Jack of Many Trades

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me About Ritual

Originally posted: 2012-11-28

So I validated on the NaNoWriMo website. I have officially won. I have to admit there was no joy in it this year, though, and that's something I'm going to have to think really hard about before next year.

The key to Nano is that, to be a writer, you have to actually write. If you have trouble writing, it can be a motivation to actually sit down and write your story. This year, I find myself thinking about lessons anyone can take away from NaNoWriMo, and I think the most important one is something that applies to pretty much anything in life: its better to do pretty much any activity, and do it imperfectly, and learn from that imperfection, than not to do it at all. (Okay, sure, there are some things this doesn't apply to, like autoasphyxiation. But most things.)

I regularly see a post on the ADF-dedicants list (that's the mailing list for n00bs like me) that follows a simple formula: "I'm trying to do X requirement, and I've seen people talk about doing it in a very complicated or precise way and now I'm convinced I can't do it." Eventually it will probably degenerate into a debate about the antimicrobial properties of silver, but in the meantime there's a lot of discussion about what the actual requirements are and exactly how to fulfill them.

And you know what? The actual requirements are usually pretty simple. Instead of worrying about the finer details of ancient rituals, just do it. Instead of worrying that there's one guy on the list who thinks you're wrong, just do it. I don't mean to sound like a Nike ad, but come on. Scholars disagree on this stuff. Actual ancient pagans disagreed on this stuff.

Actually doing it is more important than waiting for perfection. At the end of a ritual, you have an experience. You have ideas for what worked and what didn't, and you can make changes next time. At the end of NaNoWriMo you have... Well, maybe not a novel yet, but a manuscript. And an experience.

If you're following an experiential religion, you can't be afraid of experience. Everybody who's been doing magic more than a few months has stories about epic mistakes and very bad ideas. It's how you end up with good stories.

That, and actually writing them down.