or December particularly unfriendly to the writing life? 🙂