Today is the first day of Nanowrimo, an event I have always enjoyed, albeit vicariously. The idea is that you write an entire novel in the month of November. Sounds easy, right? I’ve always been impressed with people who take this on, because 1) I do terribly with deadlines, to the point of nervous collapse and 2) I’m very slow when it comes to writing (see problem with deadlines). What’s cool about Nanowrimo is that the focus is really more on just finishing, rather than writing The Great American Novel, which I bet is very liberating, especially if you tend to be doubt yourself a lot as you write, which tends to slow things down (see bad with deadlines, nervous collapse, above).
If, however, you are already writing a novel and need to finish it, you can join the fabulous John Green, who is doing his own version of this project and already has some very cool company on board with him. Trying to finish a novel can be one of the hardest things in the WORLD, and having some support can only help things along. So whether you’re starting today, or just pushing yourself with everything you’ve got towards the finish, I wish you the best. You can do it. Like Anne Lamott says, just take it bird by bird.
I wish I could offer more concrete advice, words of wisdom, but the truth is, my process is so far from perfect (see slowness, problem with deadlines, above) that I always feel like a total sham when anyone asks me for advice. (This made is considerably difficult to teach creative writing for seven years, although somehow, I did manage.) All I can say is this: show up. Sit down, write every day. Even when you don’t want to, when there are a million things you’d rather be doing. I have found, over time, that the days I dread writing the most—when Oprah almost wins out over climbing the stairs to my office, a battle I fight daily—I usually have the best results. It’s like you’ve got to battle through to get to the good stuff, but when you do, it’s SO worth it. Also, I will point you to this entry from Meg Cabot, which I found to be both very true and incredibly enlightening. (As well as a comfort, as I don’t outline OR talk about my books at all while I’m working on them.)
The basic fact of the matter is this: there is no right way to write a novel. There’s honestly not a primer, or manual, or flow chart you can follow, because everyone does is differently, and this makes doing it both incredibly liberating (on a good day) and entirely terrifying (on the bad ones). I remember when I was in college, I found a quote about writing that really helped me. It said something like, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.” Again: liberating and terrifying. But true.
What else can I say? Chocolate helps, sometimes. As does pulling at your hair, talking a long walk, daydreaming about other careers, organizing your desk. But really, in the end, all you can do is sit down, take a deep breath, and dive in. I’ll be doing it today, 2-5, just like I did yesterday and I’ll do tomorrow. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough, one of those great days when the time flies past and it’s like everything’s running perfectly. Or maybe I’ll delete everything and hate myself. You just never know. And you won’t, unless you try. So just show up. It’s the first step to everything.