In 1993, when I was working on One Giant Leap for Mankind, the silver anniversary commemoration publication to the Apollo 11 lunar landing that I developed and edited, Apollo 10 astronaut Thomas Stafford used a term I’d never heard before: “The forcing function.” In Stafford’s view, if you want to create something truly innovative or creative, you need a forcing function — an outside force that propels you past your own preconceived notions or limitations and into higher performance and excellence. In the case of Stafford and his fellow Apollo astronauts, the forcing function was laid down in 1961, when President Kennedy proclaimed the mission of landing on the moon before the decade was out.
I think of the forcing function often, especially during some of the innovative, deadline-based projects on which I have worked. It is true that when our backs are to the wall, many creative types put together their very best work. We suspend our doubts, distractions and tangents, focus deeply on the matter at hand, and put together books, pieces of music, paintings, sculptures, dance performances and illustrations that reflect our higher potential. Since I grew into adulthood while on a daily newspaper staff, I know all about forcing functions: we faced them every day, required to produce pages and stories between 6 and 9 a.m., when the newspaper was typeset and plated for the presses.
Some things never change.
That’s why I love NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. What became an honorary month for novelists has grown into a program that celebrates the novel-writing process and encourages writers of all ages and persuasions to sit down and create a work of fiction — by using the forcing function as an impetus. By signing up on the official website, you become part of a supportive world of other writers in your region that are trying to do the same thing — write a novel in a month (or at least much of a novel). It has been deeply inspiring to read emails and Facebook posts from writing friends who have cranked out 10,000 to 30,000 words this month in their efforts to complete their work of fiction.
As of today, more than 1.75 billion words have been composed by authors nationwide as part of the NaNoWriMo program. Jump in and add to it!
As for me? Crazy writing, client and teaching schedule and all, I’ve taken the plunge. I finally signed up yesterday and am 3,000 words into my next novel, “Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s,” which I have wanted to write for a couple of years. Will share excerpts on here in future blogs, but suffice to say, the forcing function kicked in and I’ve got 12 days to shape this idea into the makings of a novel.
Which reminds me: time to sign on to the NaNoWriMo website, log my word count to date, and write some more.