I’ve had the dream of writing a novel for as long as I can remember, a dream which was only fueled by almost all of my creative writing teachers telling me that they fully expected a signed copy of my first book when I finally got around to pumping it out. And because I’m human and love praise, I took the compliments and stowed them away, bringing them up again in my memory whenever I halfheartedly toyed around with the idea every January that maybe this year was the one in which I’d finally crack down and write that novel already.
Spoiler alert–29 years into my life, and I had literally made zero progress on a book of any kind.
Oh sure, I’d written short stories for assignments, occasional essays for writing contests, and endless blog posts (almost 1,000 to date, actually!). But I’d never written a book.
I came up with scads of reasons why each year was not the year: I was working on graduating from college! I would be too swamped with my first year of teaching! I had no real ideas to write about! I was preparing to have a baby!
Each excuse seemed like the perfect reason to keep pushing my dream aside, and eventually, it started to become one of those “ha-ha-remember-when-I-said-I-was-going-to-write-a-book” jokes that I’d bring up sometimes to Matt whenever he chided me for not doing more “real” writing (since he claims that blogging just doesn’t count).
And while those excuses did hold some water (I guess), I found that even when I finally did strike upon an idea for a novel that excited me (based on a dream I once had) and even when I had some free time on my hands and even when I was meeting with Matt’s family for one of our “writer’s group” get-togethers, I still wasn’t writing my novel.
I don’t know what I was waiting for: maybe the beginning of a new year to push me in the right direction? Maybe a grand sign from the heavens that I needed to get going on my dreams for my life already? Maybe the auspicious lining up of the planets in just such a way that would guarantee me to win a Pulitzer with my first attempt?
What I hadn’t expected was the way the whole thing actually went down: Matt had been working on his novel for months and months but was only writing a line or two on most days and seemed stuck in the process. Wanting to see him succeed and knowing that perhaps the only thing to motivate him out of this funk was a competition with me, I somewhat tentatively suggested the idea that we do a NaNoWriMo competition of sorts (NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November and is a nationwide (worldwide?) challenge for people wanting to get their butts kicked into gear to write more). While we didn’t set the usual parameters of NaNoWriMo (which would mean we’d each write 50,000 words by the end of the month if successful), we did manage to set up a bet that would mean that the winner of the competition would get $50 to spend on books and the loser would have to read a book recommended by the other person.
And while I’m pretty positive I won’t be winning said competition (*sigh*), seeing as today’s the last day and Matt’s about 5,000 words ahead of me and planning to write all night, I AM pretty proud of myself, nevertheless.
For starters, when I began this month, I’d only written about a page on my novel, and it had taken me about 4 months to get even to that point (and I’d only write right before a writer’s group meeting). Now, just 3 weeks after the beginning of the challenge, I’m at about 21 pages and am planning to get to about 25 pages by the deadline of 10:30 p.m. tonight. Sure, I don’t exactly have a whole book, but I definitely have a solid start.
And you know what I’ve learned?
Writing a book is, in many ways, easier than I thought it would be. Before, I’d always drastically slow down the process by insisting that my draft basically be made perfect as I went along—I’d start out and write a page, and then I would keep going back to fix it and never go on. With this challenge, I couldn’t afford that luxury; I just kept on adding and adding, with the full knowledge that I’d have plenty of time later to go back and edit. Forcing myself to just sit down and add scenes and words and pages without thinking too much about them is kind of freeing, in a way–because I’m not planning anything out beforehand (since I have no time to do so), I have often surprised myself by what comes up.
My other big problem with writing before (which goes hand in hand with what I said in the previous paragraph) was that I had set these massive expectations for myself. Because my teachers had often told me I was talented, I let those expectations cripple me into thinking that I wasn’t allowed to produce pure junk some of the time. Do you know how impossible it is to only produce top-quality work? So, it goes without further reasoning that I wouldn’t get far at all into any kind of novel because I never felt like my novel would be worthy of winning that Pulitzer, so why even bother?
But now I’ve shifted my focus–forget the prize being a Pulitzer or mailing off a bunch of signed copies to my old teachers or even publishing the thing at all–now my focus is on finishing what I started and finally reaching my dream of just having stuck with a novel long enough to finish it, which is something to be proud of in and of itself, in many ways.
(And once that’s finished, THEN I can worry about publication if I still want that.)
So here’s the secret: I’ve learned that all it takes to write a book is the discipline to sit my butt in a chair and make the words come out, whether they’re horribly cliche or bordering on brilliant.
Amazing insight, right?
Now the real test will be whether I can manage to keep up the habit after our little competition is over with…