Monday, October 26, 2020

Writing When Nature Gets In the Way

Fifty-thousand words. That's the minimum requirement for next month's NaNoWriMo competition, and not coincidentally the amount of words necessary for something to be considered a novel. Broken down to daily terms, this means writing about 1,700 words a day, every day, in November (including Thanksgiving). That's quite the challenge, but very doable. In fact, many people have gone on to publish books written in this manner. Many more have completed the writing marathon and grown as writers. But as we are learning here in the Midwest, writing in November is not as easy as it seems.

The end of October is when the days really start getting noticeably shorter. Furthermore, the weather gets colder, the skies stay gray for days on end, more rain, less sun, and the urge to just curl up in a comforter for the next five months. Nature calls for us to hibernate, which is not conducive to writing. NaNoWriMo was established in November in part to take advantage of the bad weather, but that doesn't make it any easier for those of us who want to curl up and go to sleep. So what does a writer do?

Well, as any long-time follower of this blog will know, a part of writing is adapting to situations by creating regular, dependable habits that motivate us to write. I always mention that gin and tonic is a drink that accompanies my writing mode, and scotch on the rocks is there for editing time. This may sound weird (and signal a borderline alcoholic), but it conditions my mind to think as a writer or an editor, and push me toward that goal even when the day might not motivate me. The mere smell of scotch makes me subconsciously want to reach for a red pen. The taste of lime (which is mandatory in a gin and tonic) wakes up creative parts of my brain. These signals are conditioned responses, and they help me move forward when sometimes I need a little boost.

Now, for those people who do not want to explore substance abuse as a part of NaNoWriMo, it might be safer to think about things that associate with comfort and security against the dismal weather of late October and November. If this weather triggers the primal urge to hibernate, perhaps it would help to do some writing wrapped in your favorite comforter, or layered up and cozy on a couch by the fire. This turns elements associated with the bleak days in the Midwest into cues to start writing. After a few writing sessions within the security of your blankets or whatever, the association changes from the need to sleep to the urge to create. 

Of course, there are other senses you can appeal to. As I mentioned, my personal favorite is the sense of smell. Whether it's the aroma of my favorite adult beverage or just the slight hint of airborne dust and ozone when I fire up my laptop, it sets off all the chemical impulses necessary to turn my brain toward the creative side. For NaNoWriMo, I know some people who incorporate pumpkin spice into their coffee, etc., as part of their writing process in order to associate the season with writing. Say what you will about pumpkin spice, but if it can be used as a motivator for writing, I say bring it on!

I hope that you readers try the NaNoWriMo challenge, either formally or otherwise, in order to stretch your writing muscles. If not, at the very least I hope you use November as an opportunity to develop your habits and condition yourself to write more regularly, all while developing the capacity to get through those times when the short, cold days are leaving you uninspired and the weather has you thinking about a nap rather than some writing. I say this because if you think November can be kind of blah, well, you really won't like winter.

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