Tyler Knott Gregson knows a thing or two about writing challenges. Seven years ago he challenged himself to write a haiku a day, and he’s never looked back. That isn’t to say that each day he writes effortlessly and that the words flow out in just the way he wants them to; if anything, he says the bad days stick out more than the good ones. But he has persevered, and his second poetry book, All the Words Are Yours, is on shelves and serves as proof that he’s succeeding at his challenge. Here, he offers advice to those writers who have dedicated November to writing a book by participating in National Novel Writing Month.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is, when separated out to its parts, reduced from the amazing worldwide phenomenon, a challenge. It is a challenge participants take on, for no other reason than to do what they thought to be previously impossible. It’s a challenge to write, every single day, come hell or high water, for an entire month. High waters have a way of coming, hell arrives more often than we’re ever prepared for, and everyone who participates learns that sticking to the challenge through those two realities is the biggest challenge of all.
Personally, I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo, and the reason for this is simple: By the time I learned about its existence, I was already neck-deep in the high waters of my own personal challenge, one I set years before and was constantly wading through. Over 6 years ago, I challenged myself to write a haiku every single day, without fail or excuse, for as long as I possibly could. If I am honest, when I began that strange journey, I thought a month would be a wonderful result. In my wildest (and it is so much more wild than I’d like to admit out loud) imagination, I never thought I could make it a half a year, a year, or even beyond. Sitting here now, a few months shy of seven straight years uninterrupted, I look at challenges in an entirely new light, and understand the plight of the NaNoWriMo contestants all the more.
As I mentioned, the simple fact remains that hell and high waters have a way of turning up, time and again, with no warning. To successfully navigate a challenge, the number one trait that will pull us through is simple: Adaptability. With these crazy challenges we set for ourselves, especially writing, when words can be so elusive, we absolutely must find ways to adapt to the situations our lives present us with, or else failure is not only an option: It’s an inevitability. Looking back on the six and a half years I have spent writing a haiku every day, I don’t think of the easy days, I don’t remember the moments when words came swift and effortless and I had plenty of time to meet my daily goal. I think only, absolutely and completely only, of the days I struggled. I think of the days I wrote haiku on the backs of boarding passes, moments after flight attendants yelled at me to turn off the phone, and put my tray table in its upright and locked position. I think of the days I was sick and exhausted, dizzy with nausea and dehydrated; I think of the days I was traveling and far from home, the days I was overwhelmed, heartbroken, depressed, or disillusioned. I think of the struggles because it’s the way we adapt to them that defines our discipline, that draws the lines in the sand—the borders and boundaries we refuse to cross, if only for ourselves.
I am almost seven years into a personal challenge, watching so many thousands of people all over the globe begin their own. Through it all, I have come to realize one thing: All we owe the world we waltz through is the promise that we will do our best to be our best. That we will set challenges for ourselves that come with no other repercussions for failure other than letting ourselves down. Doing that is unacceptable; it is the uncrossable line in the sand we drew ourselves.