My truths regarding writing a novel

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I’ve always been a good thinker. And by thinker, I mean I’m good at reflection. I’m introspective. Always have been. Give me an hour and a quiet room and I can sort out all of my problems—or at least understand them. So, call me what you will, but as I sat down to write this blog post, I couldn’t help but reflect on my past year as a writer. Blame it on Thanksgiving, but I’ve made some big revelations this year, stumbled onto some major truths, and I’m thankful for them, as challenging as they have been.

Truth: Writing a novel is hard. Really, really hard. I always knew this, of course. I’ve heard it a thousand times. But this year, the words became true. Writing a novel, especially your first novel, is isolating. It’s masochistic. It’s vulnerable. And it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. Maybe you’re not like me; maybe your story rushed from your mind and fingertips like an avalanche. I hope this true. But maybe you are like me. And just maybe, translating your story, your characters, and your world onto a keyboard takes more physical energy and comes with more self-doubt than you ever dreamed it would.

Yesterday evening, I grabbed coffee with a friend, and I spent a majority of the conversation rambling on about how difficult writing has been for me. She poised her lips and asked, “Then why do it?” It’s a fair question. Without hesitation I responded, “I have to.” She misunderstood and asked if it was because I needed to finish what I started, out of a sense of duty. I shook my head. “No, I have to write it. I have to write this story. It’s in me. And I have to write it.”

Because here’s another truth: The thought of abandoning my story makes me feel physically ill. My stomach clenches like I’m going through turbulence. As much as writing makes me want to cry, or pull my hair out, or simply give up because the colossal effort of writing a complex, compelling, and inspiriting story makes Atlas’s task of holding up the world look like recess, I love it. I love writing. I love my story. I laugh at the stupid things my characters say, I smile just thinking about their happy endings even though I haven’t written them yet, and I dance when a left-field epiphany gets them out of a metaphorical pit. I’m creating something I find beautiful, something made of equal parts love and hate.

And it’s not just this novel. I’ve got others buried in this brain, other characters that don’t even have names yet, but I know they have a story to tell. And I must be the one to tell it.

So here’s my final truth, my final reflection, my final confession: I have no idea what I’m doing. Yet I know I can’t let that stop me. I must forge through this night and then the next one, blindly, but forward nonetheless. A writer I admire once used this metaphor: Writing a novel is like building a skyscraper. First there’s an idea, then blueprints, a foundation, a skeletal structure, floor upon floor, walls and ceilings, electricity and plumbing and doorways and windows, then paint, carpet, chandeliers, and pictures hung in wooden frames. And the effort to build this marvel takes months or years, it takes cranes and saws and all other manor of tools and supplies I don’t and can’t comprehend. It doesn’t suddenly just exist, ready and beaming in the morning light. It grows. Ugly at times, but it grows. And I have to believe that, eventually, it will stand on its own. A creation. A story. Whole. True. And mine.

5 Ways to Stay Sane During NaNoWriMo

image via nanowrimo.org

It’s everywhere. NaNoWriMo has begun. Something about this month makes me both excited and terrified. Excited, because I could write  anything; someone I know could write anything! Terrified, because it’s yet another commitment, another possibility to fail.

But  NaNoWriMo is meant to be a time of inspiration and opportunity! Instead, it’s sometimes the beginning of that slippery slope into slight insanity.  So, whether you decide to participate or not, here are just a few ways to stay sane this November.


1. Do an hours assessment
Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or not, it’s still so helpful to know where your hours are going. It’s simple. Add up the hours you spend on work, other commitments and daily activities, then see what’s left.  If you’re participating and you’re left with just a few hours before bed, you may want to consider waking up an hour earlier to write or dropping a commitment for a month. If you’re not participating, now is the perfect time to see what time-slots in your week you can set aside to write anyway.

2. Eat, sleep and do other things
It’s so vital to have a life beyond work and writing. How is writing informed by culture if you are not interacting socially? How is your mind sharp if your brain is parched for real, non-drive-through food? Sleep is a huge one. If you find yourself writing best during those wee-morning hours, then find another time to catch up on the zzz’s, preferably in the same week that the hours were lost. Let’s be real, as writers, we’re weird enough. We don’t need to be walking around hangry, sleep-deprived and socially-inept.

3. Use the resources
NaNoWriMo has tons of resources out there for their participants. Don’t be the closet writer. Sign-up, join the conversations and listen to the writer ‘pep talks’. You’re basically running a marathon, one word at a time, and who does something that crazy alone?! Look to those next to you for support. Let yourself feel the mystic awesomeness of doing something BIG alongside of fellow writers from around the world.

4. Stay focused
November is a crazy month as it is. Holiday shopping, Thanksgiving get-togethers and prep for the colder months to come. But if you decide to do NaNoWriMo, you’re going to have to force yourself to stay focused. Again, you still need to be human (eat, sleep, see people from time to time) but you can’t let other commitments and worries clog up your brain. Keep your eyes on the prize.

5. Don’t self-critique
Honestly, there is just not time for this nonsense. In all reality, unless you’ve been bitten by the creative bug or dreamed an entire novel one night, it will probably take you the majority of the month to simply write the thing. So keep your fingers to the keyboard and save the self-critique for December. You’ll most certainly need to re-visit what you wrote, but your goal this month is simple: write a novel!

image credit via nanowrimo.org