November can be downright terrifying for a writer. First, this is the time of the year when we go to reunions and stumble around trying to explain what we do to our well-meaning, but sometimes bemused family members. (“So what are you writing about?” “um. Well. There’s this girl. And…” *head desk*). And then they pat you on the head, shuffle along, and sometimes point you in the direction of the wine.
Secondly, this month transforms into a cathedral of writerly woe. It is the time of NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Its shadow looms large, staining the dregs of October until you’re just pacing about your laptop…fingers itching…eyes showing their whites just so you can pull your teeth out for some strangled sentences.
I think NaNoWriMo is sadistic and wonderful because it forces you to do the most important thing:
When asked about advice for writing, Neil Gaiman perfectly summed it up as this: “You write. You finish what you write.”
That’s all there is to it. You learn by finishing. You learn your characters along the way, their quirks and foibles, their insecurities and lives. Is their morning ritual a cup of coffee, or a frenzied, but lonely Macarena? You learn the world you craft as you finish: Are its mountains azure and not really mountains at all but the baby teeth of a frost giant? You learn about yourself as you finish. What does it take out of you? Who are you by the time you complete a project?
I’m still very new at this. And even though last month I successfully inflicted my own NaNoWriMo frenzied schedule, I was plagued by the doubt that many new writers have: Will I finish this?
It’s scary. And I still don’t know if I have it in me to finish a project even though I’ve done it in the past. But let yourself be surprised. Share your work with others. Don’t be scared about the monstrosity of a draft you create. You can tame it in revisions. There’s no rush.
So for all of you participating in NaNoWriMo, you have my deepest respect. I believe in you! Don’t worry about the trees, look at the forest. Don’t worry about whether your novel bears more of a resemblance to a smashed potato than a book. Just keep going. Write it. Finish it.
I’m participating in my own way by fiddling with an adult fantasy project. Here’s a little snippet of it.