– or why I won’t participate in the National Novel Writing Month
On the face of it, it sounds like a great kick in the pants/impetus/motivational tool. Write a novel in a month – which is to say, 50, 000 words – and see where it takes you. So all over the world during this dire and dreary month of November, writers and wannabes everywhere are banging away on their keyboards, filling out their notebooks, sweating over phrasing, plot, syntax, context and development. Several of my friends and fellow bloggers are participating, and I really, truly wish them nothing but the utmost of success.
writer wannabe myself. So why am I not participating and banging out with the best of them? Why, in fact, do I dig in my heels the most bullish way I know? Really, I don’t think I’m that bad a writer. (You may beg to disagree!) Honest, I can write a novel. In fact, I have written two and have synopses for four more.
Yet, I don’t and I won’t and I shan’t. On principle. Darlings.
Before I’m tarred, feathered, hung and quartered for my heretical stance on Rampant Creativity Romps, let me state a few things.
I believe with my heart and soul that anyone, anyone at all can…learn to write. Which is to say…learn to write in a coherent, logical and cohesive fashion that will relate to readers.
No matter what your theme or subject matter… Yes! You, too can learn to write…
Which is not at all the same thing as saying you will be the next Stephen King/James Patterson/Dan Brown/Stephanie Meyers, to name a few wildly successful novelists. It’s not even very much to do with that nebulous concept called “talent”. I’ll get back to that one in a moment.
Anyone can learn to write, and anyone anywhere can learn to bang out some semblance of a story line that may eventually become the next Kindle/iPad/Amazon/NY Times bestseller sensation.
Or maybe not. Which brings me back to my original premise.
Because what happens to all those millions of hopeful writers once we hit December? How many of them will actually walk the walk, talk the talk and swallow the gazillion compromises they will need to swallow before they see their own names on the books people actually read?
Put another way…How many words, plots and potential Hollywood blockbusters will languish forever in obscurity on hard drives and flash drives and DVD-Rs and notebooks?
Call me an arrogant bitch, but my guess is…most of them.
How many of those writers who wrote with such a fury in November will still be at it come July…polishing and perfecting their deathless November prose, investigating marketing their material, looking into literary agencies and Lulu.com and promotional PR strategies?
Again, I’ll venture…very few.
I say this not because I’m jealous, vindictive, envious of other people’s obvious talents/success, screaming arrogant (arguable!) or just plain mean, but because of the one overriding lesson I’ve learned since I began to write with a fury of my own.
Writing 50,000 words in a month – any month will do – does not make you a writer. Writing a novel, or two, or three does not make you a writer. Publication, even, does not make you a writer. Not even talent makes you a writer. Lots of people have a talent for writing. Not all of them become writers. And not all writers have talent, either.
What makes a writer is a combination of dedication, dogged determination and above all else the compulsion – not just the ability – to write. Write as if your life depends upon it, write as if the Hounds of Hell are on your heels, write to stave off death and despair and the fear of your own mortality, write as if…you can’t NOT write. Write when you’re sick, write when you’re down, write in your head as you go about your day, on the job, on your way home, standing in the checkout line, wonder as I sometimes have, how events in your life can somehow morph into a storyline, a plot device, a…novel.
Write for yourself, write what you want to read. That ephemeral ghost called ‘inspiration’ will sometimes make an appearance and sometimes – most times, in fact – won’t. The very act of nailing your posterior to a chair and opening up a notebook/laptop, wringing out a sentence that lands on the page like a dried up glob of toothpaste will eventually cede way to another sentence. And another. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Have faith when it bores you, have faith when your characters misbehave as they surely will, have faith when you are about as sick of your own twisted mind and story as you can get. Then, once you’ve made it that far, grow a rhinoceros hide for all those rejection letters you will also assuredly get, or all that pointed criticism you will also most assuredly get.
Do all of this, disregard the umpteen million and highly discouraging writing websites and online critique groups that more or less say ‘Just give it up already!’, and have the courage to fall down those rabbit holes of your own imagination. That’s the hard part – to trust the process and trust not being 100% in control.
Fifty thousand words in a month can’t teach you all of that. No one can but you.
On some dark and stormy night – it may be November, it may be January – the feather touch of a new idea will land in your brain to give you goosebumps, and you will find yourself in the throes of the fabled ‘What-if’….
‘What-if’ can strike at any time.
If you’re the type to need an excuse, or just a good, hard kick up the backside and a lot of support, then by all means, see if you can participate in NaNoWriMo. I’ll applaud your courage, and buy or download your book.
But for me, it’s #NaNoWriMo every month and every day of the year, and I don’t even get vacations.
I do it because I can’t not. I do it because I suck at everything else.
I do it because I’m a writer. In November, and in January, and even in July. And fifty thousand words is only halfway through most of the stories I want to tell…and not even a tenth of all the tales I hold in my hands.
#NaNoWriMo is the official Twitter hashtag for National Novel Writing Month.