Should You Write a Novel This Month, Unhappy Lawyer?

So it’s November 1, and that means NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated. In a nutshell, it’s a, well, something (the history is hilarious and inspiring) that is supposed to get your secret idea for novel finished in a month. I know there are those of you unhappy attorneys out there who have been flirting with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo this year. But should you?

chapter one typed on paper in typewriter

Maybe you should be seduced by the idea of writing a novel . . . or maybe not. First figure out why you want to do it.

Well, it depends. (Aw, come on, you didn’t think I would go all non-lawyer and give you a definitive answer, did you?) The real question is, what is it that having a screechingly short deadline do for you, that you can’t otherwise do for yourself?

Deadlines, as every attorney knows, are a wonderful way to focus your attention. That brief you’ve known for 2 months is due? Amazing how it gets written in 6 days, right? Suddenly, all you’re doing for a week is that effing brief. Which, I might point out, you are hating doing on such a short timeline. You’re snarling at the dog and snapping at your kids and spouse. Your colleagues scatter when you emerge from your office to get lunch or visit the restroom.

Do You Know Why You’re a Blocked Writer?

That snarling, snapping feeling is what happens when writers, or anyone else, get overwhelmed and exhausted. You might, possibly, not want to feel like this all the time, which is part of why you’re blocked as a writer: You’re afraid you’ll be nothing but frustrated if you try to write.

Of course, another reason you’re blocked about writing that brief is it’s heinously boring and you’d rather take a sharp stick in the eye. They will give you good pain meds for that, anyway. Unlike the pain of writing at times, for which alcohol is usually the best numbing agent available. But, it could be that writing about what you long to say will feel a lot different.

Or, you could be like me, and worry that you’re not enough. Yes, I ran down my list yesterday of why I don’t want to start working again on a novel. The one I have only a very little written on. It boiled down to this: I’m afraid that I’m not enough. Won’t have enough ideas. That the ideas I do have will suck and be obvious and boring. That I don’t know how it’s all going to work out at the end, or in the middle, or the beginning, and I won’t be able to figure it out. That I don’t know enough about 20th century social history.

Or, you might just be plain old afraid. I hear you. I’m afraid I’m going to lose control of my life to the damned thing. Afraid I won’t be able to let go and just follow the images, characters and story because I don’t know where they’re leading me, and dammit I want to know before I go. Or that following them will ultimately be a waste of time. (Um, yes, I have a few control issues, why do you ask?) Afraid that in the dark of winter, I will get depressed and give up, feel like a fraud to my clients, and then get more depressed.

In the end, I don’t think I can let fear grab the wheel and steer, as the song goes. Not good for my soul, nor good for a coach to do, either. So I’m walking the walk. I’m still not sure if it means NaNoWriMo for me or not. But it definitely means writing fiction again. Yikes! and Yeah!!!

Maybe I Should Write a Novel

There are good reasons to participate in NaNoWriMo. First and foremost, it’s aimed at just getting you off your duff, out of your perfectionism and into simply writing. The goal is 50,000 words by November 30, midnight in your local time zone. It is, as the site says, about quantity, not quality. This is good, very good. The worry about quality is a worry about not being enough. It is what keeps us stuck, as writers and as people.

And, you might just discover that writing can be fun, when you divorce it from all the oughts. That’s what happened to the 21 participants in the first year, 1999.

Perhaps the biggest reason for doing it is what it does for you in other parts of your life. As Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, says, “And after the noveling ended on August 1, my sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed.”

Yes or No?

So my take-away suggestions about NaNoWriMo? If you can do it with a sense of adventure, curiousity, and willingness to laugh, then by all means do it. Even if you don’t get to the 50,000 mark, and end up with 5,000 or 10,000 words instead, what a super accomplishment. You will have had fun and made remarkable progress on something important to you. Wa-hoo!

If not getting to the 50,000-word mark is going to convince you that you’re not a writer, that you don’t have what it takes to be creative or successful, then please don’t do NaNoWriMo. Instead, feed your creative self by going out for a lot of much-needed fun and festivity. Stock your creative pond with images, laughter, and appreciating life.

If feeding your creativity seems too overwhelming, drop me a line. I’d love to chat.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and budding novelist. She coaches unhappy attorneys to pursue their creative gifts and see what exciting new career ideas those gifts can inspire. Find out what coaching is like with a discounted sample coaching session. Email Jennifer at today to schedule yours!

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