Publish, don't perish – Instalment 27
You're unlikely to find it on any official calendar, but should be delighted to know that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo – see http://www.nanowrimo.org).
What is NaNoWriMo, you might ask?
Well, "National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30".
So, what does this have to do with writing for the library literature, you might ask?
Well, the point of NaNoWriMo is to get authors past their own blocks: constant self-editing, fear of the time and effort involved in creating a substantive work, becoming paralysed by the thought of making mistakes. Further, the thought that tens of thousands of other writers are going through the same process at the exact same time offers its own comfort. All writers, regardless of style or format or publication outlet, can benefit from these lessons.
What can we take from this, you might ask?
Well, three things: Just do it, get a little help from your friends, and have fun! (And, if you've always wanted to branch out into a very different type of writing, plan on signing up for next year's event…)
Just do it
Many of us tend both to over-think and to over-edit our work, when sometimes the best approach is just to sit down and write. Yes, the end result will be rough, but you'll find it much easier to edit your roughest draft into a polished manuscript than to start from scratch.
You don't have to pick November, but do choose a month to sit down and write an entire article, paper, or chapter. Get your research done ahead of time, and have any needed material at your fingertips, so that nothing stands in the way of simply writing. If you need more structure to jumpstart your writing process, go ahead and create an outline or write some notes to yourself before the month starts – but don't start actually writing until the first.
Set yourself the goal of a finished draft, however rough, by the end of the month. Check your target publication's guidelines to see how many words or pages you need to produce. (One double-spaced typed page runs around 250 words.) Divide that by the number of days in the month to find your daily word-count goal, and devote sufficient time each day to reach that goal.
This month of writing accomplishes two things: you end up with an article draft you can then polish and send out to editors, and you get yourself in the habit of writing. Spending 30 minutes of writing each day gets you into a groove, and gets you used to the process, making it easier to continue the habit next month, and the one after…
Get a little help from your friends
Many NaNoWriMo participants form groups where they meet (in person or online) during the month of November to offer each other support and encouragement throughout the crash-novel-writing process. (See http://www.willwriteforchocolate.com/comic/40.html)
As a librarian writer, though, you can make every month November! So many of your fellow librarians are in the same boat: trying to figure out how to write and submit their first article, getting over writer's block, or in need of readers, advice, brainstorming sessions, encouragement, and moral support. Think about:
Forming a writing group
Look around your institution or system or consortium, send out a memo or an e-mail message to gauge interest, and start meeting regularly to discuss each other's writing. Approach people at a conference or on an e-mail list or at a workshop, and form a pact to come together online to talk about your work.
Finding a mentor
Identify someone whose work you admire, whether in or outside of your institution, and ask that person for advice on your next writing project. Information professionals generally appreciate sharing advice and information; it's what we do!
Leaning on a friend
Ask a co-worker or fellow student or colleague to read drafts; bounce ideas off of them in person or through e-mail. A second pair of eyes and a fresh point of view can be invaluable, both in making your work stronger and in stimulating your own ideas.
Attending a workshop
Look for sessions on writing for publication at any conference you attend; generally, these focus on academic writing, but often have useful content for all librarian authors. Suggest that your system or consortium offer a workshop as part of its continuing education programme. See if your institution offers regular or occasional workshops on research or writing for faculty members.
Getting others to join you in a month of writing
You writing an article in a month is good; you and ten others each writing an article in a month is even better. Gather a group with the same goal; you can support one another, make each other get back to the keyboard, and share in the excitement of creation.
Librarianship itself rests on communication and collaboration; extend these principles into your writing career as well.
Sometimes we get so bogged down in the writing process that we forget to have fun with the sheer act of creation. During your month of writing, let go of both the pressure to publish and the constant rethinking involved in getting every word "just right". Let yourself play with language; let yourself get excited as your work grows longer every day. Recapture the excitement you felt when you first began your project or came up with the idea.
Signing up for NaNoWriMo lets people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. All of us who contribute to the library literature similarly participate in a larger whole. Let yourself feel pride and excitement in doing your small part. We all help create the ongoing underpinnings of our profession, and there aren't words to describe that!