Today is the last Wednesday in October. My coworkers are busy planning their various Halloween parties for tomorrow night. Wal-Mart is stocked with candy and the Christmas decorations that will invade on November 1st. I, on the other hand, am trying to piece together enough background material to launch into a new project. I’ve never had much of a relationship with Halloween. My relationship with Christmas doesn’t begin until after Thanksgiving. For the last six years, the thoughts that fill my mind around the end of October center around an odd season: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.
NaNoWriMo is a program started by a non-profit called The Office of Letters and Light, whose purpose is to promote the practice of creative writing among adults and children. NaNoWriMo began eleven years with the goal of encouraging individuals to keep writing, no matter the result. The challenge is to write 50,000 words (the standard cut-off between a novel and a novella) during the month of November. NaNoWriMo has a website where individuals can receive daily encouragement and discuss their achievements.
I have only once formally participated in the event, which involves starting with a brand new idea and writing furiously, no matter how much the piece gets away from you. Since I write novels normally, the idea of pursuing a brand new idea every year is emotionally exhausting, not to mention that I hold myself to a higher standard of quality in my writing. I don’t want to write more slosh, I want to continually learn how to improve in my writing, which takes more time and scrutiny. Still, I have partially participated over several years with a slightly different result. November is now a time when I focus on the creative part of being a novelist. I don’t care how much I end up writing in the end. The point is to write a little every day.
Theoretically, novelists should do this all the time, but if you’ve been reading my blog with any regularity, you’ll note that I’ve found it difficult to work creatively in the midst of real life. Discipline is hard. It’s also the only way to success, in anything. Olympic swimmers win medals by sticking to strict schedules of practice and cross-training. Individuals in wealth management constantly analyze economic trends and spend years studying for the three tests required to become a Certified Financial Adviser. Good teachers continue to learn by reading in their field and studying how to communicate with their students. Discipline is important.
The Church has known this for thousands of years. While Christians in recent history have been mocked with the name “Bible bashers” the “read your Bible, pray every day” method of Christianity is time tested in growing faith. When those who want to follow Jesus spend time reading the words he said and the inspired writings of God’s people, they learn more about who Jesus is and what he asks of his disciples. Time and energy consistently invested in a relationship usually deepens that relationship. This is why committed Christians are praying Christians. Certainly, things can go wrong when reading and interpretation are done poorly or the prayer becomes a monologue to self-worth and advancement, but stepping into discipline is still important.
The Church recognized this. More than a thousand years ago, Christian leaders decided to turn the calendar into an act of discipline. The fourth Sunday of December to Christmas Eve would be set apart for churches to focus on the coming or “advent” of Christ. This is usually filled with much anticipation and joy. Christmas Day to January 6 is the Christmas season, the literal Twelve Days of Christmas (plus the Feast of the Baptism of Christ). This is one of the two biggest parties of the year, celebrating the arrival of Christ. And then after a spot of Ordinary Time, we arrive at Lent, the forty days before Easter. While Easter is the biggest celebration of the church year (Sin and Death being beaten is cooler than God as a baby), it comes in the wake of the crucifixion, when it looked like Sin and Death would win (even if the opposite happened). Lent is a somber time. Traditionally, this part of the Church calendar is characterized by the disciplines of fasting and devotion. Christians participating in Lent nowadays are likely to give up chocolate, desserts, TV, facebook, any luxury that usually hinders their relationship with God, in order to deepen that relationship. Sometimes this looks like more time reading the Bible or praying, sometimes it means giving the money spent on that luxury to those in need, sometimes it just looks like loving people with the leftover time and energy. In any case, Lenten fasting is a month of concentrated discipline. The reward is Easter. The holiday is much more exciting when you’ve spent a month focused on it.
I’ve never celebrated Lent. I tend toward being a miser to myself as it is. I’d rather focus on adding things to my life than subtracting them. However, NaNoWriMo is my substitute. For thirty days, I try to spend extra time doing what God has called me to. The rest of the year, I chip millimeter after millimeter from my revision project. For one month I dedicate myself to the joy of creating. I’m planning on giving up my sloth to pursue something new.
This year I’m plunging into a new project, a 1940’s steampunk fantasy novel for adults. Those are the only details I plan on giving in this blog. I’m also not intending to use this blog as a word counter or any such banality (that’s what facebook is for). I probably won’t mention NaNoWriMo again. Still, I’m excited with the knowledge that a step toward discipline is a step towards growth. I look forward to the writing life that is to come.