I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I do not plan to do so this year. I actually kind of object to the whole concept. I know: It works for a lot of people who ordinarily would not find the impetus to sit down and write 1,600 words per day (or whatever the “magic number” is). At the end of one month, they find that they have created a lot of prose. Good for them.
Moreover, there are many success stories from writers about the manuscripts they created during this time of forced productivity. Several NaNoWriMo authors have found their books picked up by publishers, and some have even won awards. I congratulate them. But this post really isn’t about how NaNoWriMo works for other people. It’s about how it works for me, personally. Call it selfish if you will, but I think enough people share my quandary to warrant exploration of the topic.
When I was in my first round of grad school, I became an amateur philosopher for a while in the quest to make a John-Nash-like “new discovery,” only in the field of education rather than mathematics. I read works by Paolo Freire, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, Aristotle, and more modern names like Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Pink. I related to Pink’s research because he consolidated and clearly stated exactly what I, and others like me, had known innately all along: We don’t do well what we aren’t motivated to do, and we aren’t motivated by a lot of things that corporate America has always used.
Pink identifies main “drivers” like autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Here is where my objections to NaNoWriMo come into play: Once I sense that something is “mandatory,” and I sense that it has been made that way by something or someone beyond myself, immediately I resist. I have had to overcome this instinct in the workplace and in graduate-level study — there are certain mundane tasks that others assign me that simply must be done, and so, my compliant “good soldier” self must supersede my most ingrained instincts to rebel against the compulsory. It is difficult, at best.
Why, then, if I know that I am “programmed” to shun the mandatory, would I choose to ruffle my own proverbial feathers? NaNoWriMo is a choice that quickly devolves into a chore. Engineered and engaged in by others, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is defeated by its “club-like” nature. When a self-improvement task begins to develop organizational properties, I then begin to hear its death knell. The only structure that truly succeeds is one decided upon by the individual, and in this case, the individual has given over that control to a group’s expectations instead. Failure for me as a writer would be inevitable. Some may call this assertion stark pessimism, but my own intrapersonal understandings tell me that it is valid. I have engaged in enough metacognition to know that my “rebel writer” within would sabotage any attempt by outside forces to control or “streamline” my creativity.
In addition, I could much more easily be devoting that time to endeavors I not only choose, but also design for myself. My fulfillment will be higher, my sense of accomplishment will be greater, and my enjoyment will make the tasks intrinsically rewarding. This reasoning is largely why I am a poet. My greatest contentment is found within the self-made structures, routines, and practices of an independent poetry writing life. I will probably never be a millionaire due to this simple satisfaction, but in the pursuit of my passions, I will be exponentially happier than I would be under the stressors and rigid constraints of affluence.
No, readers. I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo. When at last I sit down to begin “the great American novel,” it will be because the muse and my heart have impelled me to do so, not because I allowed a conjured-up contest to crow-bar its way into my creativity. Daniel Pink is right, and my right-brained life proves his correctness time and time again. I choose to succeed in my own way. How about you?