Today starts off the second half of National Novel WritingMonth. If you’re like me, you are probably thinking a lot about how to make your goals a reality in the next two weeks.
My challenge is writing the volume of words I need to and staying on track with the story. At the moment, I’m about two days behind schedule in terms of word count, but I’m actually much further along in my plot than I should be. But I know for many of you, the concern is with getting to the end.
Last night, I appeared on the YouTube series The CornerBooth to discuss self-doubt and how to overcome it and push past it to complete NaNoWriMo. There were a few things I had hoped to share but due to time and the direction of the conversation I didn’t get the chance so I’m putting them down in this blog.
If you are able to write an entire novel without a moment of doubt, without second guessing yourself, without believing the book your writing is a piece of garbage, without feeling that the idea you had in the shower this morning is twenty times better than the book you are working on, then you are living a charmed life. Most writers will have these feelings at some stage if not multiple stages in the course of the first draft and this is why commitment is so important. Commit to finishing your book no matter what. I will be getting into some of the side benefits of doing this, but the main reason is it may be the only thing that gets you to the end. if you don’t commit, self-doubt will win and shiny new ideas will lure you away. Stubborn commitment is best way to ride out these moments, because they won’t last if you stick with it.
Feel no shame
I have often heard writers say, “I put my novel aside because it just wasn’t as good as I thought it should be.” To this I say: “There is no shame in writing a bad novel.” Well, maybe there’s some shame, if you think it’s wonderful and it isn’t. But you can’t look at a bad novel as a failure—it’s experience. Every author probably has at least one bad novel hidden in a drawer. Don’t think of it as a waste of time because it’s something you don’t want others to read and you’ll never get an agent for. It’s an education. You will learn more from writing a bad book than you ever will from a good one. There are hundreds of possible lessons in one bad book touching on topics such as plotting, characterization, and style. Don’t undervalue it. And don’t forget, your book may actually be a lot better than you think it is while you’re in the heat of writing it. Just because you think it's bad doesn't mean you're right. But if you are right, keep writing and think of it as the cheapest and best writing class you'll ever take.
Finishing is its own reward
A couple of weeks ago, I read an interview with the immensely talented Jesse Sprague, where she mentioned how important it was for her to finish her first novel. I read it and started jumping up and down in my chair. “Yes! This was such a pivotal point for me too. Why has no one ever talked about this before?” I thought.
Whether you’re working on NaNoWriMo or not, if you’ve never gotten all the way through a novel, do yourself a favor and finish one. There are some very important benefits to doing so.
First, it teaches you it can be done and it gives you the confidence to do it again. Of course you know a book can be finished and you probably believe you can do it too. But until you’ve done it, you don’t really know. It’s a lightning bolt moment in your writing career that’s a little like graduation day. Because the truth is: anyone can write a handful of good chapters, but when you finish an entire book you are a novelist.
Also, you will gain a new found understanding of your book that can only be reached after the finish line is crossed. Plots and characters will fall into place in a way, which isn’t possible when it's in progress. This will mean going back and doing a lot of editing, but you were going to do that anyway. Right?
This is knowledge of your story is something you will never have if you don’t finish. It’s a chance to stand on the mountain top, look down, and see your whole story in its entirety for the first time. And once you experience that perspective for the first time, you’ll understand why you need to finish your book in order to judge it properly.
Make the most of it
If you’ve embarked on NaNoWriMo remember how you felt the last week of October when you were contemplating it. Renew your commit to those goals and finish your book. It’s only two more weeks out of your life. You might end up with the rough draft of the book that will make your career, but know that if nothing else, this is a crash course that will teach you more things than you can imagine. Make the most of it.