I’m going to reveal a big secret here today — with my tummy doing summersaults and my hands sweating. Here we go: I’m participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. There I said it. And god help me, I hope I didn’t jinx myself.

What is this and why is it so scary? Basically, I’ve challenged myself to write 50,000 words of a book by November 30. Most folks write novels — hence the name — but I’m writing non-fiction, which makes me a rebel. We’re a fully accepted part of NaNoWriMo, and I like that.

There’s plenty of math in NaNoWriMo, not the least of which is the word count. Each day, I write approximately 1,667 words or 50,000 words divided by 30 days. Because I’m writing in Scrivner (a great word-processing program for writers), I need to calculate my total word count per day. That means subtracting what I’d written previously from what I wrote today. And because in Scrivner, I can create chapters that are separate documents, if I pick up in the middle of a chapter and then start a new one during one writing session, I’ve got some more calculations to do.

Honestly, that little bit of number crunching isn’t all that interesting to me. It’s the dreaded inner critic who has caught my attention.

Near as I can tell, NaNoWriMo is not about producing the perfect book. It’s about getting out a first draft. Most of us fans of Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird use a more colorful phrase: Shitty First Draft or SFD. I hate these. With a passion. And so for years, I’ve completely avoided them.

Sure my first drafts aren’t great, but I usually weave a great deal of editing into the initial writing process. I do this because my inner critic freaks me out. And so the writing process for me is generally stop-and-go. Hell, I can’t even go until I have a good paragraph or two formed in my head.

This is not necessarily a bad way to write. But I’ve never liked the fact that I’m letting some bitch of an inner voice tell me what I can and cannot write at any given time. This is why NaNoWriMo has been a freeing experience so far. I don’t have time to ponder each and every word choice or search for the perfect metaphor or google to find when, exactly, Star Wars hit the big screen. The sheer speed of this process means I can’t give my inner critic any attention at all. I’m focused on getting out an SFD (or as I learned to call it, a “discovery draft”).

Many of us have inner math critics, too.

If you don’t feel like you can manage finding percentages, you might freeze up when the restaurant check comes and you need to find the tip. If you’re worried about what cubic measurements actually mean, you might buy way too much mulch.

In other words, our inner critics might be saying, “You suck at math!”

There are entire books written for writers with advice on how to ignore, kill or somehow disable the inner critic. This voice is sometimes considered a part of every writer’s process. We don’t think we’re stupid or crazy or inept because we have one. We learn to work with that critic or make her take a break in the corner.

And that’s what we need to do with our math critics. Because just like with writing, these bossy voices prevent us from taking risks with math. They reinforce the feeling that we’re hopeless idiots, when in fact we all possess the math gene.

So if you’re a writer who is actively avoiding statistics or reviewing studies or even accurately tabulating your NaNoWriMo daily word count, turn some of those terrific tactics for squelching your inner writing critic on that voice telling you that you cannot manage everyday math. 

Meantime, I’ll keep on writing like a fiend, knowing that there’s plenty of time in the months to come to polish, rewrite, and kill my darlings.

Are you a NaNoWriMo writer this year? I would love to hear about your book or project. And if you’ve got great ideas for telling any inner critic to take a hike, please share them in the comments section!

This is also a great place to plug my book, Math for Writers. If you’re a writer who feels a little (or a lot) nervous about math this is your ticket to ease and confidence.

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