The struggle to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days is real.
Last month, I embraced the struggle again. I've signed up many times before, and I've won NaNoWriMo before, but that win always included words about the novel I was working on, not just words of the novel. Every time I've signed up, I've put my determination right out in front and decided that if a winning outcome couldn't be achieved the way the rules of the challenge indicated, I would make a winning outcome fit what I could do.
And hey, you know what? There's nothing wrong with that, if that's what you're going for. Unflagging determination is awesome and deserves loads of credit.
This blog post isn't about strategies for winning outrageous challenges, though.
This blog post is about how I approached this year's NaNoWriMo challenge in a different way. Rather than making winning (by writing 50,000 words) my priority, I made inviting the flow of writing (no matter what words came or didn't come) my priority. This invitation aligned with the NaNowWriMo challenge, but it did not guarantee that I would win it.
Remember in the film Center Stage when Eva Rodriguez (played by Zoe Saldana) is in the practice studio by herself at night, and her teacher, Juliette Simone (played by Donna Murphy), shows up? Eva is trying to perfect her twirl. Her fierce pride has been dubbed a bad attitude by the dance school's faculty, which has her dancing in the chorus rather than dancing center stage for the end-of-year show, even though she's got some of the best technique in her cohort. When Juliette sees Eva struggling to perfect her turn, she advises her to let go of her center.
Eva could dismiss her teacher, whom she regards as arrogant and bossy. (If Juliette had made the suggestion in her front Eva's classmates, that's likely what Eva would have done.) In this scene, when it's just Eva, Juliette, and the dance floor, Eva tries what Juliette suggests. She lets go of her center for the next turn, and Juliette, an exacting and practiced critic, calls her turn beautiful.
I would argue that the beauty Juliette sees in Eva's turn isn't primarily about her technique, but about her willingness to let go of the one thing that's holding her back: her ego. (Interestingly, releasing ego is what causes the star of the end-of-year show to step down at the last minute, making way for Eva, her under-study, to take center stage.)
This movie replayed in my head over and over last month, especially during the first week of November. The urging to invite flow rather than force an outcome had come from an oracle card I drew while on retreat in late October, and the message hit me like a sack of bricks. I am amazing at bringing about outcomes using all manner of creative means. But inviting flow isn't the same as inviting a particular outcome. To invite flow is to risk the possibility that the outcome will be nothing like what I originally hoped for.
The thing is, just because you've posed an invitation doesn't mean that the one you've invited is obligated to accept. The one you invite may have other ideas. The one you invite may flat-out say no.
I invited flow every single day of the NaNoWriMo challenge last month. As I wrote, the novel I was working on went in directions I would never have chosen if I weren't so focused on continuing to invite flow. The words that tip-tapped out of my fingers sometimes seemed rather not-promising, trite, or strange. This was disorienting for me. I kept inviting them.
As I invited, they flowed and flowed, forming a pool of 55,000 original words, and a day or two after November was over, I finished the first draft of that book manuscript. The win was achieved, and it was an extraordinary win by any estimation.
It wasn't winning by the rules that felt most extraordinary, though. It was discovering that inviting flow gave me access to apparently limitless creativity within myself. I discovered that my flow is like a waterfall, steady, powerful, and potentially overwhelming. Further, I discovered that my flow wants my invitation every single time (so far)--and it also wants a say in how things go.
Since I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, I've taken a curious look at the rest of my life, looking for other ways I attempt to force outcomes rather than inviting flow. Forcing outcomes is, as I said, something I'm very good at, but forced outcomes often yield toxic feelings and behaviors. When I flow, I not only release attachment to the way things might turn out, but I release my usual stressors right along with them.
While inviting flow didn't take me in every direction my vision dictated, what it did do was allow me to expand my vision, without asking my intellect for permission first. By inviting flow, my creative dam burst.
How do you invite creative flow?