Thursday, November 3, 2011

Write What You NaNo guest blogger: Sommer Leigh

Seriously, where's the gif of a Muppets character running around waving their hands in the air? Because right now, I need one to sum up my life that is NaNo and vacation prep. Thankfully, my friend Sommer Leigh from the amazing and informative blog, Tell Great Stories, has put aside her massive reading pile (she is a judge for the Cybils, you know), and has stepped in for today's NaNo post. Thanks, Sommer!

There is a mythology wrapped around NaNoWriMo, made partially of exaggerated truths, self-perpetuating experiences, and straight up lies. These mythologies plug into the Hollywood version of our truer, writerly selves hunched over typewriters, banging out the suffering of our generation made vivid and accountable by our ability to spin a yarn. The mythology is seductive, for better and for worse.

Within every human being is an innate, primal desire to create. Individuals create different things, from knitted sweaters to babies, from gardens to stories. We strain toward the manifestation of our fears, for that’s what it really is, in a strange effort to conquer them. The sweaters fight off cold, the babies ward off death, the gardens conquer famine and  stories…stories battle silence and memory and time. We ache to create something of ourselves. Something permanent and physical when the march of time renders everything else so aged and impermanent.

But we are also tragic about making time for ourselves and putting our happiness before all the other nagging things.  Creating things takes time, so we never get around to it. We don’t make time or not enough of it and so the need to create goes on and on unsatisfied until we’re sick from it. If we all weren’t jonesing for a hit by the time November rolled around, the breakneck speed of NaNoWriMo might destroy us.

That’s why when NaNoWriMo is on the tip of everyone’s tongue and the stars are in everyone’s eyes, I fall in love with the infectious passion all over again. The reason I love NaNoWriMo is because it is the one month of the whole year where we give ourselves permission to make writing a priority.

In November we take time off work, we ignore the laundry, the dinner, the kids. It’s the one time of the year where we put ourselves first and everything else is told to get the hell lost, see you in December, buh-bye.

Last year I bought paper plates and plastic silverware and swore off doing dishes for a month.

November is a sort of freedom writers relish, a mecca for exploring the one dream we hold private in our hearts and bracket with heavy sighs because we’d really love to write a book someday when we have more time, that magical time in our future when we will be less busy, less media consumed. When we’ll give ourselves permission to chase such an indulgent dream.

For most people, that magic day doesn’t exist. Those people have created their own road blocks, cemented the bricks, planted the mines, strung the barbed wire. They’ll never cross it. They’ll never even try.

November though, November is a special occasion, an event that happens once a year when we’re willing to work shortcuts into our lives and let episodes of our favorite tv shows pile up. Creating something, something impossible like 50,000 words of a novel, seems extraordinary and attainable for a short window of time.

Like a magic door at the back of a wardrobe, the secret entrance to the labyrinth – the mythology of NaNoWriMo and November is like that.

Sommer Leigh blogs at Tell Great Stories ( and is a moderator for Nathan Bransford’s writer forums ( ). She’s currently working on a YA sci-fi about superheroes and villains, airships and mad scientists.


  1. Thank you for having me :-) This has been such a great series of posts you put together!

  2. Excellent writing! You make the idea of writing sound poetic.

    On the nuts and bolts, though: I had a friend (I swear it wasn't really me) who said "I have no time to work out." This friend spent a lot of time doing fantasy football and watching Packer games on Sundays and playing various card games. Had he dropped any of THOSE, he would have had time to work out.

    I, too, feel as though I have "no time" to do things -- but what I really mean is "I have no time to do that thing because there are all these other things I feel like doing instead." Recently, I said to Sweetie (my wife) that I had "no time" to read. She mentioned that I spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter and the web. She pointed out that if I chose to read a book instead of those things, I'd read a lot more books.

    "But I like reading those things," I said, and then realized what I'd said.

    I'm sure many people who don't have a Sweetie in their lives to do 99.998% of the work will get on me about this, but "I have no time to write" may mean "Writing is something I'd like to try but not as much as I like doing these other things."

    So if writing is really important to you, do what I did: carve out a time that you WILL write and during which no distractions are available. For me, that's 6-7 a.m. every morning, when the Babies! are asleep and Sweetie's getting ready for the day and no good TV shows are on and I'm not ready to do anything but sit at my computer and make awful jokes about pop culture.

    If you can't make that time regularly, then either you really are very busy, or you really aren't that into writing.

    Anyway, I found this blog from Sommer's blog. And I liked the badges on Sommer's blog.

  3. Giving yourself permission to create is a beautiful thing!

  4. Oh my gosh this is so quotable! "The sweaters fight off cold, the babies ward off death, the gardens conquer famine and stories…stories battle silence and memory and time. We ache to create something of ourselves. Something permanent and physical when the march of time renders everything else so aged and impermanent."

    So true!!! I love how NaNoWriMo has given me permission the last few years to make November mine, to claim writing as priority.

  5. I would like to thank Sommer for telling me it's okay to not do dishes or laundry this week. :) Okay, so you didn't say that PER SE, but still, that's what I took from this (among other pearls of wisdom). However, tomorrow might be a good sick day just so I can wash some socks and have some mugs to drink from. It's a thought...

  6. Elizabeth Bear once said "No writer has a clean house". I remember this quote every time i walk past my slovenly rooms.

  7. That's true - there are those who never go for it.
    Looking forward to my guest post tomorrow. Although after reading the ones so far, I'm really nervous...

  8. I've absolutely loved your NaNo series. I think you should consider doing this every year. They were so inspiring. All of them.

    Alright, I'm cheerleading today! So here goes:

    Happy NaNo Day Five!
    Hopefully the initial excitement is still going strong, but if not I've come with a toolbox of inspiration. Ready?

    First, quote of the day: Don't give up what you want most for what you want right now.

    Second, NaNo Tip of the Day: Don't forget to reward yourself. It is often easier to notice our lagging word count numbers than to notice how far we've already come.

    Good luck!!! Just keep writing!!!


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