My goat was gotten this morning, my friends. Tweeting about my NaNoWriMo progress has increased my Twitter connection to other writers, and this morning one of them posted a link to a blog post of other writers describing their opinion of this crazy writing bonanza. Most of the authors had positive things to say, but there’s one in every group, isn’t there? One sour banana that rots the experience of the bunch.
I won’t bother telling you what this one negative nancy said–it was too insulting to not-yet-published writers to bear repeating and I don’t need to damage the author’s obviously fragile writing ego by trumpeting the specifics of her petty jealousy to the world. There’s a silver lining in every self-righteous cloud and what came out of my fury with this no-name stranger was some contemplation about what NaNoWriMo can really do for a struggling, would-be writer. Namely, what it has been doing for my lazy brain.
There’s an old self-help saw that says any habit can be changed in 21 days, and I’ve heard (or rather, read) people claiming that participating in NaNoWriMo is their way of jumping in to establish a new habit. Research on changing behaviors, however, doesn’t bear this out. Read, for example, this article. And the more I read from veteran NaNoWriMo participants, the more I see that the attitude of “changing my habits forever” is a newbie sentiment. The vets seem to sing a tune more like, “It’s so nice to be a part of a supportive community of writers and to renew my commitment to writing.”
Which makes sense, when you think about it. The last time I was bellyaching about my own tendency to get in the way of my own writing, my mother reminded me tongue-in-cheek of a passage from Romans: “The willing is in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want I do not, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (7:18b-19, NAS) Paul was theologizing about the sinful nature of humanity, of course, and it’s worth noting that I have a problem with the way the rest of this passage philosophically separates us from responsibility for changing our habits, but his observation is still very true. Connecting our actions with our best intentions is a universally difficult thing.
A friend of mind recently linked to this article about changing habits on one of her social networking pages, and I was floored by the implications the author drew from a study in kinesiology to the changing of habits. Learning a new physical motion in place of an old one takes 3000 to 5000 times to master, and if this carries through to replacing something like sitting on the couch knitting to sitting down at my desk to write, his point is well taken: “Five thousand is an inordinate number of times to face a decision, and to make the right choice.”
So a single month of writing really has far less than a hundred opportunities to make the decision to sit my rump down and crank out some type. Changing my daily routine on a permanent basis is not the most probable outcome of the exercise, and in all likelihood, my manuscript will sit on my computer growing e-dust for more time than I want it to once the month is up. What I think I will take with me, however, is the sense that I AM NOT SPECIAL.
Yes, Mom, I’ve finally figured out that I’m really just like everyone else. I’m finally learning to take comfort from that truth. When I walk away from NaNoWriMo, I’ll still know that there are more than a hundred thousand other writers staring at the remnants of their NaNoWriMo projects wondering, “Now what?” I’ll know that I’m not alone in my editing misery, in my inevitable rejected-over-and-over-again-by-publishers disappointment, and in my relentless hope that maybe someday someone will pay me enough money to write that I can quit my day job.
And come next November, I’ll probably come back to my computer with a new idea, grateful that I have the accountability of posting my daily word count for this world of writers to see to give me the kick in the pants I need in order to keep the faith for another year.