November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), thirty days during which countless hopefuls attempt to write a novel. In 2013 I tried and failed; this year, I succeeded. Collected here are a few reflections in the form of a pep talk. May it be of service to some future NaNoWriMoer.
Writing a novel in a month is demanding, but rewarding in equal measure. It’ll teach you about the craft, your process, your motivations—and might even change the trajectory of your writing forever.
But it can also be just another notch on the board of failure (you keep one of those, too, right?) if you succumb to the pressures to quit, and there will be ample pressures to quit.
How will you succeed? If you’re anything like me, it might start with acknowledging that fifty thousand words aren’t what stand in your way. The writing is easy. Just put down words. They don’t have to be great words, or good words—just words. Put down 1,667 words each day and you can’t fail. Make the time and do it.
But there will be many reasons not to: reasons you can’t possibly fit the writing in today, reasons you’ll never succeed, reasons to give up the dream entirely. Remember that your novel won’t tempt you with a Netflix binge and Google Docs won’t call you a hopeless hack. Only you do that.
To counter the reasons to quit, you need answers: why you will write today, why you continue on in the face of uncertainty, why the dream matters. Without answers, you will crumble.
What will be your answer when every word for the last three days has been uninspired dreck? Will you tell perfectionism to “shove off”? Will you put the goal of finishing above the myth of your own genius?
What will be your answer when you have nine hundred words to write, it’s late, you’re exhausted, and your bed tempts you with soft cooing noises? Will you explain patiently to the bed the many reasons you won’t sleep until you’ve hit your goal? Will the bed even understand?
Listen to the reasons that arise and find your answers. Hold fast to your answers, remember you’re just putting down words, do the day's work, and you’ll discover the great joy of writing like your life depends on it.
Success is measured in words.