novels

You Should Write That Novel – NaNoWriMo

Who's with me?

Who’s with me?

I don’t quite remember how I first stumbled upon the magic of National Novel Writing Month. I was in high school, so I am apt to assume it was my wonderful cousin, Jodie, who let me in on the secret. Whoever opened the door, they welcomed me into a world of excitement and achievement.

For those of you won’t don’t know, NaNoWriMo (pronounced nah-no-rye-mo) is a novel writing competition that takes place during the month of November. You compete with yourself, the terrible parts of yourself that scream “this is utter crap” and “you’re not really a writer,” for one month, 30 days, to win the ultimate prize—a finished 50,000 word manuscript of your novel. It is for those of us who daydream about having written that one book we’ve thought we should always write, if only we had the time. It is the memoir you haven’t started, the Harry Potter fanfiction you dream about, the dystopian young adult novel to compete with The Hunger Games. You know your book. You just haven’t written it yet.

Well I’m here to tell you, it’s time to stop procrastinating it. That book isn’t going to write itself.

It is time to start plot mapping, character developing. Buy yourself a legal pad, a binder, a moleskine, a stack of printer paper. It’s time to start fleshing out backstories, building your world. Go out for a walk, notepad tucked under your arm and pen in your pocket, and just let your imagination run wild. Build people you hate and love, people you see every day, people you’d make out with if only they were real. This is your novel, this is your proof that you are a novelist. This isn’t for the world yet, this is for you. This is a giant “HELL YES” to the question “am I, can I be a writer?”

It is a ridiculous month, filled with days of clarity, and days of utter disappointment. You start off running, 1667 words every day. The plot pours from you, the characters are fresh and snappy and witty. Within three days you’ve got three chapters. Three more chapters than you’ve ever had. You’ve got stumbling plots, action and adventure. You’ve got people you love to come back to. It’s wonderful and brilliant and the road stretches out smooth and welcoming.

It will likely feel like a disaster somewhere in the middle. You’ll spend a week or two of November holed up, staring at a document you couldn’t imagine to be worse. You’ll have ice cream at 2AM, scraping sentences together to get to that 1667-word-a-day goal. You will feel like a failure.

If this worries you, I have some words of encouragement. Here’s the secret to being a writer. We all feel this. In every book, no matter how many we’ve published, there is always a moment of crippling self-doubt. Of wanting to move the entire document into the trash. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from a Neil Gaiman NaNoWriMo pep talk:

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

You can do this. This is your year. This is the year that you write that stupid novel, that brilliant beast that keeps you up at night. If you were looking for a sign, consider this it. You should write your book. I promise, it will be messy and ridiculous and awful at times. But within that madness will be sentences that you can’t believe you wrote, characters that feel so real they haunt you. There is something amazing about looking at your draft, of seeing the words you wrote, finally real. When you cross that finish line, few things feel sweeter. You wrote a novel—a NOVEL.

So go create an account. Find your friends (I’ll be your first!), explore the forums and find your genres. Go buy yourself all of your favorite snacks, and copious amounts of coffee and tea. Start putting together your noveling playlist. Maybe even invest in a mug to show your commitment. We’ve got just over four weeks, 25 more days to prepare. Don’t procrastinate this. You’ve got this. We’ll all be rooting for you. It’s time to write that book.

Need a noveling buddy? Connect with me in the comments, and we’ll cheer each other on!

I’ll see you at the start line.

The Worst of Me

For the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to write a novel. If you’ve met me, you know I’m pretty much always trying to write a novel, but I’ve recently buckled down on a series I’ve been working on since the 10th grade. When you quit your job you tend to find lots of things to fill your time (WHEN will Chandler and Monica FINALLY get together??), and plowing through this book is one of the ways I’ve decided to fill the dead air.

I found myself a group of Alpha readers, people I trust to not only motivate me, but to treat me like a princess along the way. I haven’t met a writer without an ego, and while mine is occasionally highly inflated it’s easily punctured. If you’ve found a sentence that could be better, don’t worry, I have too, and I’ve berated myself over it again and again and again. If you think a post could be a little stronger, I’ve considered scraping the entire blog, wiping my hard drive, selling my laptop, and accepting my fate in data entry for the rest of my life.

This part of me, the highly volatile part that begs me to eat cookies at midnight and screams that “AT LEAST STEPHANIE MEYER IS PUBLISHED,” is one of the hardest things to combat every time I sit down to write. She’s the reason that instead of opening the document, I open a new tab and look up Creative Writing MFA programs, because just a little more training and we’ll be ready. She reads the first few lines and groans at the lack of imagery, the weak characters, the tropes, the half-finished thoughts. Last night, after seeing far too many stupid, stupid parts, she managed to convince me that the entire project was a bust–that as a white, 25-year-old from the ‘burbs I couldn’t write for anything, couldn’t dream of successfully pulling off a mixed-race main character, would be laughed out of any agents office. She scoffed as I pushed through a sentence, finding every characterization a mistake, worse a stereotype. Not only was I terrible writer, but apparently I was racist too.

It’s hard not to listen to her. She’d pretty damn loud some days, and other days she really does have a point. She will always have something to say, and sometimes she really will be right to say them. But listening to her, letting her win, is the easy way out.

She is the lazy, worst parts of me. In her ideal world I’d write half of an entirely white-cast Harry Potter fanfiction and then go out for ice cream. She likes writing, sure, but she wants it to be easy. She looks at the mountain and wonders where the road around it is.

This entire endeavor is terrifying. I am confident I will make mistakes, and somedays, with that knowledge bumping around in my head, every sentence is difficult. You will fail, better quit now.

Ignore her. Stand up from your desk and stomp on her.

And when your roommate knocks to ask if everything is ok, sit back down and power through. Don’t let the worst of you win. She’s an old hag who’s never published anything anyway.