Across the world during the month of November, tens of thousands of amateur writers take up the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Many won’t finish, many will finish and never look at it again, or scrap it, or edit the life out of it. Some will write something decent; some will end up on blogs, or self-published; maybe some will even kickstart a career out of it. But whatever the outcome, for a lot of people the reason they do it isn’t tied up in potential outcomes, it’s just to do it. To sit down at their laptop, or typewriter, or notebook and create something for themselves.
Likewise, November is also the time that the judges of Radio 3’s Carol Competition start wading through their thousands of entries, ready to present a shortlist to be voted on in December. The prize? The winner gets to hear their carol played on Radio 3 through the festive period. It’s not about fame or prize money, it’s about the incentive to sit down and create.
The opportunity to sit down and create is one that a lot of us have had more of in 2020. Between two lockdowns, furlough and a general desire, perhaps, not to take risks, many of us will have spent a lot more time at home this year than previously. It’s not been easy for all of us, of course, but many of us have embraced the opportunity to be creative at home as one way of mitigating the sadness of what this year has meant.
I’m currently 40,000 words into my own NaNoWriMo challenge, and with a week to go, I’m in sight of actually making the finish line for the first time, after a few, abortive attempts in other, busier years. This year, for me, has been an opportunity to kickstart the writing career I’ve always wanted - I’ve self-published my first book, and have another coming out from a traditional publisher next year.
When it comes to my NaNoWriMo challenge, whether I make it by the 30th or not isn’t the issue. What matters is that I’ve created something that, honestly, I’m quite proud of. It’s a positive I’ve been able to find out of the difficulties of a year in which I had to stay home for six months, before then losing my job in the summer.
That’s not to say this novel is any good, but that’s also not the point. Creativity has to be undertaken with the knowledge that what we end up with might not be very good, because very few of us achieve quality first time out. It’s when we stop worrying about whether or not what we’ve made is any good that we can really start to learn. Whether we’re writing a novel where the plot doesn’t quite add up or recording a piece of music where we just can’t keep time, we go through that process in order that next time around, we’ll do it a bit better.
The satisfaction that comes from creating should be its own reward, it’s the process, not the outcome that matters. The outcome will take care of itself, one way or another. If we enjoy doing it, it was worth doing. And whatever we create, it’s ours. We can look at the novel, or the carol, or the YouTube video, or the painting and say “That’s mine, I made that.” It’s a portion of our life that nobody else can take control of, something that’s completely ours.
Creativity is a wonderful thing, it’s a way of expressing ourselves, of getting those feelings we can’t perhaps articulate in everyday life and putting them out there, whether it’s for mass consumption or just for ourselves. It’s not what you do with it, or how good it is that matters, it’s that you did it. Finding room for that in your life, whether it’s a few minutes a day or a new passion that fills your spare time, is a matter of wellbeing, and a step towards achieving a more satisfying life.