I’ve always written. My childhood room is littered with half-full diaries, pages of poems, pencil marks in the margins of all my favorite books. None of these scribbles are particularly mind-blowing, but they do speak to something larger – an impulse to write, all the time. I was trying furiously, in that seven-year-old way, to make sense of who I was through words. Writing is still how I process the world.
But writing a book? At first it felt impossible to go from half-finished poems to a full-grown 50,000-word novel. Plot? Characters? Huh? Yet, as the prospect of really writing a novel has wedged itself into my brain, I’ve grown excited by it.
I’m beginning to tell myself: Write the book. It doesn’t matter how it turns out, whether the plot is the most gripping, or the characters the most intriguing. What matters is that you start somewhere, that you give yourself a chance, that you tell yourself you can do it. The rest will follow.
At National Novel Writing Month headquarters, the bulk of our advice can be summed up with two short words: Do It. Really. How else will you get your butt to your desk every single day for an entire month? How else will you get through the monotony of page 70, the horror of having a character that makes no sense, or the tempting distraction of a house full of friends? You have to believe that you can do it.
And, once you’ve got that down, here are some other helpful tips:
Make time for writing. As Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, explains in a NaNo Pep Talk from a few years ago, “The question authors get asked more than any other is “Where do you get your ideas from?” What I usually say is “I don’t know where they come from, but I know where they come to: they come to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.” So find that desk, and get to it!
Tell your friends (and make new friends). The beautiful thing about NaNoWriMo is that it supports your writing with a community of like-minded and motivated writers. Despite its reputation, writing is a collaborative process. It is rare that you will read anything that wasn’t combed through by friends, lovers, editors, and copy-editors alike. Almost every piece of writing you read (including this one) has been the recipient of multiple sets of eyes and minds and ideas. And that is part of what makes good writing so rich.
While planning out our writing schedule the other day, my friend looked at me and said, “I’ve decided that we should become comfortable talking about our writing with each other. I mean, how else will we get through this month?” And, while it terrifies me to consider being so open with my writing (What if it’s no good?), it also thrills me.
You don’t have to plan your novel. Don’t know what on Earth you are going to write about? That’s okay. While some people have already sketched out their characters, chapters, and plot twists, others just don’t write like that. Part of the creative thrill for me is leaping off the cliff and learning to fly as I freefall. That blank page sitting in front of you is the ultimate frontier.
If you do want to plan your novel: Outlining doesn’t have to be regimented. I was biking to the grocery store a few weeks ago and a sentence popped into my head. The sentence stayed as I rounded the bend, so I pulled out my phone and jotted it down. Three weeks later, I pulled out my laptop and wrote it down again. Many other sentences had come and gone through my brain in the interim, but this one had, for whatever reason, continued to resonate.
So I started really thinking about this sentence. I expanded it outward into a paragraph, and asked myself: who was the person at the center of this idea? Who did she know? What was her relationship like with those people? What events happened as a result of these relationships? Before I knew it, I had 3,000 words and a rambling series of notes that included character descriptions, relationship details, and a potential series of events. Without even realizing it, I had sort-of maybe-kind-of planned out my novel.
So, set out! Explore! Take your pen (or laptop) with you. And, most of all, enjoy the creative process. Whenever writing proves difficult, stop for a moment and imagine the feeling you will have on that (potentially) snowy day in December when it hits you—really hits you—that you wrote a novel.
About the Author
Hannah Rubin is the Editorial Associate for National Novel Writing Month. She has no pets and lives in Oakland, Calif.