#NaNoWriMo 2019: (Near) The End of the Tour

If you were participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, you’ll probably be within striking distance of your ending today. Near the end of last year’s #NaNoWriMo newsletters, I wrote about reaching the finish line—and looking past it. With a few editorial tweaks, I’d like to share the advice I gave then with you today…

If you look back over the last 30 days, you’ll probably decide that some days were better than others. Ideally, you should also be starting to notice that you’ve having consistently better days now than at the beginning of the month. Some of the last few days might have been extremely difficult—endings can be hard to write! But you’ve also been developing the tools to work through that difficulty better than you could have on November 1st, and that should be reflected in the work you’ve produced.

Yet that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad days moving forward. Years ago, when I was writing career guides for law school graduates, I had a metaphor that I would invoke to discuss how to cope mentally with losing cases: In baseball, even the best hitters in the game will fail more than six times out of ten. Or, to give it a slightly more positive spin, the best hitters are still only succeeding 33 or 34 times out of every hundred attempts.

I don’t think things are quite that drastic when it comes to our writing sessions, but I definitely have days when I look over what I’ve written in the past few hours, and I’ll know I can do better, but for whatever reason I can’t do better at that moment. And the only thing you can really do when that happens is wait until the next moment, and try to do better then.

That’s just as true when you don’t even have anything to look over because you didn’t get anything written that day. On those days, though, you should reflect on everything else you did instead of writing, and try to find something that could make you a better writer in the long run. Maybe you read something that inspired you. Maybe you went to see an author speak, or listened to them talk in a podcast. Maybe you had a conversation with a close friend or a loved one or a therapist about something that’s really important to you, and it helped you understand that thing more clearly.

Hold on to those activities. Give yourself just enough credit for them that they spur you to go back to the writing with renewed energy, as opposed to treating them as a permanent substitute for doing the work. And if you can’t find those activities in your daily routine, figure out what you can get rid of to make room for them.

Because those are the sorts of things that will make it easier—not easy, but easier—to dig your heels in when you get to the tough parts of your story.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s #NaNoWriMo posts. If you didn’t see yesterday’s open thread, I hope you might take a moment this weekend to share what you’re thankful for, whether it’s something or someone who’s helped you write, or something that’s come about as a result of your writing. It’s my first time trying out the comments system, and I’d love to see folks taking part.

Until the next newsletter, I’ll leave you with this thought:

“Every writing style is correct, if that’s the way that you intend to communicate. Whether it succeeds, that’s another matter.”—Mark Nichol

#NaNoWriMo 2019: The Thankfulness Thread

Maybe you’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month. Maybe you already have a writing practice, or you’ve been trying to establish one. Wherever you are in your journey, what are you grateful for—whether that’s something that’s made it possible for you to write, or something that’s come out of the writing?

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#NaNoWriMo 2019: Without Whom None of This Would Be Possible

Looks like I might have an annual Thanksgiving message!

(I was looking at what I wrote last Thanksgiving, as National Novel Writing Month was winding down, and it felt like, with a few minor adjustments, it held up pretty well. So if today’s newsletter seems familiar, then I’m the one who should say thank you for being a longtime reader!)

If you’ve worked your way through the first three weeks of #NaNoWriMo, you’ve gained some valuable experience in creating a writing life for yourself—specifically, in giving yourself the time and space in which to do your writing. Some of you might be able to do that completely independently, but I think most of us would say that we owe a lot to the people who are supporting us in the quest to write a complete short novel in just one month. (And, of course, what I’m about to say applies to any of us engaged in a writing practice, at any time of the year.)

Some of that support is simple and intangible: Friends and loved ones who cheer us on, who are glad to see that we’re writing, maybe even eager to see what we come up with when we’re ready to share it. First and foremost, it’s important to believe in yourself, but having other people believe in you can be a powerful reinforcement.

It’s even better to have people in your life who not only believe in you, but are willing to provide some concrete help as you work on creating your writing life. Friends who understand why you might not be able to hang out with them as much as you have in the past, and are willing to schedule around you. Loved ones who are willing to take on a household chore or two if that gives you some extra writing time, who understand why you’re getting up early, or staying up late, or not joining them to watch television before going to bed at night.

That might not seem like much when I state it so baldly. But all of those gestures, and many others like them, have an accumulative effect—and if you’re actually doing the work that they’re giving you the space to do, you’ll see that for yourself.

So, this Thanksgiving, when people who know to ask you about #NaNoWriMo ask you how it’s coming along, be sure to take a moment to express how glad you are to have their support. A simple “thanks for asking” could do the trick, but if you want to be more specific about how “I couldn’t do it without you,” go for it!

Oh! Literary agent Kate McKean used her newsletter this week to talk about writing your acknowledgments. If you’re fortunate enough to become a published author, Kate’s checklist provides an excellent checklist for all the people to whom you might wish to express your gratitude.

However you choose to spend this Thursday, I hope it’s a good day for you! If you manage to squeeze in some writing time, great, but just have a good day, as best you can. (Which, now that I’m looking at it on my computer screen, is good advice for all the days that aren’t Thanksgiving, too…)

#NaNoWriMo 2019: Missteps in the Right Direction

Recently, in a previous NaNoWriMo-themed newsletter, I suggested, “Whenever you ‘mess up,’ whenever you have a less than perfect writing day, it’s because you were taking a risk.” I’ve been thinking about that off and on ever since, and it came to mind this weekend when I read an interview with Benny Lewis at Five Books. The interview’s ostensibly about recommended reading for people who want to learn Spanish, but Lewis’s advice can be applied to learning any language—and one bit in particular struck me as useful for anyone who wants to develop a writing practice.

“When we think of speaking a language,” Lewis observes, “we use our native language as a basis of comparison. So we think of success as when we’re able to have a certain level of complexity—like, you can talk about your deepest philosophical beliefs.” But it’s important to recognize the small victories as well, like “a five-minute conversation about what you do on Monday mornings.”

“This is why I say I have a goal of making mistakes. I aim to make 200 mistakes a day—that’s kind of part of my philosophy. Then it’s a lot easier to get into your flow, because you’re ticking that box of making mistakes rather than ticking the box of, ‘I’m going to have a debate on the meaning of existence in Spanish.’ That’s not something you really want to be worried about in your first months.”

Learning to tell a story through writing, even in your first language, takes a lot of work, a lot of practice. But every “mistake” you make along the way, every attempt to tell a story that doesn’t come out quite right, is evidence of your efforts, and though they may not map out a perfectly straight line to a finished manuscript, they will set you, generally speaking, in the right direction, as long as you’re willing to keep trying.

If you’ve actually been participating in National Novel Writing Month these last three weeks, you’ve probably felt like you’ve screwed up on more than one occasion. Maybe it’s something you were able to fix right away. Maybe you had to think about it overnight before you came up with a better way to express what you were trying to say. Maybe you’re still trying to get back on course before Thanksgiving comes along and totally derails your NaNoWriMo routine.

Whatever the circumstances are, you’re okay. You know more about your story, and about yourself, than when you started writing. You can build upon that knowledge and continue to move forward—and, over time, you will become more fluent in the language of you and your stories.

That fluency is, I think, the ultimate goal of NaNoWriMo. Don’t get me wrong: If you have a coherent, finished manuscript on November 30, that’s awesome. If it’s within striking distance of publishability, that’s amazingly awesome. But everyone who started writing on November 1 and is still writing on November 30, even if they missed some days in between, has proven to themselves that they don’t just want to write, they can commit to writing, and can reap the benefits of that commitment.

So don’t worry about getting everything perfect in today’s writing session. Just write, and see where it leads you.

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