That Awkward Moment When I Met NaNoWriMo Founder Chris Baty

No Plot No Problem by Chris Baty, cover image

Or: Confronting Your Fears Can Be Fun!

OK, you’re thinking of embarking on a big creative challenge.

How’s that making you feel? Feeling some resistance? That’s normal. Feeling a cold rush of terror? Not unusual. But I’ll bet you’re feeling something else too: a little thrill at the idea. (C’mon, you’re a writer. Of course you’re tempted.)

Sharing your creative efforts is a risk and taking a risk requires bravery.

And sometimes, taking that risk leads to something completely unexpected.

Let me tell you a story about what happened when I met Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writer’s Month, an insane creativity challenge I in-no-way-ripped-off when I started StoryADay.

How I Absolutely Did Not Rip Off NaNoWriMo

In the late 1990s, when the Web was young, I had a writer friend who was a real sucker for collaborative creative challenges: Illustration Friday, Livejournal memes and, eventually, this crazy new thing called National Novel Writer’s Month.

It was the first time I had entertained the idea that writing might be anything but a solitary endeavour.

Over the years, I tried a few of these challenges (100Words.net, NaBloPoMo) and even came close to signing up for NaNoWriMo in 2009. I had read NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty’s book “No Plot, No Problem” and loved his ‘creativity for all’ outlook — but by this time I had I had two small kids and my creative life had contracted to the point where I was reduced to drafting critical analyses on Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends (I have a whole thesis on Gordon’s daddy issues, and Percy? Classic victim mentality.)

So I chickened out. Again.

What Do You Do When You Hit Rock Bottom?

The winter dragged on and I sank into a deep slump.

I was grumpy with everyone all the time. I needed a creative outlet but every time I started anything, even my beloved short stories, I failed to finish.

You know that feeling when you’re scared to start because you might let yourself down again?

One memorable day in March 2010 I hit bottom. Driving along a bleak country road in Pennsylvania – the bare tree-limbs reaching out to claw out the last shreds of my creative soul as we sang along to “Cranky, He’s The Dockyard Crane” – I snapped. That’s it, I thought. I have to do something really scary to jolt myself out of this. I’m going to write a story a day for a month. I can do a story a day, right? I’m going to finish each one, and I’m going to tell everyone about it, so they can shame me if I stop writing.

It was terrifying.

So I did it.

See? “Inspired by” NaNoWriMo. Not “Ripped Off From”.

Fast forward to this January.

With two years of StADa under my belt I was ready to stretch my wings. My wonderful husband practically pushed me out the door to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC (If you haven’t been to a conference, I can recommend it: being surrounded by professionals and passionate would-be-professionals has a powerful effect on your motivation and self-respect, never mind what the workshops do for your skills).

The keynote speaker was to be NaNoWriMo’s own Chris Baty, which was a bit thrilling, but I wasn’t actually going to, you know, meet him or anything. (Not if I could help it, anyway.)

The first evening was a whirl: so many ideas, so much inspiration, so many notes to take, so much preparation to do for the Agent Pitch Slam (like speed dating, with literary agents). I was up so late preparing my pitch than I hardly slept.

I Blame Sleep Deprivation For What Happened Next.

I stumbled into the wrong session. After ten minutes, I ducked out early to look for the right session. As I wandered past the author area, my heart gave a little lurch. There was a tall, bald man sitting behind a stack of Chris Baty’s books. And I’d just made eye contact with him. It couldn’t be, could it?

The long moment stretched. My internal thermostat went crazy. I think I did that darty-eyed thing small animals do when cornered.

What would I say? Would he be mad at me? And would he even understand me, now that my tongue had swollen up to three times its normal size and my mouth had turned to sandpaper?

The next thing I remember, I was standing in front of the great man (really. He’s very tall) handing him a card and confessing my sins.

He looked at the card.

He looked at me.

“Is it free?” He asked, somewhat unexpectedly.

“Um yes, yes!” I said. “I mean I have some courses and ebooks people can buy if they want, but the challenge? Oh yes, totally free. They don’t even have to sign up at the site. I just think its so important to encourage people to be creative and…”

I was babbling and breathless.

“Huh,” he said, looking up at me (he was sitting down). “This is so GREAT!”

He beamed.

I beamed.

We started ranting about creativity and the importance of people giving themselves the permission to write. We raved about community and the other creative challenges on the web (he gave me generous, concerned advice about running a challenge), and we shared typical-writer-insecurities. We talked about the thrill of writing and the joy of having a hand in other people’s growth as writers. We promised to stay in touch. I may have started to refer to him as “m’new-boyfriend-Chris-Baty” (it’s OK, the wonderful husband understands). I walked around on a cloud for the rest of the weekend.

The last person I saw, as I wheeled my suitcase out into the New York streets, was m’new-boyfriend-Chris-Baty, sitting in the lobby, tapping away on his laptop. He looked up and waved. I had a new ally and it felt wonderful.

Confront Your Fears And Wonderful Things Can Happen

Starting StoryADay was scary.

Walking up to Chris Baty was scary.

Sitting down to write every day is scary.

But pushing yourself to do the scary thing is almost never a bad idea. (Unless that scary thing involves heights. Or venemous snakes. Don’t do them.)

You Can Do This – Today

I cannot stress strongly enough the value of:

  • Making a commitment to your writing,
  • Taking a chance on yourself,
  • Reaching out to a wider community of writers,
  • Being open to support and encouragement from unexpected sources.

StoryADay May is one way you can do all those things. Sure, the aim is to write a story a day, but I’ve always maintained that you should set your own rules. Some people aimed for 3 stories a week and hit that challenge. Some people aimed for 31 but their lives got complicated and they came out of the month with ‘only’ 12 stories … and were still thrilled.

But you don’t have to wait for May and you don’t have to travel to New York to confront your fears.

Write a story today. Post it online, if you dare.

[UPDATED] See? I didn’t make this up!

2 thoughts on “That Awkward Moment When I Met NaNoWriMo Founder Chris Baty”

  1. Hilarious! This totally gave me some needed “umph”. I was nearing that “rock bottom” point you spoke of, and desparately searching for the tiny branch on the edge of the cliff. Thank you for making me laugh (out loud at my desk at work. Now they KNOW I’m surfing!), and for giving me a challenge, just in time.

    1. Thanks for responding. You can totally do this. Keep the faith!

      And if I can ever humiliate myself in public for the greater good again, you can be sure I will. 😉

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