As I mentioned in an earlier post, at the beginning of the month, I joined Camp NaNoWriMo as a way of motivating myself to revise one of my manuscripts. I set myself the goal of an hour of revision a day.
The motivation appears to have worked. I just achieved my month’s hour-goal of 31 hours a day early, even though there was a stretch early in the month when I didn’t work on it at all.
Now I have to keep going past my goal, because it’s the habit that counts and because the work is never finished. The practice, not the product, is what is important. But to do that, I still need some accountability.
The key to achievement is building habits, and accountability to others is a great way to build such habits, because human beings are social.
Writers often emphasize how lonely the process of writing is. They’re right, of course. It’s solitary. But so are many other things.* We are creatures of culture. Even the most silent, lonely, laboring scribes carry imaginary readers around with them like a snail shell, and travel a path laid out by fellow writers whose only messages were in books.
Making myself socially accountable for something is effective when the plod is long and the rewards less immediate, even if the “social accountability” in Camp NaNoWriMo was to strangers and even though my randomly-compiled “cabin” (a small discussion group) was inhabited by only a few active participants.† Some cabin members were, for whatever reason, ghosts who signed up, set a goal, and never updated, or else from their statistics were clearly working on their projects but not stopping in to discuss what they were doing. The few of us who were regularly chatting in the cabin did so irregularly, asking questions, reporting on struggles or successes, and encouraging the others. But I cared what they thought, even if I didn’t know who they were and they didn’t know me.
It turns out, as I say, that 31 hours was not enough to get the manuscript completely revised, and because Camp NaNoWriMo is only a month long, I don’t have meetings I can attend to help me finish up. But it was long enough to get me really engaged in the process, and to make me care about the story again.‡
I have to continue seeking an ongoing community, and to lower my standards for what that community should look like. Any writing community will do, I suspect.||
*Losing weight, for instance, is a solo undertaking and one in which the individual has to withstand considerable negative pressure from family, friends, community, and society as a whole. Over the past year, though, I’ve lost nearly forty pounds and am keeping it off by going to my amiable, amateurish Weight Watchers meetings, weighing in once a week, and staying for the sessions. Even now that I have hit my goal, I’m still attending (now for free, thank you Weight Watchers, because that’s what happens when you hit your goal weight), because there’s no reason I should stop doing what works just because it worked. (I learned that the hard way, mind you. I’ve lost this weight before, and stopped going to the meetings, and it crept back.)
†And to realize that it really really wasn’t ready for publication when I first thought it was. Oh, god, the incoherence. The palimpsests of earlier ideas lingering on even after I have abandoned them. The confused motivation. The unclear plot. In fact, I was as confused about what was going on as the characters were.§
‡Shout out! Elaine Glimme, Sachia, Mischief_Managed1977, and TARDISstowaway were constistently active all month long, but I just scrolled through the chat window and Lena35, EmmHays, whiskers11, TheKoward, 1anioh, grimbie, and arunjchess all participated.
§And that is because I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo proper, where the idea is to write a novel in a month, and I just kept moving forward no matter what forks I took in the road, not caring that I was heading for Syracuse with a herd of cats when I had first set out for Prague with a very large egg.
||I bet I can look on Twitter and find something in five minutes. Heck, I already belong to some Facebook groups designed for the purpose. They’re easy to find, but I haven’t used them. Why don’t I ever really, actually, want to do what works? Rhetorical question.