Monday, October 29, 2012

My NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

Thursday is the first day of November, which, for most people, means the beginning of cold weather, preparations for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the kids’ first report cards of the year, etc. But for novel writers, November is something completely different – National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Writers all over the country who are up to the challenge are spending this November trying to complete a 50,000 word novel (approximately 175 pages).

According to its web site, NaNoWriMo has been around since 1999, although back then apparently it was just 20 or so writers hanging out in San Francisco in July. There was more information on the site about how the concept has grown since then, but I don’t really care enough to read that much into it. The web site offers a ton of fun: message boards, regions and other ways to meet other writers, programs, etc. If you join the web site, you can pick your region and see who lives near you. Often there are kick-off parties and other get-togethers where you can meet other writers. If there’s no one nearby, the message boards have people chatting about every topic you can imagine.

To me, this all says one thing: Writers are some of the best procrastinators I know.

It’s ironic that the program urges writers to write 50,000 words in a month, all the while giving them a plethora of activities they can do instead of writing. For that matter, why chose November at all? It’s only got 30 days, and several of them are devoted to that food orgy we can Thanksgiving, and then it’s all getting ready for Christmas. Why not January? There are 31 days devoted to nothing, and even writers would rather write than follow up on their “going to the gym” New Year’s resolutions.

Last year I took a class through the Bethesda (MD) Writer’s Center called the Extreme Novelist. The instructor made us sign a contract saying we would write for 90 minutes, six times a day. And at the start of each class, we had “accountability” – going around the room and saying whether or not we had done our writing, and why or why not.

By the end of that eight-week class, I had finished the first draft of my novel. But most others weren’t so lucky. Very few people were able to manage writing every day they promised – in fact, most of them hadn’t written at all. There was work (an understandable excuse), or TV was good that night, or they were tired, or they were travelling, or the kids were sick, or the wife was mad… whatever.

Honestly, it’s easier for me to get my writing in than the average person. I don’t have a “real” job, and my son is off at college. But then there’s that second trap that writers fall into … the “I just didn’t feel like writing” trap. This is close to having “writer’s block,” but it’s not the same. It’s when you have a general idea for a short story or a screenplay, but rather than writing, you’ve got this incredible urge to go for a run (and since that never happens, you have to go for that!) or clean out the bottom of the refrigerator. If you don’t feel it, this trap tells you, the writing isn’t going to be as good.

Here comes the part in the essay where you would expect to be told to write anyway. If you have a job, write at lunch, or on the train home, or during a conference call that you’re not really participating in anyway. Or if you’ve been bitten by the “I don’t want to’s,” tell yourself to write for just 10 minutes every day, just to see what happens.

But no, those words aren’t coming from me.

If you don’t have time to write, don’t write! Hey, you’ve got kids that someone should pay attention to. If you don’t feel like writing, don’t do it! You spend enough time in your life doing things you don’t want to do. Why should you spend your rare, sacred, precious free time doing something you don’t really want to do?

Because really, what’s going to happen if you make that time, get those words down, avoid the siren’s call of the message boards and the parties and the check-in phone calls? You might actually finish your book. And if you finish your book, you might be competing with me in the golden ticket hunt for an agent. Do you have any idea how many queries a day agents get? I think it’s in the hundreds. When you multiply that with the number of agents who are out there, even subtracting the queries from the same writer to every agent in the Guide, what you have are a whole bunch of people who were able to get their 50,000 words done.

So kick off your shoes, put your feet up and watch a little TV. Leave the writing to me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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