celebrations

5 things I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016

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For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing event where writers all across the world are invited to write 50,000 words within November.

Yes, I actually managed it. To write 50,000 words in 30 days. To brave the early mornings, with bleary eyes and cold limbs; the frantic late nights, with aching feet and exhausted bones. This month, where my mind had completely crippled its creative capability, only to have a few hours sleep to recharge for the next day.

In 2015 I only managed 35k, which, at the time, I thought was quite an achievement. Now I’ve reached the ‘official’ finish line it feels great, but I still haven’t finished writing the novel. It’ll probably be another 50k before I do!

Here are the 5 things I’ve learnt this year, and hope that it encourages a budding writer to take part in next year’s frenzy:

1. Don’t let your other commitments stop you.

In 2015, I was a final year university student with, let’s face it, plenty more time than I had now. Despite that, I didn’t manage to win, and that made me cautious about reaching 50k this year as I had started a full time job.

I actually got off to a good start and was slightly ahead of the game for the first few days. In the middle I hit a slump but still wrestled through. I wrote in the mornings after fajr and when that was too painful, I knew in the evening I’d have to eat a quick dinner and get back to it. I wrote on my phone in the car before I stepped into work and again on my lunch breaks.

What this showed me is that you do have time to write. Anywhere and any time. Remember, NaNo is just about the writing itself. Editing is a whole other monster to tame, but just to write is much more fluid. Just do it whenever the feeling comes to you.

2. Uninhibited writing is brilliant

My novel had been brewing in my mind for several months. I had already wrote out a few scenes but nothing seemed right. I just couldn’t tell the story the way it was playing out in my head. I knew NaNo was the opportunity to write without any pit stops, breaks, or even any thinking. Just write whatever comes to my mind.

That was brilliant.

It means anything weird and wonderful can be born on the page, without feeling the need to hit the backspace or furiously scribble the out the words. No one will look at this crappy first draft, unless you give them permission. I know for a fact that the first drafts of any novel I write are completely out of bounds for any mortal being to lay eye upon.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of mornings and nights where stringing together words felt as painful as prodding my brain with a dagger (That’s where point 4 comes into play). But that’s okay, because it’s a first draft. When you let yourself write terribly you’ll find that the creativity of the story and the characters themselves start to shine better in your eyes, which is what I prefer to focus on in the first draft anyway.

3. Don’t look back. Not yet, at least.

Do not press backspace. If I genuinely cringed at something, but it was worth, say, 100 words, I’d just highlight it and click ‘strike-through’. That way it still counts towards my word goals, but when I get to editing I at least know it needs some work or needs to be deleted. Cheating? I call it NaNo-ing smartly 😉

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Daily word counts. See the infamous dip in the middle? A lot of self doubt going on there…

4. The community is wonderful

Join the forums (but don’t get too distracted), or dedicated Facebook groups, or even find people through Twitter. Don’t do this alone, because writing can be a lonely pursuit. Find cheerleaders to keep you going when you can’t bear to cheer yourself on any longer.

Word sprints are definitely what got me through: a casual challenge with other WriMos to see who can write the most words in a set amount of time. In reality no one is bothered who wins these sprints, because all that matters is that you wrote something.

That’s what’s lovely about the writing community: no one is trying to one-up you in anything. Everyone’s running towards the same goal, and if you trip or stumble, be sure that someone will catch you and pull you back up on your feet (or at least smack you to your senses).

5. If you want to do something, go do it. Go get your goals.

Yes, a slightly cheesy number 5, but a truth nonetheless. I’ve always, always wanted to be a writer, an author, or anything to do with words (let’s question my day job at a later time…). NaNo has shown me that I can write 50,000 words in one month, something I never thought I could do before. What’s to stop me from finishing this novel draft? From editing my novels? From actually getting published? The publishing journey can be a long and arduous road, but don’t be disheartened.

Remember what is at the core of your journey: your wonderful words.

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Celebrations of Faith

The sun is setting on another Ramadan. We prepare ourselves to welcome the day of Eid al-Fitr, but I can’t help but feel that Ramadan itself is a celebration. It’s a celebration of faith, and something that I feel blessed to be a part of.

A lot has happened this month that has made our hearts heavy with sadness, worry, and fear. But I can already feel the comfort that Ramadan has given me, one that I’m sad to leave behind. This solace we find as we swing from long days and blessed nights, from the breaking of the fast to the dawn prayer, and from the supplications we make and the prayers we recite.

Some may ask why we would even allow ourselves to go without food or drink for hours on end, for thirty consecutive days (dawn to sunset, that is!). It is a whole month that tests our self discipline, not just in the kitchen, but also within ourselves. But do we really need to go through the rituals of Ramadan just to prove we can become better people? Is it really necessary?

I ask you, is anything worth achieving in life easy to come by?

Finishing a degree. Getting a job. Buying a house. Becoming a mother or a father.

Anything that is worth something is never easy to attain. For us Muslims, Ramadan is about attaining the quality of being conscious of God. This precious trait is at the core of our faith, a crucial characteristic that helps us to govern the way we live. It’s a state of knowing that God is aware of our actions and that we should be accountable for the way we carry ourselves.

Should I have spoken to my mother in a more gentle tone? Should I have listened to my colleague, who seemed upset about something, instead of rushing to go home? Should I have offered to go to the shops instead of my father as I know he’s exhausted from work?

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These things are minute details in our lives, but no one ever said we had to save the day. It’s all about making sure we’re trying to do the little things right. The things that no one really notices, no one tweets about, the things that slip into the cracks of our fast paced days.

So how does fasting help with this? To me, keeping myself away from food and drink is almost like a gateway to help me discipline myself in other ways. Ramadan helps us to slow things down, take life in perspective, and provides a mechanism for us to improve ourselves.

This month holds a special place in our faith. It celebrates the Qur’an and its guidance in helping us become people who are conscious of God in the every day details of our seemingly busy lives.

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Masjid Negara in Kuala Lumpur. Pictures are my own.