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