NaNo Pep Talk: Tough Love
I warn you, NaNo brothers and sisters. This isn’t the pep talk you want. This isn’t the pep talk your fifth grade teacher gives you, along with a certificate for participating. This isn’t the pep talk Coach gives you, when you might not win the championship but thanks to Jesus, you’re learning all about your community and how to be a winner at life.
This isn’t the pep talk your girlfriends give you, when you feel like you’re fat but you’re such an amazing person ohmigawd don’t EVER talk down about yourself, like EVER.
Oh, no. This is an Emily pep talk.
To rephrase, for those who don’t know me as well: if I don’t lose followers on this one, I’m doing something wrong.
We’ll start at pissoff level and work our way forward from there. Here we go:
NaNoWriMo is not hard.
I know. You’ve already smashed your coffee cup against the battered edge of your writing desk. There are tears in your red-rimmed eyes.
You’re making this harder than it has to be, and that’s one of the prime reasons people fail at things.
Nano is 50,000 words in thirty days; or, roughly 1,667 words a day. Thousands look scary, right? I mean, if words were dollars, I could just take December off. However, look at it this way:
This post, so far, is 220 words. (Which, for the record, is utilities. So if words are dollars, I’ve paid my utilities for the month already).
It’s taken me, like, ten minutes to type. So, if I do that eight more times–about eighty minutes, or 1780 words–I’ve done it, and a little extra.
Eighty minutes isn’t a lot of time. That’s lunch break time plus a few minutes while you’re waiting for dinner to cook in the oven. That’s two cigarette breaks at work and that hour you spend around seven on Facebook. I take a bus to work, so I use my time there to write, and guess what? A lot of times, I make my word goal on the fricking bus.
Some people’s daily word count takes longer to type than others. Some people take two hours to my hour and a half, some people take four hours. Some people take forty-five minutes.
You know yourself. You know about how fast you write. Can you do 50,000 words a day? Ask yourself honestly. Think of your day to day life.
Can’t make the time? Don’t do NaNo.
Maybe that sounds cold, but it’s true.
I’m not saying what folks’ll be assuming I’m saying with that: it has nothing to do with how serious a writer you are. It has nothing to do with how good you are, how dedicated, how strongly you’re bound to your Craft, or whatever faux-artiste chicanery you want to spread on the NaNoWriMo Wonderbread.
If you make a commitment, it needs to be a commitment. If you can’t make that commitment, you need to figure out a commitment you can make. But you knew that, right? You’re an adult.
For those who feel it’s a possible commitment:
NaNoWriMo isn’t a fun game, and it isn’t just a chance to finally blorp out that novel you’ve been swishing around for twelve years (though it can be that too, if you’re serious about it). It isn’t another badge on your Girl Scouts sash. It isn’t an artistic endeavor in which your plot needs both arc and trajectory. It isn’t Mount Everest, and you don’t need core training and special gear to climb it.
It’s learning to write a reasonable amount of words, every day. It’s learning to move past perfectionism and into the desert of the word-cruncher. I see a lot of happy blorping on the NaNoWriMo website about your ‘inner editor’, and, while that’s a very cute metaphor, let’s not personify our problems, shall we? Putting faces to our hangups just makes them more human, and Jesus, isn’t that the last thing you want them to be?
Your ‘inner editor’, much like your ‘muse’, comes from the same place as everything else you think. It comes from you. So turn it off. Learn to write slush, if that’s what gets you through. Writing slush is an important learning experience, too: your mind will run places you never thought it could run. And in that slush, after several hard months of editing, are unexpected gems you wouldn’t have come across any other way.
NaNoWriMo isn’t a heartfelt epic quest. You don’t pit your powers against an evil wizard, learn something about yourself, have a heartwarming denouement with medals and wine and dancing. You’re not throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo. You’re just writing a novel. Not even a real novel: you’re writing a first draft of something that might someday become a novel. Think you’ve done something special? You haven’t. Unless you’re in a graveyard sitting between two tombstones, or in a preschool, the person to your right or left could do it, just the same as you.
Why do it, then?
Because not everyone cares enough to do it. You do.
Because you made the commitment: to finish the story, to get the rough stuff out of the way. To try. There are no trophies for participation (well–no real trophies) but there is the trophy of having that finished first draft at the end of the month, and knowing, should you decide to do something with it, that all it’ll take is some tweaking and editing. And, also, there’s the power of knowing you did it, and could do it again.
So don’t even ask yourself if you’re going to finish. Jesus, stop worrying about that. It’s only day eleven, why’re you freaking out about failure already?
Don’t worry. Just write.
Get into it. Write something stupid. Write five straight pages of dialogue. Take a scene to its ridiculous utmost limits. Who cares if it’s twenty pages before you hit your next page break? It’s just NaNo. The writing world’s ultimate freewrite. Enjoy yourself.
The more you enjoy yourself, the more you’ll find your wordcount doubling.
The final draft might be crap, but that’s what NaNoEdMo is for. (Don’t do National Novel Editing Month? I don’t blame you. I’m not sure it exists for anyone other than me, but it’s what other folks call January.) Just enjoy yourself.
I can’t say it enough. Just enjoy yourself. Writing is what you do, right? You’re not getting paid for this, you’re doing it for fun.
So why make it harder than it has to be?