Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. – Stephen King.
For those of you who don’t know (and who are you if you don’t?!) Dumbo is a Disney movie about a baby elephant with very large ears. Dumbo is teased by the other elephants and befriends a mouse called Timothy. Timothy tells Dumbo he would be able to fly with his ears but Dumbo doesn’t believe him until Timothy produces a “magical” feather which will give him flying abilities. Dumbo flaps his large ears, and is able to fly. At the climax of the movie, Dumbo loses the “magical” feather, but instead of falling, he learns that the ability to fly was always within him and the feather was just the guide to get him to where he was always capable of being.
Think of NaNoWriMo as the feather. You have the ability to write a novel, it’s built within you. But it’s not always easy to start if you don’t know how. Sometimes it’s nice to have a guide, to have something taking you by the hand and showing you the way. That is what NaNoWriMo is. NaNoWriMo isn’t the novel, it’s the power that makes you believe you can do it.
Back in 2003, when I started NaNoing, I wrote all the time. I wrote (bad) poetry, and short stories. I had whole notebooks full of snippets of ideas, random paragraphs, and stanzas for poems. I had doodles as I worked things out and ideas mapped out for somethings. I loved that. I loved carrying around a notebook full of random creative thoughts. So what if most of them didn’t pan out to be anything – it was fun. (I still have those notebooks in a box somewhere. They’re great to read.)
But as I got older, and NaNo became an ingrained part of my life, I stopped writing so much. I no longer write short stories because I struggle to come up with short and sweet ideas that can be wrapped up in a few thousands words. (I definitely don’t write teen angst poetry but I feel that’s more my age than my writing ability.) My writing ability seems to be entirely focused on full novels. Considering I don’t plan that much in advance, it’s strange that that’s how my mind works. But not only do I find I’m more leaning towards novel writing now, I find if I try and write in any sort of depth or for length of time at any other time of year other than November, I fail. I find I don’t have the drive, the desire to write during any other month.
In many ways, NaNoWriMo is my magical feather
Of course NaNoWriMo is a nice little bundle of novelling. It gives you everything you need. You get a timeframe to write, a deadline to meet, supporting people from all over the world, pep talks from real authors, and lots of metaphorical cookies and poking (and real, if you go to write-ins and that’s how your region is inclined). It’s perfect! NaNo wraps you in this neat little writing world, and it’s amazingly awesome.
After 11 years, I find the rest of the year is a little less coloured when it comes to writing.
But sometimes I find myself saying “I can’t write outside of November”. Well, why not? Apart from the community, what’s really stopping me? I can obviously write, and I can obviously write a novel in a month. So I’m using the wrong phrasing. I “can” write outside of November, but part of is me choosing not to. I think part of me is scared of trying without the feather.
But you know what? Right now, it’s totally okay to cling to the feather. Cuddle it, name it. Embrace the feather. It is teaching you what you weren’t ready to believe. But in December, when it goes missing, you can still fly.
Just spread those wings.