December 04, 2012

4 Things That Kept Me Writing: Lessons from NaNoLand

Garry-Tony's-Cave USA by Christian Panama
Here are 4 things I want to share with you; things that I've learned, mostly over the last year, but more profoundly over the course of my NaNoWriMo experience.


Myelin, Baby!: Learning by Doing.

See, there's this stuff called myelin in our brain. I learned about it by reading this post by Justine Musk called The Dirty Secret Truth about Talent - and How to Grow It. We grow myelin by struggling, by learning something new and challenging. 

"...every time you struggle with a new skill, every time you push yourself,  you’re firing the right signals through the right neural channels.  Myelin adds itself to your neural circuitry…until one day the skill comes so “naturally” that it looks and seems effortless.  You are “talented”. But that “breakthrough” you experienced didn’t come out of nowhere.  It’s not a gift from the gods."

 It's hard work and myelin working together to 'grow' your skill, your talent.

So keep pushing yourself, keep working hard, keep striving. It will pay.


Give up on Passion: What I Mean, is this...

Don't expect your passion to fuel your creativity. By its very nature, passion is transient, flaring and dissipating. Shifting allegiance.

We like to do the things we're good at. 
So get good at something, and then enjoy your passion for it. Don't wait for the passion to drive you.

I'm not there yet. I'm not passionately compelled to write. In fact, I'm vastly entertained just staring at the wall and letting the stories play out in my mind, without having to write them all down.

But I committed to NaNoWriMo - publicly. So writing became part of my daily agenda, like feeding BoyChild or brushing my teeth, it became routine. I'm not going to say it was easy, because it wasn't. But the result of just doing it anyway, is that it's now easier. And because it is easier, it's also funner more fun. And because it's more fun, it's getting easier, and so on... The writing isn't any easier. But it's easier to commit to writing. Hopefully the passion is on its way.


Consider Yourself Subordinate: Public Accountability

Every night, after my writing session, I went on to the NaNoWriMo website and entered my word count, which automatically updated the progress widget on the blog. So every day, anyone could visit my blog and see exactly how many words I'd written.

I didn't really appreciate the magnitude of this until after NaNoWriMo was over. After I cracked out the 50k words, I saved my file and closed it for a few days. Last night, I opened the file and was at a loss, when I had no word count widget to update, after my writing session was over. 

I relied on you to keep me on task. THANK YOU.

Which reminded me of these good reasons for blogging in the first place. 

So declare your goals and intentions to someone who'll ask you about them. Or imagine explaining to your child/ren why you didn't/don't pursue your dreams/goals.


Discover WHY You Write: Soothing the Beast

I've discovered why I write by a process of elimination.

I don't write because:  
  • I love the process. I really, really don't love the process. I find it confusing, overwhelming, and vaguely embarrassing.
  • I need to quiet the voices clammering in my head. As per above, I'm quite happy to listen to the voices and watch their stories unfold, lips moving as I mutter under my breath (which BoyChild thinks is hilarious). It's like watching an epic and beautifully cinematic movie that I have total control over. Cheap thrills.
  • Money/Glory. 'Nuff said.

I do write because of the way it makes me feel about myself afterward. Writing is hard, excruciating, arduous, painful. But I do it. I do it because, when I'm done, I feel relieved and full at the same time. Replete. Sated. It satisfies this sad, anxious, restless beast prowling deep within. 

Lazy Cat Days by mich&pics

When I don't write, this beast rears her ugly head and I walk around this earth like a tiger with no teeth, a dragon with no fire. Something that should be majestic, proud, fierce. But is instead, sad, lethargic, humiliated. Pathetic. And very, very irritable.

I have felt this way for most of my adult life (with a few notable exceptions, childbirth and travel, being two of them). It never, ever occurred to me that writing may be the balm for my restless spirit. That writing is my teeth, my fire.

I'm 38 years old, and I'm just coming alive. Again.

So keep going. Never stop. Never quit. Never give up. Never give in. Never. Say. Die.


  1. This is beautifully written, and mirrors my own NaNo experience this year. Earlier today, I actually had to remind myself WHY I WRITE. You state it well.

    1. Oh, wow, thanks Leauxra! As a writer, you know that there is no higher praise.

      I OFTEN have to remind myself of WHY I write. It's good old fashioned feeding-the-soul stuff...but it's not this positive thinking that does the trick. It's the knowledge of how I'll feel if I DON'T write...ick.

      Thanks so much for popping by and commenting!

  2. Absolutely! Keep on keeping on! ;)

  3. I love this post. Well done, AJ. I'm proud of you for not only finishing NaNo, but also for doing something for you. It's important, and as a mother, it's the easiest thing to neglect. I do think you explained your thoughts very well in this post. Every time you write something, i see improvement. Also, my lips move when I'm thinking about a new scene in my books, too. I think we might be related ;P

    1. Related, you say? Hmn...that explains a lot! ;)

      Love you, thanks for sticking with me and helping me 'pick up the pen'.


  4. Great insights! I already quoted my favorite line of yours ("I'm vastly entertained just staring at the wall and letting the stories play out in mind, without having to write them all down...") in my reply to you on my blog. :)

    But I also wanted to second you about the importance of word count accountability. The first time I wrote post-NaNo, I was like, "where am I supposed to update my word count by midnight now?" I felt lost, I tell you, lost. :)

    1. Aww, thanks Jami! I'm laughing about which quote you like so much. ;)

      I've added a little word count thing on the sidebar of the blog, but it's not the same, it doesn't show a daily count, only an overall totally missing that little calendar thing from NaNo too.

      Thanks for visiting, Jami, I really appreciate it.

  5. Hi P.J.
    I love your blog and your voice. Well said. I can't NOT write. I love that feeling after I've finished a scene. Ahhh. It was nice meeting you today. I hope you kicked butt with your writing. And congrats on participating in NaNo!
    Random Writing Rants

    1. Thank you so much, Michelle!

      I noticed you shared this blog post on facebook. I can't tell you how encouraging that is for me.

      Well wishes to you and your cop friend. ;)

  6. Hello my dear friend, and I was reading your website, I just wanna say I really love it! The overall look of your website is fantastic , as well as the content! Congratulations for your amazing work ! I follow your blog (12)... Hope you'll follow me back.... I wish you Happiness and Joy… And Blessings for the New Year. I wish you the best of everything… That you so well deserve.
    Greetings from Rio de Janeiro/ Brasil

    1. Thank you, Nelson, for you kind words. These comments have been very encouraging for me. I wish all the best for you and yours during this holiday season and for the New Year!


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