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?”
“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.