How NanoWriMo helped me come to terms with with my dyslexia, and learn to put one word after another.
Full show notes: http://www.thejaymo.net/2020/11/06/301-2044-nanowrimo/
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There has only been one thing consuming my thoughts this week:
Nanowrimo. or National Novel Writing Month.
This tear is my 7th Nanowrimo. I’ve quote un-quote won 5 of the 6 Nanowrimos I’ve attempted before now.
My first Nanowrimo in 2013 was a significant moment in my life. It taught me how to write. I don’t mean writing fiction or nonfiction. I mean writing in general.
I went to Uni in 2003. Leaving a grammar school where you weren’t dyslexic, just stupid.
The support and feedback I got on my written essays at university did nothing to disabuse me of my belief that writing was hard, and sucks. I studied Philosophy which perhaps isn’t the best subject to pick if you hate writing. I envied people to whom writing came easily, and still kinda do.
My residual dislike of writing is one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to start posting scripts online for 301. I just.. didn’t think they were very important until I was told otherwise.
It’s not that I don’t love reading of course. It’s my favourite pastime. But I always found writing a chore, a difficult way of organising one’s thoughts.
The decade after leaving school was one full of anxiety about doing any writing. Petrified of work emails to clients, or even updates to colleagues. Always feeling like I was an imposition on my team mates. Constantly bothering them to proofread emails (shout out John Higgins). I remember once agonising for a week over a 300 word personal statement for job application. Horrible.
When I wrote those first 50,000 words for NanoWriMo in 2013. I probably matched in one month the total number of words I’d written in the preceding decade.
The story I wrote was awful. But the most important thing I took away was the experience of putting one word after another. Typing 50,000 words in to a text document in 30 days taught me to appreciate the Graft of writing as a writer. As opposed to the Craft of writer as a reader.
It was interesting to observe things I’d only read about writers experincing. Sometimes the words would flow fast and furious. Other days anything beyond 300 words would be like drawing blood from a stone.
Yet, even a few days later. Re-reading previous chunks of text, you can’t detect where the easy words ended and the difficult words began. 50,000 words in 30days is a non-trivial amount of effort expended getting words onto a page. Hats off from me to anyone who wins or has one NanoWriMo. It is an personal achievement of significant proportions. Putting that many words one after another is no joke.
That first Nano 2013 was a hell month. It would take me hours to grind out the 1667 words after work. Sometimes it would take ALL evening.
One of the things that I really struggled with that year was my attention span. I would write 300 words and find my brain rebelling. I would need a short break doing anything other than thinking about getting words on to a page.
I had already started to meditate at that point in my life. But I was still early doors. My inability to focus on the writing alarmed me. Then I noticed it at work too. A short sprint on the task at hand, followed by the loop cycle. Checking outlook, the internal notice board, messenger, and then back to the spreadsheet or the SQL query. Another short sprint of focus then back on the loop once again.
In the intervening 7 years between that first NanoWriMo I’ve done a lot more meditation, and a lot more writing.
The dyslexic in me no longer rebels at the idea of having to express myself in writing. I’ve come to realise that things don’t need to be perfect the first time one’s ideas hit the page.
But to be able to do anything with them, they do actually need to be there.
I discovered the hemingway app last year. I immediately bought it use it multiple times a week. I’ve found it very useful. Working with it as an algorithmic, or AI editor has made my writing bolder. Learning to shorten and split sentences into has been a revelation.
Another part of me has become a ruthless editor. But that only came after getting words on to the page was easier. I’m now at ease with changing things. The initial grafter in me has got far less precious about the words that make it on to the page. As the effort to get them there has gone down. Working with fantastic editors has also helped me too.
I’ve learnt to appreciate the effort involved in putting one word after another. I’ve built up the ability to actually be able to focus on any task at hand longer than 300 word chunks of time. Dare I say, I even enjoy it?
NanoWriMo 2013 didn’t break a dam and flood my life with writing, but it did make me more aware of its existence. Its shape and the sorts of blocks and resistance that I had put up inside me.
I am grateful for NanoWriMo as a web institution. It helped me come to terms with my dyslexia. The simple act of writing every day for a month for myself with a little gamification. if you’re writing this year. Add me as a buddy on the nano website. My handle is of course: @thejaymo
The above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.