nanowrimo

NaNoWriMo Update: Everything Sucks

Novel-Cover

Well, it’s finally here. Yes, it’s everyone’s favorite season of NaNoWriMo: the week when you doubt everything and fantasize about quitting to go work on a tall ship. The week you realize that everything you’ve ever written is complete and utter trash. You begin to see yourself as the worst, angry internet critics would see you. Your plot is stale, your characters are unbelievable, your style is lacking, your entire story has been told forty times over. That’s right friends, we’re in the NaNo slump.

In years past the NaNo slump has been my great enemy. In fact, it has actually defeated me before (which always feel terrible, and leaves you with a novel you definitely don’t want to touch again). Yes, the NaNo slump has defeated even the most qualified writer (check out Neil Gaiman’s pep talk). It’s a beast, the thing you know is lurking in the wilds when you set out, but you pray you’ll never meet. It’s everything you hate about your book, your writing, your talents.

Take some comfort in knowing that we’re pretty much all feeling this. (Despite my shouting two weeks ago that I couldn’t fall into the slump because I’m writing a “romance” novel.) Most writers have this crisis around the 3/4 mark. You’ve written just enough to feel qualified, but you have enough left that you wonder if it’s even worth finishing. I’m here to tell you: finish it. The trouble with being a writer is that the book in your head and the book you write will never compare. The book in your head will always be exponentially better than the one you’re writing. In your head the book is perfectly possible, it’s just… wonderful. I’m sorry to tell you this, but the book in your head will never be real. The book in your head won’t magically appear on the paper if you start reading books on writing, improve your writing, start again, plan more, etc etc etc. There is always a reason to quit writing—to convince yourself that the next round will be better. Well guess what, friends? You’re already in this mess. You’ve already committed, you’ve got somewhere past 20,000 words to prove it. Do not let those words die–I promise they’re important. Maybe they don’t feel right, maybe they won’t make it to the final cut, but they are part of your story. They are helping you the take the book in your head to the page. Trust them, trust yourself. Your words are worthwhile. Hunt for the hidden gems in your work—the sentences that make you ask “wait, I wrote that?” Hold onto them. Reread them, remind yourself of them. You can do this. You can find the words, the story, the characters. You are a writer. No one can stop you. Critics are far away, made up ghosts. Right now, it is just you and your novel. No one else needs to know that you wrote the sentence “It’s like kissing a fantasy” (yes, that is an actual line from my piece of trash). Don’t get bogged down in the failure. You are doing something wonderful for yourself, for your goals, for the part of you that always nagged about being a writer. Being a writer means pushing through the terrible drivel. You are a writer.

Start acting like one.

Here’s an excerpt from the dark days of my NaNo novel:

“What do you read?” I ask, sitting down on the floor. I lean against the bookshelf, and pat the carpet next to me. Hamid sits.

“Promise not to laugh?”

“Hamid, you just caught me reading Sinners in the Bedroom: Preying Bodies. I think we’re well-past judgments.” I take the book down again. I’ll probably end up buying this, who am I kidding?

“I like to read… vampire novels.”

It takes too much effort to keep a straight face.

“Vampire novels?” I ask, my voice too high.

“See—I knew you would laugh,” Hamid elbows me. “It’s stupid, I know.”

“It’s not… stupid. It’s… different,” I offer. “Anyway, I’m sure they’re good.”

“No they’re not. They’re all pretty terrible. Most are just awful stories about girls falling in love with overly possessive guys. It’s hard to stomach.”

God, I’ve forgotten how much I love Hamid.

“For the most part I stick to this author, G. L. Breskin. She’s super into the scientific aspect of the disease, so she fleshes out the biology. She’s got a thirteen book series out right now, called Holding Back Sunrise…. wow, that sounds dumb when you say it out loud.”

I smile, and imagine Hamid reading his nerdy book in my living room. CRAP.

“It sounds pretty interesting, actually.”

“What about you? Do you read erotica?”

I laugh. “God, no. Not often, anyway. Just when I…” Wow, good corner you’ve painted yourself into, Cassandra. Just when I’m feeling particularly horny? “Just on occasion. I mostly read…” What the hell do I read? If I say I read classics I sound like a pretentious jerk. If I say I read young adult supernatural lit, I sound like an immature weirdo. “… contemporary novels.”

That’s a far cry from the truth. I’ve read one contemporary novel since graduating college. And I didn’t finish it.

“Oh really? I’ve always wanted to read good books. What was the last book you read?”

Witches Academy Book 14.

“Um, something by Ross G… Schroder.” Totally made up name. No way this can backfire. “He’s written several books that have won awards in the UK.”

I think I’m out of the woods, but Hamid pulls out his phone.

“Nice. Do you have any recommendations?”

Come on, stop being so likeable. I’m lying, you idiot.

I look around the bookstore.

“Uh yeah, you should read… The Blue Chair… at Midnight.” Don’t turn around Hamid, please don’t turn around and witness the blue chair right behind you.

Hamid frowns.

“Huh, I can’t seem to find it anywhere online.”

“Strange. Well, he’s really unknown at this point, I think he self-published most of his works. Most companies don’t sell his stuff.”

“Didn’t you say he won an award?”

“Did I?” Ugh. “Well, not everyone is as well-educated as the British. Anyway, were you doing anything the rest of the day?”

Was that worse? It sounds like I’m trying to ask him out. Am I asking him out? Damn you, subconscious.

Have anything you’re particularly proud of? Share your gems in the comments! We’re not past bragging here. Talk yourself up!

NaNoWriMo Recap – Three Days 9,000 Word?

Novel-Cover

It’s that lovely season—the terribly ridiculous time of the year when most of your writer friends buckle down, ignore your texts, and begin writing novels in rapid succession. It’s NaNoWriMo, the only time of year where you’ll find other people up at 4AM, chowing on Nilla Wafers, screaming about word count. This year has already consisted of dozens of sprints (I don’t think I’ve written more than 100 words that wasn’t built in a sprint—10-15 minute sessions of straight writing), lots of junk food, and many late nights. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for eight years now, winning just three of them. And every year it is a different beast. My first few years were disasters—never even making the first day’s word count. By the time I got to college, I used my fanfiction skills (yes, I do put that on my resume, thanks for asking) to create a totally indulgent fantasy novel. I made everyone “stare daggers,” and used far too many adverbs. Sure, I’ll never touch that piece of ridiculousness again, but it taught me a valuable lesson—I can write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Over the past eight years, I’ve attempted lots of novels I never expected. I wrote about a serial killer’s mother (that was a rough month), the exploits of a group of teenagers without chaperones in Alaska (that was a weird month), and the downfall of television, the rise of the internet, and the postmodern drivel that resembled what I believed to be the Next Great American Novel (that was a fun month). NaNoWriMo is always a different beast, and I’ve definitely struggled with each piece in new ways.

This year, I’ve decided to no longer care. I’ve never been able to take my NaNo novel to workshop—it just feels like a mountain of trash by the end of the month, and while I enjoy the craziness of the journey, I’ve never felt particularly rewarded by it. I’m eternally grateful for the feeling of achievement—of being able to say “hey, I can actually write a novel.” As a serial novel starter (I’ve got dozens of manuscripts no longer than ten pages), NaNo taught me a lot about just how much I can accomplish. But I still haven’t learned as much as I’d like.

So this year, I’ve decided to write a romance novel. And as it forms, I’m realizing more and more that it is a reactionary feminist romance novel, which I’m really enjoying. I’m not caring about style, poetry, or plot. I honestly am just talking, letting the characters do whatever they’d like, and it is wonderful. 9,000 words in the first three days wonderful.

Enough talking about the work. Here’s some of the ridiculousness:

I’m beginning to regret turning on the 80s Pandora station, but the wine is telling me that something like destiny is forcing this moment.

I open a new tab, and hit “COMPOSE” to create a new email. I stare at the cursor for a good two minutes, before I return to his Instagram feed.

I’m hyper aware of my fingers, sliding through the edited photos, careful to keep the tiny devil arrow off anything that would prove that I’ve been here. Oh, don’t let me hit the like button. For goodness sake, don’t let me hit the like button.

He has a dog—a hideous Chihuahua with almost no fur, cross-eyed, tongue unable to stay in its mouth. Is he a saint, or a weirdo?

“Delilah is a rescue dog,” he told me once as we chatted during his break. He showed me a picture, and it took more composure than I’m willing to admit to continue smiling. “Isn’t she so adorable?”

I mean, could I date a man with a Chihuahua? Delilah looks back at me, her stupid pink tongue a conceited, victory mock. I’m a tiny dog who poops in a diaper, but somehow I am a better person than you.

Yep. This is already a disaster.

How’s your novel going? I’m sure it’s better than you think it is. Let’s talk about! Show off your favorite lines!

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.