For the second time (first was in 2004) I participated in National Novel Writing Month--or NaNoWriMo as those in the know refer to it. The goal is to write a novel in a month--50,000 words minimum. A lot of novices particpate in NaNoWriMo and many writers with higher literary aspirations look down their noses at NaNoWriMo, but just like anything, it is what you make of it.
I used it as a motivating tool and found it really helpful. I tend to write really slowly and sweat every word, and I recognize that it isn't always the best way to write. Certainly not the way to get to a deeper level in my writing. I'm not even sure why I write so slowly on a normal day. Fear? Perfectionist tendencies? Avoidance? All of the above?
For me, NaNoWriMo becomes like the exercises we did in art school to force us to loosen up: things like drawing from the shoulder and not the wrist, doing 30-second gesture drawings, and blind contour drawings (drawing without looking at the paper). Both of the last two exercises encourage really focusing on the object you want to portray, but not examining (or criticizing) your results until you are finished.
When I write FORWARD ONLY during NaNoWriMo--without looking back--it's like doing a blind contour drawing. I'll eventually take a look at it and go, "yikes!" but I will also recognize that I have learned something very valuable in the process--that "seeing" your subject is at least as important as portraying it--and I will find a surprising beauty in some aspects of what I have drawn.
So, 30 days and 50,000 words later, I have five new short stories (no, I didn't write a novel, but again, it's how you use NaNoWriMo that's most important--how you make it work for you) and a new recklessness to my writing that takes me to more surprising and exciting places. Yes, I have a lot to go back and edit and tinker with, but you can't make a finished sculpture without a whole mess of clay.