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Fanmail FAQ: NaNoWriMo

Pat,

Do you know about National Novel Writing Month? I’ve tried it for three years now, though I’ve only ever managed to make 50,000 words one time back in 2009.

I was just wondering if you’d ever tried it. In some ways, it seems like it might be like your thing. But the more I thought about it, it seems like it might NOT be your thing. Your writing is really carefully put together, mythic and lyrical, so I could see how your style wouldn’t really lend itself to being able to write a whole 50,000 words in a single month.

So I guess I have two questions:

1. Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? (I’m guessing no, because I couldn’t find you on their website.)

2. Do you have any tips for keeping up this grueling writing pace? How do you stay motivated?

A fan,

Jake

For those of you who don’t know what Jake is talking about, National Novel Writing Month is when people who want to write get together in November and vow to get 50,000 words done on their novels in a single month.

I’ve actually known about it since the year 2000. I remember the date because one of my web-savvy friends caught wind of it. He knew I’d been working on a novel and thought I might be interested.

My immediate reaction was dismissive disdain.

You see, in November of 2000, I was in the midst of the most productive writing jag of my entire life. I’d been working on “The Book” off and on for over six years, and I was finally closing in on the end of huge arcing story that I’d started by writing, “My name is Kvothe” on a friend’s computer back in 1994.

At that time in my life, I’d been tracking my writing progress for a couple years. I was taking it seriously and held myself accountable for 1500 words or three hours of writing a day. Whichever came first.

I’d been keeping up that pace for the better part of a year. But as I closed in on the ending of my story, the writing got faster and faster. I could write for 10 or 12 hours at a stretch, day after day, and it came easy as breathing.

So when my friend brought NaNoWriMo to my attention, my thoughts were roughly along these lines:

“I laugh at your piddly 50,000 words! I am a golden god of writing! I’ve been doing this on my own for years! I don’t need some gimmicky bullshit for encouragement! I’m a *real* writer….”

Over the next couple weeks, I finished my draft and started revising. Several months later, I went to grad school. There, under the soul-crushing boot heel of academia, my vast torrent of creative output dwindled until it was a tiny trickle that resembled an an old man in Waiting for Godot trying to take a piss.

I spent the lion’s share of the next two years getting rejected by agents, revising The Book, then getting rejected by agents again. When someone pointed out NaNoWriMo a second time, I looked down my nose at it, thinking something along the lines of:

” Writing is something you do all the time, not just one month out of the year! Besides, it’s not the length of a book that matters. It’s how polished it is. I know that now because I’m a *real* writer.”

In 2005, a third friend mentioned NaNoWriMo to me. Again, I scoffed at it:

“I’ve been published in an anthology,” I thought to myself. “I have an agent. I’ve written a 500,000 word fantasy trilogy. I have nothing to prove. I write because I’m a writer, not because for one month out of the year it’s fashionable. I’m not doing this out of some desperate need for social approbation. I’m doing this because I’m a *real* writer.”

By 2008 The Name of the Wind had been on the shelves for a year, and I was woefully behind deadline for the second book. Some of my fans asked me if I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo. It came at a bad time, because I was feeling guilty for missing my deadline. So this time I didn’t merely scoff, I scorned:

“I’m a professional author now,” I thought. “I’ve sold a book. I’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list. I’m published in multiple countries. I don’t need to get into a circle and sing kumbaya. I don’t need to join a cult of newbies and wankers. I write because it’s my job. I’m a *real* writer.”

Now it’s 2011 and people are asking me about NaNoWriMo again. You’re not the only one, Jake.

I like to think I’m a little wiser than I was a few years ago. I’ve certainly learned a lot about writing. If nothing else, I’ve come to realize one single fact:

Anything that motivates you to write is a good thing.

For some people, having a writing group helps. Others take a class. Some people go out and get their MFA’s. Some people drink gin and smoke black tar heroin.

And for some people, NaNoWriMo provides a swift kick up the ass that helps them put pen to paper.

Everyone is different. Ultimately, what motivates a writer is a very personal thing. What works for me, Jake, might not work for you….

For example I’ve come to realize that I have a strong seam of contrarian in the bedrock of my personality. If someone says I can’t do something, a piece of my hind brain rears up and says, “the fuck I can’t!”

In the past this has led me into trouble. I’ve done all manner of stupid shit because someone’s dared presume I wouldn’t. Examples include making a naked snow angel, living for a week using nothing but my wits and three dollars, and eating an entire package of ranch seasoning. (Not ranch dressing, mind you. That would have been easy. I’m talking about the seasoning packet that you would use to make a pint of ranch dressing.)

I’ve mellowed somewhat in my old age, and these days the heavy-handed “I dare you…” taunts that used to set me off no longer have any power to sway me.

But your subtle implication that my writing style “wouldn’t really lend itself to being able to write a whole 50,000 words in a single month” made me raise my hackles a little bit.

“Who does this little punk think he is?” I found myself thinking. “Implying I can’t swing NaNoWriMo? You think I can’t be mythic and lyric AND write 50,000 words? The fuck I can’t!”

So. I’m going to participate this year. What’s more, I’m going to officially start now, on November 7th. That’s right, Jake, I’ve given you a week’s head start. You just try to stay ahead of me.

For more than a decade, I didn’t give NaNoWriMo a fair shot. More than that, I actively maligned it.

But never let it be said I can’t admit I’m wrong. I’m willing to eat my words. I’d make you eat your words too, Jake. But you know what? I’m going to eat them instead. I’m going to eat all the words I can get my hands on in this next month and turn them into mythic, lyric story that will break your heart.

And then I’m going to go update my wordcount on the profile I just created on the NaNoWriMo website.

Because I’m a real writer.

pat

Posted in Fanmail Q + A, FAQ, My Iconoclastic Tendencies, the craft of writing | By Pat95 Responses
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