A few weeks back, I talked about experiencing a surge of motivation caused by the pressure of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days, aka NaNoWriMo. Today I want to share with you the flip side of that intense commitment – the mid-month slump.
Inspiration versus Hard Work
In the beginning, I was writing in a mad frenzy of excitement, following my synopsis, pounding out words like nobody’s business. But there is a much-feared thing that puts dread into the hearts of all NaNoWriMo participants. It’s known as: Week Two (dun dun DUNN). Along with many other writers, I experienced a case of the Week Twos, but for me it hit somewhere around Day 12 or 13 (and continued throughout much of Week Three as well). It happened when I reached a plot drop-off, the place I’d been stumped in my pre-writing. It was the end of my known outline.
But while I was (temporarily) out of material, I knew one thing for certain: I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t afford to waste any time sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for inspiration to hit. Somehow, I had to work through it.
Dedication and Perseverance
There’s a skill I’ve been developing little by little my entire life (more from outside influences than from my own choices) and it is called dedication. I can tell you one thing about learning dedication—it is no fun at all. It’s grueling work. Sometimes it feels like it is sucking the life right out of you. But in reality, it’s not. It’s doing just the opposite–-enhancing your life by molding and shaping you into someone more deliberate, more in control of your own destiny. In other words, building character.
My first lesson in dedication came when I was a teenager as a result from being home educated. My mom homeschooled me, but once I hit highschool I was primarily self-taught. We used a curriculum similar to a correspondence course where I mailed off assignments and received grades quarterly from an outside source. What that meant for me was that the responsibility of my education was nearly entirely on my shoulders. It also meant that I had to force myself to do my work. A procrastinator by nature, this was a very difficult lesson to learn. While my public school friends were goofing off with their buddies all day long and had oodles of free time in the afternoons, I was forced to do homework all evening—sometimes until bedtime. When the other kids got out of school in May, I was still plugging away with my courses, sometimes not completing the school year until the end of July or beginning of August, meaning I got virtually no summer break. Let me stop here to say that I’m not writing this to whine about my childhood. It was my own fault. I woke up at noon, piddled around the house, took tons of breaks and generally tried to avoid my schoolwork whenever possible. My parents only stepped in to ground me from outside activities when I wasn’t caught up with my work (which was pretty much all the time). I know what you’re thinking—that my teen years must have really sucked, right? (Actually, they didn’t. I had a blast being a social butterfly at church and in the homeschool groups in what free time I did have, I just craved more and more of that free time). But hang on, this story has a good ending.
While being the boss of my own school schedule was a huge burden for an adolescent to bear, I gained valuable life resources through that difficult process. And now that I’ve grown, I can actually say I wouldn’t have it any other way. (Also, while I won’t choose that same curriculum for my children, I am homeschooling them, because I feel it’s in their best interest in the long run.) I credit this as a stepping stone to my next lesson in dedication – writing a book from start to finish.
There are a lot of writers out there—a lot. Just ask around and you’ll hear about plenty of people who are working on a book. But the facts show that only about 5% of those who call themselves “writers” ever finish a full-length book. The rest of them either have grand plans that are never realized or start a project but lose interest before it’s complete. The problem? In my mind, it’s a lack of dedication. It’s because learning perseverance is hard work, and you have to really be serious about something to put that much effort into an activity no one’s making you finish. (See a trend here? I don’t think anyone can really teach dedication. I think we all have to learn it for ourselves.) I knew this when I set my mind to write a book, and I made a commitment to myself that whatever it took, I would finish it. I would not be one of those failed statistics.
Great news: I survived that second lesson in dedication, with a complete novel to show for it! A triumph! And with those baby steps (or gigantic leaps) at perseverance behind me, I strode forward into the month of November 2010, ready to take on the next challenge. It wasn’t any easier than the other two, but I had those experiences behind me to push me forward. I knew how to be miserable (as Steven Pressfield would say). And somehow, even though at times it felt like compressing coal to diamonds with my bare hands, I got through Week Two and Week Three. And when I hit the middle of Week Four, I was flying again.
On November 27th at 12:30am, my novel hit 50,000 words, and it was another triumph I’ll remember forever. I gained so much more than just winning NaNoWriMo 2010—I gained another baby step on my journey to learning self-dedication. I’m not there yet, but I’m just a little bit closer to becoming the person I want to be.
So if you’re frustrated with your current work in progress, whatever it may be, I can promise you one thing: your dedication will pay off in the end. Stick with it—don’t give up on your project.