Lisa Hardy is writing a book based on her research in medical anthropology. As a professor in the Department of Anthropology, she’s always working on a journal article or three. And she’s added a novel to her to-write list. Knowing she’s already doing a metric ton of writing, The NAU Review asked her to write one more thing—an explanation for why she’s participating in National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo, as it’s colloquially referred to by those who participate, is an annual challenge to novelists: write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November. (That’s 1,667 words a day, but who’s counting? Answer: You are.) You can participate officially, even signing up for NaNoWriMo, or you can participate unofficially—writing a few minutes every day, finding an accountability partner where you both check in on each other’s progress or otherwise take steps to writing the great American novel.
It’s the halfway point, and we checked in with Hardy about how she’s doing, how she sets herself up for success (and accounts for the occasional writer’s block) and the benefit of having friends you can text on the up days and the down days of writing. Read her answers below.
Why are you doing NaNoWriMo?
Ever since I was a small child, I’ve had the desire to write. When I was small, I wrote little stories in spiral notebooks, narrated everything I did and organized all of my books into a library with my own card catalogue system. All these years later I still have the desire to write creatively, though I let the actual task of doing it fall away. Each day I open my notebook of things to do and turn my attention to the items that are actively on fire. Each day I choose immediate tasks over more meaningful work that is less comfortable and less personally meaningful to me. NaNo gives me the opportunity to prioritize writing as a non-negotiable activity. It’s also invigorating to place importance on this part of my life along with my writing buddies and with people I don’t know all over the world.
What does it look like for you?
This fall has not been easy. I haven’t had much time or energy. Though participating in NaNo means I look carefully for minutes I can write and grab them. No editing or worrying—just writing. This month I’ve written in my kitchen, on my couch, in bed, in coffee shops, in airports and on planes, at my office and in a hotel. I have a couple of projects I’m working on at once and I go back and forth between them. When I get stuck, I text with writing buddies here in town and in New York, Houston and Boston. We ask one another if we are actively writing or not and encourage one another to write in timed sprints or whenever and wherever we can.
How do you set yourself up for success?
The most important part of NaNo for me is to let go of worry and shame that comes with being a creative person. Most of us carry around ideas of what we want to do along with fear of not doing those things. We can get caught on a long and dark path away from doing the things we love. NaNo, for me, is a way back to just doing the things. It’s fun and it’s optional and it doesn’t matter if you don’t finish it.
I first signed up for NaNo in 2013. Never once have I completed my writing goals during the month. I don’t mind at all. NaNo is for fun. This year is different because I have defined and planned projects, and I have made much more progress. This is really an important shift for me.
What’s the benefit of participating?
Sometimes creative writing projects can just become a thing floating out around us that may or may not ever get done. It’s easy to obsess over what I’m going to write or want to write and think about if it’s good enough or what I need to do differently before I even do anything at all. We all have everyday responsibilities and full lives. Taking time to prioritize creative projects by putting them on the list as a goal and not just a thing that might eventually get done helps to bring actions into alignment with what’s important to us.
I also really like the little dopamine hits of earning badges in the NaNo platform. These are small things, but they do make a difference for me, and they make it seem fun to update my word count or record my progress with others.
What pitfalls do you run into?
It can sometimes be tempting to quit or to feel defeated by a lack of time and energy. This year I’ve been doing pretty well with listening to my supportive writing buddies and providing the same support for them about shame-free participation in NaNo. My writing buddy group includes people with different health and employment challenges, which means writing isn’t always possible, but we are still there for one another to celebrate even the smallest accomplishments and to support one another on days when words may not come.
The other pitfall that I have encountered this year is the fear. I’m not sure why creative work can be so scary. I think it’s not unusual to get pulled into a spiral of doubt when we ask ourselves why it’s so challenging to do the things that are meaningful to us. I can question myself incessantly wondering why I don’t do this more, if I can accomplish it at all, what happens if I don’t finish it, why I thought I could do it, and on and on. When that happens, it takes some inner work and wisdom from writing buddies to find my way back to the writing path and keep going.
What advice do you have for others doing NaNoWriMo?
Keep on writing even if you don’t reach any of your goals. Connect with others who are doing it too. You don’t have to share your actual writing with anyone else until you’re ready and you can buddy up with people writing completely different content. Do what you can and cheer for others. And, most importantly, avoid getting worried about a final product. Do not let any slow days or days not writing stop you. Just keep moving forward and putting words down on that page. Let yourself enjoy the process of it if you can. And do it again next year too. And the year after that.