November is less than a week away and I’m having my usual pre-NaNoWriMo* jitters. I’ve done this nine times before, and every October the same thing happens. I start thinking “what am I going to write?” I get anxious about planning, figuring out what my story will be about. The fear rises up, threatening to swamp me. I don’t know what to expect, what will happen, what November is going to look like, or what my 50,000 word novel will even be about. All that uncertainty is scary.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been floundering for a few months, wrestling the unknown, as I revise my novel about Rapunzel. I’m worn out from dealing with things I don’t know, and the fear that whatever I do, it will be a disaster in the end. NaNoWriMo just means more uncertainty, and who needs that?
Apparently, I do. I need a break from Rapunzel and here’s NaNoWriMo just in time to offer me a structured, fun way to practice writing without the pressure to write something perfect. (The deadline forces me to let go of my expectations — how can I possibly write anything good at such a speed? — and that frees me to write well. Go figure.)
All of this reminds me why creating anything new is difficult. Uncertainty is a huge piece of the creative process. This is why some of my projects (knitting socks) are done from patterns. I can count (more or less) on the outcome. The risk goes way down. But if I knit something from scratch (clothes for a T-Rex), I am heading into the unknown. I have to be willing to make mistakes. I have to be willing to try new ideas, change my vision, even start over from scratch. It’s riskier than knitting from a pattern, can take more time than I expected, and have its moments of intense frustration. It also has its moments of triumph, and that’s why I show up to begin with, in the hopes that I can see the project through to a successful finish.
Writing a novel is the same way. So is making a drawing or painting. Every act of creation is full of risk. Even the most experienced artists face the terror of the blank page, the gulf between where they are and where they hope to go, the doubt that they will ever be able to capture the vision they see.
In order to create, we have to face the unknown. We have to get used to being uncomfortable and feeling lost. A lot of creative time is spent wandering. We have to embrace the abyss, dive into the dark, swim around aimlessly in the hopes we will come upon some treasure. It’s awkward and frightening and even painful at times, but it’s worth the effort. If we persist, we come out on the other side with something of beauty, something with promise: a muddy shell, a tarnished ring, an uncut emerald, a shard of broken glass.
More work needs to be done, but we have moved closer to our vision. Maybe what we found changes our vision. That’s OK. The point is to keep chasing it, through the tangled forests and dark nights, into light-less caves and bottomless pits, until we get another glimpse of it or maybe even catch it by the tail.
And so it goes with NaNoWriMo. October is awkward, because I want a plan in advance. I long for a road map, with all the stops marked for me, so that I know where I will be going, what is going to happen, how I’m going to get to the other side. As long as I am doing something I’ve never done before, such a map doesn’t exist. Writing my own novel means making the map up as I go. I can plan a little, but only a little. My process doesn’t allow for extensive planning ahead. I must accept the uncertainty and write anyway. Experience shows that I will find answers, that the unknown will become familiar and clear to me, as long as I am willing to push past my fears and write.
November 1 is coming. When it gets here, I will write.
How about you? Do you struggle with the uncertainty of creation?
*For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This will be my tenth year participating in this crazy challenge. (Yes, I love it.)