Every November, hundreds of thousands of people across the world set out on a quest to write a 50,000 word (minimum) novel. That equates to 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Pets are neglected, dishes go unwashed, husbands across the country must learn to cook dinner for themselves (and maybe change a dirty diaper or two). It is a hair-pulling, caffeine-addiction fueled, roller coaster of a month. Some days you wonder why you ever thought you could become this ethereal creature called a writer. Other days you might consider tossing your [insert appropriate writing device] out the window of your [insert appropriate writing spot]. But there are those days, scattered throughout the month, that make you feel like you could take on the world. You find ways to hide your writing obsession and deteriorating hygiene from the people at your office. You scheme with your friends online about how to pad your word count (hint: throw out those contractions!). You jot down a quick list of how to apologize to all your friends and family for neglecting them…but that’s a task for December 1.
With two NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) rough drafts (very, very rough) under my belt, I can say from experience that the emotional high of November is something I eagerly look forward to every year. (In fact, NaNoWriMo changed my life – I met my now husband during my first one.) Most mornings, the first thing I do is check my inbox for that much needed pep talk, the inspiration that is going to fire me up and help me crank out the necessary words for the day. More often than not, my day depends on that first bit of motivation.
This year I am embarking on this journey for a third time, and when I opened my inbox on Day 3 to see none other than Diana Gabaldon giving us a pep talk, I couldn’t have been more thrilled! And since I have also been co-authoring a website related to Ms. Gabaldon’s work for more than two years now, I figured I would share her words of wisdom to all of our readers out there. 🙂
The greatest thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. The most horrifying thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. Contemplation of that dichotomy is enough to stop most people dead in their tracks.
Success in writing—and by that, I mean getting the contents of your head out onto the page in a form that other people can relate to—is largely a matter of playing mind games with yourself. In order to get anywhere, you need to figure out how your own mind works—and believe me, people are not all wired up the same way.1
Casual observation (i.e., talking to other writers for thirty years or so) suggests that about half of us are linear thinkers. These people really profit from outlines and wall-charts and index cards filled out neatly in blue pen with each character’s shoe size and sexual history (footnoted if these are directly correlated). The rest of us couldn’t write that way if you paid us to.
Anyone educated in the art of composition in the Western Hemisphere at any time in the last hundred years was firmly taught that there is One Correct Way to write, and it involves strictly linear planning, thought, and execution. You Must Have a Topic Sentence. You Must Have a Topic Paragraph. YOU MUST HAVE AN OUTLINE. And so forth and so tediously on…
Got news for you: You don’t have to do it that way. Anything that gets words on the page is the Right Thing to Do.
Do you write in disconnected bits, where you can see things happening? I do.
Do you write in ten or fifteen minute chunks, when that’s all the time you have? I sure do. (I mean, it’s nice to have unlimited time, but nobody ever does. Nobody ever finds time, either—you make it, or you haven’t got any.)
Blap down a rough draft in a blazing roar of creation? No, I never do that—I fiddle and creep and go back and forth and back and forth; I don’t have rough drafts; I have finished scenes. They just aren’t connected to anything…
But no matter how you write, it’s always you and the page. And the page isn’t in a position to tell you anything you do is wrong. Therefore…anything you do must necessarily be the Right Way to Write. Go for it!
1. This is why you can read an article purporting to tell you How to Write, and discover that you just can’t write that way. That’s because the writer is not really telling you how to write; he or she is just explaining how they write. Maybe they have the same kind of brain you do—but maybe they don’t.
I always love when a professional writer encourages you to be yourself, to find your own writing style. Too many people out there have that style that works for them and they want to charge you all sorts of money to help you become a better writer using their methods. But from what I’ve discovered through NaNoWriMo is that there isn’t one formula for how to write a novel. In fact, for me, it’s much more fun to go in without a clue to where I’m going (or maybe just a small one); discovering your characters and the story they need you to tell the world is part of the adventure.
So to all of you reading this who have started this journey with me this month, hang in there! You can absolutely make it through, and you’ll be so glad you did. And to the rest of you, it’s not too late! Sure, we’re on our 5th day of the quest, but you can still come join us. I promise, this is an experience you will never forget. You know all those stories swimming around in your head? All those half-formed characters begging you to give them life? Why not give it a shot?
The world needs your novel.
Source: National Novel Writing Month