I Got Religion During #NaNoWriMo

For thirty days in a row I shall wake up every morning, brew a batch of French press coffee, sit down at my solid, cluttered desk (or a reasonable substitute) and write at least one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven words until, on November 30th, I reach the final 50,000 word mark.

You see, I, along with thousands of other professional and amateur writers, am participating in the 2011 NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge. If you have any chutzpah at all you’ll join me. As of the publication of this post you’re only 1 day behind. You could totally catch up.

Is it lunacy? Yes. Undoubtably. But is it pointless? Absolutely not.

Yesterday evening, in response to my first online proclamation of my writing progress (a proud 1712 words), a friend of mine responded by saying,

It’s a trivial matter to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The challenge is to make them worth reading.

This statement is only partly true, and I told him as much. It is a challenge to write words that are worth reading, no matter how many you’re putting down on the page. I won’t deny that. Blogging at Patheos for the past few months has given me a great many opportunity to reflect on the economy and efficacy of my writing, and to seek to do good work in every post. These posts average between 800 and 1000 words, a manageable amount for both writer and reader, but not so many that I lose sight of myself.

But, in longer form work — say, in the writing of a book — the Inner Editor has many more opportunities to barge in and halt the process. The Inner Editor becomes the Inner Critic, picking apart the lines, finding reasons why none of it makes sense. The Inner Critic, left unchecked, can easily become the Inner Hater. Once that happens, you might as well close your laptop and go do the dishes.

There is nothing trivial about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. In thirty days there are dozens upon dozens of moments where one must resist the inclination to doubt one’s self, where one must move forward in spite of her uncertainty, and trust that there will be a time and place to make sense of all the details, and that that time isn’t in between every single line.

I’d liked to suggest that NaNoWriMo is more than just a writing exercise. As a Druid, I will be bold and say that writing 50,000 words in 30 days can and should be understood as a sacred, spiritual rite; a holy ritual deserving much respect and great honor.

(And I ain’t just saying that to get the kudos.)

Respect the Awen. Tame the Hater.

Modern Druids, particularly those of us who trace some part of our spiritual lineage back to the Revivalist moment of the 17th and 18th centuries, place a great value on creativity and the inner creative spirit. We have a word for it, in fact: Awen.

The Awen, which can be translated from Welsh to mean, “inspiration,” is a mysterious force. Any creative person — a writer, a musician, a poet — understands that the true nature of their own creativity is always somewhat illusive to them. One is never solely responsible for their own creations, and we are all subject to “getting in the way of the flow,” if you will.

Awen is the flow. Awen is also the source of the flow. Awen is the experience of being in perfect harmony with your own creative voice. And, Awen is located in between the words and breaths of that creative voice.

Awen is not the correct usage of words. Awen is the expressive, creative, perhaps even chaotic use of words. Change out “words” for “sounds,” “images,” “movements” — it all fits. It all makes sense. Any of those statements will ring true.

Freestyle rappers connect to the Awen. Beat poets, and improvisational comedians connect to the Awen. Every time you’ve ever been caught up in a melody, and it took you to a place that you hadn’t expected, and you find yourself singing a song that no one has ever sung before — that’s you being embraced, enriched, enlivened by the Awen.

Every one of us is given a voice at birth, and every one of us – at some point – forgets how to use it. We are all given messages that we are not worthy to share our opinion, our perspective, our view on the world. We are told that we are stupid, or that we aren’t as good as our siblings, our parents, the celebrities on the television. There are entire factions of culture which exist for the sole purpose of subjugating your voice in order to replace it with the voice of someone else. There is always a wall being built somewhere to damn up the Awen, to block the creative flow from our heart to our head to our mouth to the world.

But for the next 29 days I’ll be breaking down that wall. There will be no room in my body for it. There will be no room on my desk, or on my computer screen, or even in the column of this blog.

No Walls in November.

This month, while I open myself to the creative flow of the Awen, writing will become, for me, a religious act. I will seek the source of my creativity, and through opening myself to it I will redefine worship to mean writing without ceasing. Writing without ceasing, in some ways, is not unlike praying without ceasing. It’s accessible to anyone with the time, commitment and patience, and the rewards are many.

So, join me if you will. Write without ceasing. Connect to the source of your own creativity and challenge yourself in new and unexpected ways. Let the connecting to your own creativity become an extension of your spiritual practice.

Write reverently. Write irreverently.


[And, if you want to spread the word about NaNoWriMo, my writing challenge, or this exploration of how creativity is a sacred aspect of any spiritual tradition, please share this post with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or your social network of choice!]






14 responses to “I Got Religion During #NaNoWriMo”

  1. Nicole Youngman Avatar
    Nicole Youngman

    Whoa. Help me out here: how many pages does that translate into? I wonder if doing this for fiction is harder or easier than non-fiction (which is what I write, sporadically). I’m always amazed at people who can write fiction–I mean, you have to MAKE IT ALL UP!!–and I’ve had fiction writers tell me they’re amazed at people who write non-fiction.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      It ends up being about 175 pages, give or take. I’m opting for nonfiction this month. It’s similar to the voice of my blog, but longer form and with a specific focus.

      I get what you mean – fiction writers do something different when they engage with their imagination. It’s amazing.

      1. Nicole Youngman Avatar
        Nicole Youngman

        I was thinking more how many per day–6 or so? That sounds pretty doable. Writing IS a habit–it gets easier the more you do it–and it’s one I haven’t cultivated nearly as much as I should have by now! It’s always easier to grade papers and go do the laundry. 😉

  2.  Avatar

    Doing NaNo as well (my first time!) and a murder mystery to boot.   Should be fun (1.8k so far, ack!)

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar


      Just keep going, Eran. That’s the best way to make your mark. Don’t get hung up on the numbers — just keep plowing through. Turn that Inner Editor off and keep writing!

      And, find me on the NaNoWriMo website — my user is “teobishop”.

      1.  Avatar

        mine is “cortex ghost”!

  3. Shen Hart Avatar
    Shen Hart

    I think a lot of people forget or ignore the spiritual side of writing and creativity. As a Chaote it’s something which is in my mind and I try to work with, keeping everything in tune to allow everything to work as it needs to. 

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, Shen. In your tradition, are writing and creativity help up as sacred? How do you express that in your community?

  4. Ursa Hawthorne Avatar
    Ursa Hawthorne

    Go Teo!  I’ll be cheering you on as I work on my screenplay 🙂


    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks, Ursa! I’ll be cheering you on as well!

  5. Rose Avatar

    As a fellow Druid (Bard) doing NaNoWriMo I definitely recommend it! Wishing you luck in your own 🙂

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Glad to hear it, Rose. Much luck to you as well! 

      Find me on NaNo’s website (user: teobishop). It’d be great to have another writing buddy.

  6. Wendy Callahan Avatar

    So true!  There is nothing trivial about making such a commitment.  Sure, most (if not all) NaNo novels shouldn’t be queried out to publishers immediately after their completion, but the fact that a person would commit themselves to 30 days of writing says something positive about wanting to hone their craft, get in touch with their creative side, and any number of other wonderful possibilities.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      You’re spot on, Wendy, and I think my friend understands that. We had a little back and forth online, and the point he was making is that, in the end, what you write should mean something. But, he also understands that there is value in the act of writing for the sake of writing.

      At the very least, his comment inspired this post! So, it all came out in the wash.

      Thanks for your comment. Glad to see you here.