Before National Novel Writing Month, I was a spineless little wannabe writer with delusions of casually wandering through the first draft of a novel and rocking a publishing deal after an intense spellcheck. Those were my early teen years, filled with ideas and only a few paragraphs to show for them.
Then I participated in my first NaNo, doing all-nighters and learning pantsing the hard way. By the end of that first November I was in possession of thirty thousand unusable words and a very disillusioned view towards writing. It took over four more years of attempting the November Novel to fully realize what the experience had been teaching me: let go of my ego. Let go of my laziness. Be a writer. Sometimes it takes years like it did for me, and for others one dose is all they need. (If you’re one of the latter, I’d love to interrogate you, please.)
So how is this a bad thing? Well obviously it can’t be a good thing! If you’re forced to lose your ego, how are you supposed to feel confident in your work? That was the first lesson I was faced with, and it’s something I’m just coming to terms with. It’s very, very hard to draw up a rough draft that utterly stinks. Sometimes you are blind to your own faults, and then there are those times when you only see your faults and how on Earth do you even deserve to call yourself a writer?
If you’re trying to write a novel, why put yourself in a situation where it could end up not being worth it? Well, have you ever actually finished a full novel that is a thing of beauty while sitting around being a lazy pants? No, you probably spent that luxurious time writing crappy fan fiction. (Don’t deny that you’ve done that. Yeah, I’m giving you The Look right now.) Here’s the deal. I can’t tell you how to let go and write. We all start out as the worst novelists on Earth. There really isn’t any other way to slice it. None of us are born with the superpower to read or write. We have to work our way towards it. It might not feel like it’s worth it now. Granted you don’t quit, one day it will be worth it.
Don’t sugarcoat the process and think that everything about writing comes naturally. The people who sit in coffee shops and write really depressing short stories for writing journals don’t get to tell you how to be a writer or what is proper art. The only rule that stands true among the crap you read is the rule that you can take anything and make it good if you know how to craft it. Craft things that matter, not perfection.
NaNo is the best outlet to help you learn the hard lessons it takes to get the darn thing done. There are many, many different ways to acquire grit and this is how you find it. It sucks, it sucks a lot but sometimes you just have to stop talking and start doing. Words are words and actions make your words mean something. (Hey look, a double metaphor!) Sometimes we don’t get to keep the ideas we love or the scenes that make us feel squishy. That’s okay. With time, the best thing you can learn is how to find joy in the sacrifices you take to find that finished dream.
NaNo teaches you so much more than reaching a word count, however. Because after a while you begin to realize you can’t just trail along a place with some characters rambling about fishsticks and call it a day. I’ve begun to see what makes a scene feel finished and how you can form a plot to fit a timespan, stretching and shrinking ideas to be more than just a word count. It’s taken me quite a long time but I’d like to say that I’ve gained the mindset of a serious writer since I first signed up for this crazy event.
Just as our favorite literary heroes can shape real lives, when you are young you have dreams, and sometimes you forget that dreams are a part of reality. Look at it this way: John Green is the dream, NaNo is the reality. What I’m telling you has been said before. Writing magazines try to rehash the principles of letting go all the time. NaNo might not get you a finished novel or even a shiny word count. You shouldn’t smoosh out dreams with the desire to simply reach goals. That isn’t the point. The idea is that you must learn how to take dreams and goals and work them out together.
That’s why NaNoWriMo ruined my life. It killed this idea that I can just breathe out words and be a glamour book tour author. I actually have to work for it.
About the Author
I didn’t pick the writer life, the writer life picked me. Sometimes I doubt, but I never regret. Sandwiched between tacos and endless hours at a boring job, I pour my soul into stories. Sometimes the tales are real, but mostly fiction because my imagination is more fun. I care far too much for SciFi and pizza and cinematography.
Jess blogs a little: http://jessicaverve.blogspot.com/
Jess tweets a lot: https://twitter.com/JessVerve