A special series on the lessons we can all learn from NaNoWriMo – whether we want to write a novel or not.

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Lesson One:

It’s better to suck at something than to be great at nothing 

This month is NaNoWriMo, short, but not very short, for National Novel Writing Month, the annual festival of rapid novel writing. The idea is that participants sign up at NaNoWriMo.org and commit to completing an original novel no less than fifty thousand words in length all within the month of November. 

This year, having flirted with taking part on several occasions, I’ve taken the plunge and begun to write a satirical farce that I’ve had bouncing around in my brain for longer than I’m comfortable admitting. And having made this choice I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about what NaNoWriMo is and why it exists than in prior years. 

On their website you’ll find out about how you join in with the community, share inspiration and win badges and all the other great stuff the peeps over at NaNoWriMo have built, but for our purposes it is enough to know that this is a big, popular event ostensibly aimed at getting people to write something. 

National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity

But there’s something deeper going on here. Because while NaNoWriMo may be a novel writing event, a glance at the mission statement suggests broader ambitions.

“National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.”

Read between the lines and you’ll see that NaNoWriMo is about a lot more than writing a book. It’s about having a go at something new, allowing yourself to identify with a community while at the same time deepening your sense of personal control and power. We see themes of self-direction and self-discovery, community, transformation, and implicit permission. 

Importantly, the structure, the tools, the philosophy of the event are not geared towards finding the next great novel. To put it another way, when I’m done writing my fifty thousand words I am unlikely to have a work of great literary value on my hands. 

But you know what I will have? Something rather than nothing. 

Leave your ideas of correctness and being “good” at something at the door

This, I think, is the core of the genius of NaNoWriMo. It gets you started and asks you to leave your ideas of correctness and being “good” at something at the door. Applied to other aspects of life we can all, I think, appreciate the potential of this sort of thinking. 

For example, my niece aspires to being a professional illustrator so, being the world’s greatest uncle, I’ve commissioned her to do some drawings for my new website (currently under construction). For her first paid commission I’ve requested six images of Toothy, my mascot/logo, involved in a range of activities from playing sports to meditation. I know that she has the ability to deliver on the brief but I also recognise that the larger part of creative work is getting out of your own way and just doing it. 

The larger part of creative work is getting out of your own way and just doing itClick To Tweet

Inspired by NaNoWriMo I’ve been helping my niece get going on this piece of work by setting her unreasonably short deadlines during which to complete a range of rough sketches. I believe my exact instructions were: 

“Draw each pose once and make them really crappy but get them done in the next 45 minutes. Then tomorrow do the same thing again and make them slightly less crappy.”

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In fairness to her, the sketches she delivered were actually not particularly crappy. They’re not amazing. They’re not anywhere near ready to use. What they are is something rather than nothing. 

Failure to begin kills more projects than all other creativity curses combined

Failure to begin kills more projects than all other creativity curses combined, and for good reason; we’re all afraid to fail. In your relationship with creativity, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll see a great big slab of fear, like a beached whale resting heavily on the shingles of your ambitions.

This fear cannot be reasoned with. This fear cannot be negotiated with. The only thing that will shove your beached whale back into the sea is action. Essentially, do something. Anything. Make it crap but make it anyway. And when you realise that the world doesn’t fall apart around you that fear may begin to subside. 

NaNoWriMo gives us permission to write but more importantly it gives us permission to write something really bad because quality is not what NaNoWriMo is about. What it’s about is the joy of doing something rather than nothing. 

Do something. Anything. Make it crap but make it anyway

How many projects do you have sitting on the launchpad? How about your teammates and employees? How many dozens of potentially wonderful products, services, solutions and inventions are waiting for you to face your fears? 

Even if you don’t intend to write a novel this NaNoWriMo, you can still take part. Choose something. Anything. And suck at it. It’s the first step towards being kinda good at it. 

https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/writing1.png?fit=1024%2C576https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/writing1.png?resize=150%2C150Aran ReesPersonal Creativityachievement,beginning,crappy,failure,fear,nanowrimo,permission
A special series on the lessons we can all learn from NaNoWriMo - whether we want to write a novel or not. Lesson One: It's better to suck at something than to be great at nothing  This month is NaNoWriMo, short, but not very short, for National Novel Writing Month, the annual...
Aran Rees
Founder and Coach at Sabre Tooth Panda
Aran is a creativity coach, facilitator and communicator, founder of Sabre Tooth Panda and creator of No Wrong Answers: the hypothetical quiz. He believes that expressing creativity is all about how you and those around you relate to creativity both at an emotional and intellectual level. He helps his clients to get cosy with creativity to solve big problems and have more fun.