National Novel Writing Month. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? For those of you who’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, let me explain: it’s when the month of November is dedicated solely to the art of writing that novel you always wanted to write. (And who doesn’t have a novel that they’re dying to write?!) Writers sign up on the website and track their progress by submitting their word count each day. Along the way, they get support from other authors, pep talks and advice from published authors, and a shiny web badge, declaring “Winner!” when they’re done. Sounds great, right? Right.
But here’s the thing: I’m never going to do it.
Okay, okay, I know I should never say never. There’s no way to know what I’ll want to do a year from now or even five years from now. But let me put it this way: I will probably never do it.
I’m a novelist. I’ve got five published novels to my credit, and each and every time, starting a novel feels like an uphill climb. Like I’ve learned nothing from the novels that have come before, like I can never do it again.
So each year, when NaNoWriMo pops up (and it does always pop, it’s like I never, ever, ever see it coming), I think to myself: this is the year I’m going to do it! I’m going to write my little heart out for the month of November, and when I’m done, I’ll have the first draft to a new novel! (AND a shiny new web badge calling me a WINNER!)
...Starting a novel feels like an uphill climb. Like I’ve learned nothing from the novels that have come before, like I can never do it again.
But then I don’t.
I’ve come to realize something about my writing process. I don’t really have one. (Shhh! Don’t tell my editors!) I’ve always been the sort of writer who writes in the spaces between, who finds time to write in the midst of the chaos of life.
I did it when I was a lawyer, taking writing classes at night, working on my debut novel whenever I had a tiny pocket of time—on park benches at lunch time, at restaurant bars while waiting for friends, on subway trains with my handy little notebook in hand.
I’ve come to realize something about my writing process. I don’t really have one.
And I still do it now, as a married mother of two and professional writer—on my desktop when my kids are at school, on a laptop when they’re at karate, dictating on my iPhone’s voice memo app when I’m in the car.
I’m asked often about my writing process, and where I like to write. What the ideal conditions are for writing a novel. I always have to laugh when asked this question. If I waited for the ideal conditions, I would never have gotten a word down on paper.
I’d like to write on a beach somewhere, cool breeze running through my hair, chilled Prosecco on a side table, my feet firmly planted in the sand as I type away on my laptop. But that’s not my reality, never has been, so I’ve made my dream of being a published writer come true within the parameters I’ve got.
I don’t hit a set word count each day. I don’t even write every day, for that matter. I write where I can, when I can.
But that’s not my reality, never has been, so I’ve made my dream of being a published writer come true within the parameters I’ve got.
Writing is like therapy to me. It helps me to figure out what I think of the world, and how to find my place in it. Forcing myself to hit a daily word count and then magically create an entire first draft in just one month? That just wouldn’t work for me. Now, some people need the motivation, need to be accountable to someone or something for their work. NaNoWriMo would work for them. And that’s great! But I also think it’s okay if you’re a writer who says that it wouldn’t work for you.
If you’ve got a story to tell, do it. Write it whenever you can, wherever you are.
Take a writing class. Do it online if you don’t have the time to go to a class in-person. But it’s essential to learn the basics of your craft, find out about the industry from someone who’s been there before, and get thoughtful critiques on your work.
Read as much as you possibly can. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a voracious reader first. You just can’t. Read within the genre you want to write, read outside of that genre, too. Reading the work of others (especially those you admire!) is essential for learning how to write.
Finish a first draft and then edit it like mad. They say writing is rewriting, and it’s the best lesson I’ve learned throughout my nine-year career as a professional writer. Edit, edit, and then when you think you’re done editing? Edit some more.
Find a writing group. (This is where that writing class will come in very handy.) Find people whose critiques you trust and then continue to hone your work.
Edit, edit, and then when you think you’re done editing? Edit some more.
Take your inspiration from everywhere. Everything you see, everything you hear, everything you touch. If something like NaNoWriMo inspires you to work, then do it. I won’t be there doing it with you, but I will be cheering you from the sidelines. (And insanely jealous of your shiny WINNER badge.)
Images: Luis Llerena/Unsplash