The NaNoWriMo Experience

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This November was my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month.

People always talk about the community NaNoWriMo creates, and I believe it is a huge reason this program works. The forums are so helpful, and I found myself spending hours reading about people’s questions and answers and creations and stories. I loved getting to know other NanoWriMo-ers, and it helped to see that other people had the same struggles as me.

NaNoWriMo has been my first group-ish writing experience since I graduated from college. I am so thankful that people are creating places for writers to find each other and share stories. I have missed it more than I realized, and I will be participating in NaNoWriMo every year, and I hope to have a more successful year in 2015.

But what meant the most to me was what the experience revealed about myself as a writer. Here are just a few of the things I learned and obstacles I faced throughout NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes you don’t get your ideal writing environment.

Before NaNoWriMo, I somehow convinced myself that the only time I could write something halfway decent was in the morning after breakfast and drinking my first cup of coffee for the day. I thought if I wrote outside that time, it would be crappy and awful and worthless. But that isn’t true. I found myself writing after dinner, at midnight, during breaks at work. You have to write when you can.

Even more than this, sometimes you have a cat knock a glass off your desk. You have to stop mid sentence and grab a rag to clean it up, and when you get back to your desk the words are gone. Sometimes a child will run into your room and tell you they’re hungry, or bored, or sad and you must stop to help them. Sometimes your doorbell rings, or your laundry is done, or you have to pee. Life is full of interruptions, and it will be a rare day when you can write without stopping.

writer's block

Sometimes you get stuck.

There are days when you have no motivation at all. There are days when you stare at your computer, fingers floating over the keyboard, waiting for the first bout of inspiration to carry you through your 1,600 words for the day. And sometimes it never comes, and you drag yourself to bed, or to work, or to chores with a heavy heart.

NaNoWriMo gave me an understanding that everyone has that experience, even J.K. Rowling and Oscar Wilde (though he would never admit it), and everyone has to fight through it. And all you need is a small spark. This spark can be found in yourself, in others, in an event, or a word. It can be found anywhere, but you have to be looking.

Sometimes you think you’re a pantser when YOU ARE NOT.

I thought I had figured myself out as a writer in college (BA-HA-HA, I know I’m naive). I thought I needed a bit of an outline to get me going, and then the words would just come to me. That’s how it usually worked with short stories, at least. But novel writing is a completely different thing.

I had outlined my novel a lot, but as soon as I got to the point where my outline ran out, I was stuck. I had nothing to write about, and my characters were running around with no goal or point. NaNoWriMo taught me I’m a planner. And thank goodness I know that now and can write novels the right way for me.

Sometimes it is extremely hard to write in a room full of non writers.

While I was on this journey, I was the only one to keep myself motivated. No one in my household is a writer, and often when I voiced I didn’t feel like writing, instead of encouraging me to go sit my ass down in the chair, they said thing like, “Well you wrote yesterday!” Or “You need to give yourself a break every once in awhile.”

Not the most motivating thing in the world, bless their hearts. I know they were trying to make me feel like I had done enough, BUT IT WASN’T ENOUGH. You must write wonderful new words every day, or else you feel like you can skip a day every now and then and you CAN’T. Every day, write.

But most of all…

this experience reminded me that writing is HARD. And any day you sit down in front of a computer and melt words together to create something beautiful is a damn awesome day.

I didn’t win. I didn’t even make it halfway to 50,000 words. But I wrote everyday. I watched my characters grow and change and love and lose. And I remembered why I became a writer in the first place.

In Defense of Trigger Warnings

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about trigger warnings. Places such as the LA Times and New Republic are speaking out against them. Many think trigger warnings are some silly signs of weakness, some mark of humanity becoming more and more fragile as time goes on.

These people are just wrong. trigger

Let’s think about the word trigger. Trigger. A device which sets off a weapon. A chain reaction. A tiny little explosion that propels a piece of metal to collide with…flesh? Other metal? Fur? They’re dangerous. Triggers are dangerous.

Humanity is becoming more violent as time goes on. Many people are experiencing rape, abuse, PTSD, death each year. And more and more people are speaking out against their experiences. Human fragility isn’t increasing, the need for humans to treat one another with care is.

In my personal experience, I have seen an increase of people willing to share their experiences with trauma. They are some of the bravest, nicest, most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of calling friends. Trigger warnings are a way of showing these people who have seen and lived traumatic things some respect.

Why would you want to cause someone unnecessary harm?

A trigger warning is a way of telling people, “Hey, this has some nasty stuff in it. You don’t have to read/watch/listen/see/feel/witness these things if you feel you can’t handle it.” This very act gives people who have experienced some awful things the power to control their life. The power to say no, I would not like to relive that memory/feeling/trauma again.

Why is this a sign of weakness?

This topic came up on Facebook in a group I am a part of. It began with this post.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 4.28.15 PM I understand this writer’s frustration. Being asked to change a piece of writing by people who do not know you or your work can feel offensive. However, I do not think these people were being unreasonable. Even in the quote, they did not tell the author to change the language of the piece. They only asked to provide a warning. A sign to let people know there is a dead end ahead, maybe you should turn around.

Because that is what triggers do. They stop you dead in your tracks. They can cause severe emotional, psychological, and physical trauma. Really. Triggers are serious business. They can cause panic attacks, hyperventilation, nausea, flashbacks, and a slew of other awful things. Everyone reacts differently to different triggers, but one thing is common among all of them. Pain.

I understand that we cannot have trigger warnings for every single possible trigger out there. There are some obvious possible triggers that we can deduct: rape, war, violence, and abuse. Maybe one person’s trigger is the sound of a fly buzzing. I understand we can’t know that. But why in the world wouldn’t we expose the obvious ones and lessen possible harm to other human beings?

Another important note. PEOPLE OVERUSE/DO NOT UNDERSTAND/INCORRECTLY USE  THE TERM TRIGGER WARNING. Not everyone knows what they are talking about. Sometimes I search trigger warnings on Twitter and see people using the hashtag “trigger warning” in the same way they would use the hashtag “spoiler alert”. Some people get it wrong. It is those people that are not helping others see trigger warnings as a valuable and important integration into the artistic field.

rated-r-logo-black-stock3004My friend Haley Muench brings up a number of valid arguments in her blog post about trigger warnings being beneficial and necessary. One of the most important points to highlight is the fact that other forms of art have trigger warnings. She uses the example of movie rating. Yes, this is a way for the audience to know if their child should be watching this film/T.V. show or not, but it also offers information as to disturbing or triggering events. This little square at the beginning of a movie, which you barely notice, is all people  with traumatic pasts are asking for.

A way to know what they’re getting into. And an opportunity to get out.