This article first published by The Odyssey on November 14, 2016.
For many writers, the most stressful time of year has come.
No, not the election. Not even early Christmas shopping. November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Writers who participate must write an entire novel in just 30 days.
I opted out of NaNoWriMo — partly because I have older projects to revise and because I didn’t see the point until recently. I do have friends who’ve chosen to do it though, and I know it’s not easy to accomplish such a large task.
For those of you who’ve taken the NaNoWriMo challenge, here are some tips that may help you survive and thrive.
1.You Don’t Have to Wait for Inspiration
There’s a common misconception that you have to be inspired to write anything — that if you don’t feel the creative juices flowing, you can’t get anything done.
The truth is inspiration doesn’t come easily, and successful writers put in the work even when they don’t feel hyped up about it.
In 2011, Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist asked bestselling novelist Neil Gaiman whether he writes every day or only when he’s inspired. “Well, If you only write when you’re inspired,” Gaiman replied, “you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist. Because you’re going to have to make your word count each day, and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.”
You don’t have to wait around for inspiration. You can get to work, and with practice, you’ll be able to write regularly even if inspiration takes its time coming.
2. Every Writer Struggles
It’s easy to feel underqualified when you’re around other writers. You may not have been writing as long as they have, you may not understand the finer rules of grammar, maybe the other writers just seem to have better ideas.
As a student in a particularly good writing program — one endorsed by one bestselling author and taught by another — I’ve had that feeling a lot. I have classmates who have already won honors and are well on their way to being great novelists.
After talking with many of these writers, I’ve learned they actually don’t have it all together. They don’t just sit down every day and ooze brilliance onto a computer file. They have the same struggles I have getting ideas out there.
Stephen King noted in his book “Danse Macabre” that talent isn’t really the secret to good writing. In truth, talent is like a dull knife – every writer gets a knife, some writers even get really big ones. But the knife is always a dull one and must be sharpened with practice and perseverance.
3. Even Junk Can be Useful Later
So maybe you finish your NaNoWriMo novel, and it’s not what you hoped. Your dialogue needs work. Your characters aren’t quite compelling enough. You had a great idea, and it didn’t translate the way you hoped.
One of the better writing lessons I’ve learned is that even bad writing has its uses. You can rewrite things later to give it them the necessary polish. You can resurrect the good elements in later work. Even in the worst case scenario, you still had the perseverance to finish something.
As award-winning author Simon Morden commented in one interview, “Nothing is ever wasted. All those words you’ve got tucked away in a drawer that you’ll never let anyone see because you think they’re really not very good? That’s fine — that’s your apprenticeship right there. Every word you’ve written is a word closer to being a decent writer. And when the time comes, you — and only you — get to recycle all that work into stuff that’s fit for publication.”
Hope these tips make NaNoWriMo a little easier for you.
(Cover Image Credit: Cliff Johnson)