It’s November, as you might have noticed. As a writer who exists on the Internet, I know that November can be a time of great pressure and great disappointment. November is “National Novel Writing Month,” abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, and many hundreds of thousands or maybe billions of people (who knows, really?) participate by pledging to write a full novel in a month. For NaNoWriMo purposes, a full novel is anything 50,000 words or longer. It does not have to be, and indeed is probably not even supposed to be, “good.” It’s just supposed to get us out of our perfectionistic delay and onto the keyboard.
Several times, including his year, I’ve half-committed to doing NaNoWriMo. This has produced a few stunted partial novels in previous years, books I had semi-planned but which I didn’t have nearly enough juice to complete, especially when there’s a target of at least 1,667 words every day to stay on track. If you skip a day or two, the writing debt piles up and the lure of a blurry, Thanksgiving-induced tryptophan oblivion becomes too much to resist.
1,667 words a day is a lot. When I was writing Book One, a good day was 500, and an incredibly good day was 1,000. So 1,667 is basically inconceivable, like an ultramarathon or a layer cake. A blinding effort that’s just going to make me sleepy to consider.
Nevertheless, I’ve been trying (until the last few days, when things have gotten away from me, as they have a tendency to do). Sometimes it’s good to push toward a difficult goal, and other times it is good to relax into enjoying what’s already present, and maybe the real work is in figuring out which times are which.
Anyway. I’m thinking about writing again, so here’s an update:
Book One is sitting in limbo at the moment, but at some point in the not-too-distant future I think I’ll do another round of edits on it and then start shopping it around to various literary agents. People on the writing internet call this upcoming stage the “trenches,” which feels a tad overdramatic even as someone who wrote a book involving a higher-than-average amount of literal trench warfare (and, after all, it’s Veteran’s/Armistice Day, to boot). But I haven’t been there yet, so what do I know?
Seeking publication, whether through the traditional course (finding an agent who sells to editors and publishers) or self-publishing, is inherently about self-promotion. So this, shoving my words into the world, is practice. Thank you for being present as I practice.
Speaking of which, here I am—writing. Over the past three or so months, I’ve written something north of 25,000 words here, which basically means if I keep this up for a year I’ll have written 100,000 words—a hefty novel’s length. What is this blog? Why is it? We’re still not sure. But that’s okay for now. Whatever it is I’m heading for, I’m practicing for it, I suppose.
And then there’s Book Two, the one I’m sort of trying to NaNoWriMo my way through. Until a few days ago, despite the gremlin who had been plaguing me previously, the draft was flowing fast out of me. I was writing a ton of words without terribly much wailing and gnashing of teeth, which is pretty ideal. It’s a low-stakes, low-drama endeavor, and it’s something I don’t really ever expect to do anything with. So that makes it easy to go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and just keep at it (which, coincidentally, is as close as I have to a life philosophy at the moment).
There are times when I get a little tipsy on self-pity during my commute or my work day and I wish I could just be a book person all the time. But then I shake myself and realize: I am. Through tremendous fortune, I am able to read and write constantly, both for leisure and at my day job. And I go home in the evening and work on my novels and write this blog. In what way am I not a book person? It’s so easy to see the lack, even in the midst of abundance. Ain’t that always the way.
And here’s the thing: you’re probably a writer, too. Compared to any of your ancestors, even as recently as your parents, you write all the time. You write emails, and texts, and maybe tweets and Facebook comments, and Google reviews and who knows what all else? As linguist Gretchen McCulloch writes in the very worthwhile examination of online language Because Internet, we’re all writers now. We’re all experts in tone and nuance, learning together in a worldwide, real-time experiment when periods are passive-aggressive and when lowercase letters are ironic. We are all creative, producing brand-new combinations of words all the time, fresh additions to the English corpus. (McCulloch suggests an experiment: Google the last text message you sent containing more than ten words, and put quote marks around the whole thing. You’ll likely find no results, meaning you more or less invented that particular sentence).
Any one of us can coin a word or compose a sentence that has never been said before, and it now exists in the language as soon as we utter it, whether it winks in and out for a single moment or whether it catches on and endures in the minds of people yet unborn.McCulloch, “Because Internet,” 269
So say it with me: you’re a writer. I’m a writer. We’re all doing it.