#NaNoWriMo: William Goldman, 1931-2018

Here’s a quote from Adventures in the Screen Trade:

“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right.”

I first read William Goldman’s memoir-slash-advice-for-writers when I was a teenager, just beginning to get excited about the movies, just beginning to see them as a potential career path. I don’t remember this particular passage; what I remember are the behind-the-scenes stories about films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, along with some of Goldman’s practical advice about what you can and can’t put in a screenplay based on what the studio’s likely to pay for.

But I see those three sentences again now, and I understand exactly what Goldman means, because I’ve faced that struggle many times over the years. If you’ve been on board for all these #NaNoWriMo-themed essays, you’ve heard me talk about it in a few different ways. You’ve also heard me talk about coming out on the right side of the struggle; as Goldman puts it:

“…in order to accomplish anything at all, at the rock bottom of it all is your confidence. You tell yourself lies and you force them into belief: Hey, you suckers, I’m going to do it this one time. I’m going to tell you things you never knew. I’ve—got—secrets!”

You committed to National Novel Writing Month because you convinced yourself you had a story worth telling. Hopefully, here at the halfway mark, you’ve landed in something like the literary equivalent of Pascal’s Wager: By acting as if you believed you could write a novel, you’ve found yourself writing a novel, getting a little further into it each day. Another two weeks and maybe you’ll have a complete manuscript.

There’s a lot that still has to happen after that, and there’s still a good chance it might not happen with that manuscript. I’m in no position to promise you anything about the story you’re working on this month, one way or the other. But I can promise you that whether this story propels you into a career like William Goldman’s, or it winds up in a metaphorical drawer, you’ll have learned something valuable about yourself—and how those terrible limitations can be overcome, the hopeless inadequacy falls apart when you apply enough pressure to it, and the impossible becomes possible.

I hope you have a great weekend—and a productive one!