Lessons Learned after 29 in 29

After a few days off from writing a short story every day for a month, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the process. I wanted to do this project because I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the past two years, and then accomplished no writing for the rest of the year. I also wanted to do this because the pressure-cooker timing of NaNoWriMo forced me to  be creative in ways that I don’t think I am with more time, because I tend to over-analyze myself into silence. And sure enough, with the time limits I gave myself, I was able to produce science fiction for the first time ever, and even dip my toe into fantasy.

I should explain. When I was little, really little, from four years old to fourth grade, I told everyone who would listen that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote endlessly. My parents got me an electric typewriter and I would sit in my room and type up my stories and dream of being a writer.

Then, in 4th grade, I got an assignment to write about Valentine’s Day. I wrote an epic story, about a woman named Valentine, who was blind, and got into a horrible car accident and had a miscarriage. I think we had just been studying Helen Keller, and my mom watched a lot of All My Children. Anyway, my 4th grade teacher was horrified and asked to meet with my mom and me. And in that meeting she told me something that basically crushed me in every possible way. She said, “This isn’t appropriate. You should write what you know.”

I didn’t write for years.

I felt like anytime I got creative, or wanted to make something up, that it was too much. I got to meet Barbara Cooney at a book-signing a year after that, and I told her very seriously, that I was suffering from writer’s block, and asked how did she dealt with it.

After more time passed, I gave up all together.

Two years ago, I decided to do NaNoWriMo. It sounded so intriguing. I’m good with deadlines; I thrive on them. And I was unemployed, so I needed a project. And then one of my literary heroes, Robin McKinley, sent me a tweet that probably meant more to me than I can explain. She was writing about bad advice that writers get, and mentioned the “write what you know” axiom. I replied to her with my story, and she immediately replied back saying that was horrible advice and she was sad that I had given up. She then said to “Write what you know into what you don’t.” So I decided to try.

I honestly don’t know what will come of this. Maybe nothing. The fact that I’ve accomplished two NaNoWriMos and this project feels great, but I feel like I have a lot of non-writing years to catch up on.

So that’s a roundabout way of saying the real lesson I learned from this project is that I want to write more. I need to write more.

And I’m pretty happy with that lesson right now.



One thought on “Lessons Learned after 29 in 29

  1. aahabershaw says:

    Glad to see you’re back writing, Claire. I’ve always prefered ‘Write the Truth’ to ‘Write What You Know.’ It manages the same sentiment, but without the sometimes overwhelming inference that you can’t write what you haven’t experienced. Simply not true (though some research is probably in order).

    Anyway, good luck, and don’t let what other people think or say affect your faith in yourself. Screw them and write it anyway.

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