When I arrived for my very first Barnes & Noble booksigning back in early October, I was stunned to actually find a line of people waiting for me. Granted, it was a modest line. There were 5 or 6 people. But it was a heart-warming line nonetheless. A small-time, first-time author at his first signing, and there are people waiting to meet him? That’s extraordinary. And for that, I have to thank the local National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) chapter, which somehow got wind of my event and showed up to support me.
One of the leaders of the group asked if I might be interested in providing one of this year’s motivational letters for the writers undergoing the daily grind of writing many hundreds of words toward their annual goal of finishing a 50,000-word project. I said yes immediately. And this is what I came up with. It appeared today, November 15, 2014, in a broadcast email, halfway through the month. Enjoy!
Dear fellow survivalist—I mean, novelist,
Sorry, I get the two terms mixed up, particularly in the genre I’ve been exploring lately. See, for the past couple NaNoWriMo jaunts, I’ve gone into survivalist mode to write a crazy-ass apocalyptic-survival-horror series set in Fort Collins. Truthfully, the experience of writing them was pretty crazy-ass, too.
I mention the books not so much to self-indulgently plug them (the first one is called Blood Red, check it out!) but more as a metaphor for the NaNoWriMo writing process itself. You all know how frenetic November can be: It’s a mad dash toward a word count. It’s a time of clawing your way to a surface, everything else in your life be damned. Your existence is tunnel-visioned; nothing matters but success and survival in your pursuit of that word-count goal. But that’s what I love about NaNoWriMo: It’s a pure motivational kick in the teeth.
And in surprising ways, because of that survivalist fervor, the narratives of my novels have trajectories that are urgent, panicked, and fueled by adrenaline.
Form follows function.
Now, I’m not saying that’s necessarily the specific route for you. It’s simply how I’ve chosen to make NaNoWriMo work: Write like mad on a story that moves like mad … and is full of blood and torment … just like the writing process.
Chances are, you’re NOT working on a piece of splatter terror that takes place in real-time and moves from one horrific event to the next. But the notion of “writing like mad” can apply to all sorts of fiction. One fabulous thing that NaNoWriMo enables me to do—regardless of what I’m writing—is to turn off that constant-editor part of my brain and just go for broke. Spew words onto the page. And keep going. Page after page. Into the night. There’s both beauty and horror in that.
And that’s the whole crux of NaNoWriMo, isn’t it? I get more words churned out during November than any other month. You do too. It’s sorta magical that way. There’s something about the shared experience that gives us the determination and drive to be real writers. To hunch over that keyboard, eyes bloodshot, brain fevered, mouth dry, fingers skittering over the keys, plot spraying onto the screen like your own arterial blood—yes, perhaps scattershot, perhaps rough-edged and sloppy, but it doesn’t matter. You’re getting words down. No distractions, just you and your brainchildren—your characters, your plot machinations, your emotions, there on the page.
Don’t waste it! Don’t let the days start receding in your rearview without feeling that trembling sense of accomplishment, that bloodlust for MORE.
So here’s my advice to you, as you’re starting to really feel the heat of this grueling month. Hunker down, raise your defenses, stock up on Mountain Dew before the other survivors empty the shelves, and load your weapons. Don’t be idle. The monsters of self-doubt and loss-of-focus are outside your barricade, just waiting to invade. They’re looking for a chink in your armor. You can’t sit still and wait things out. You can’t even lean back in that chair. If you’re going to survive, you’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to take matters into your own hands.
You have the weapons. Use them.
And you’ll come out bloodied but alive and victorious in the end.