That's a thing, right?
Welcome to NaNo Month! All month I’ll be doing special weekly NaNoWriMo newsletters that will be free to all, but there will be extra letters on Mondays that will just be for paying subscribers.
Hello, from New York, where the clock has fallen backwards and the darkness has come! I spent about ten minutes fascinated by the livestream of the Bryant Park ice rink in the break room at work yesterday, so I’ve mentally already moved away from Hocus Pocus and onto hot chocolate and Christmas movies. But in between Halloween and Christmas is the monthlong is-it-a-marathon-or-is-it-a-sprint writing binge that is NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo is an incredibly unwieldy acronym for “National Novel Writing Month,” wherein you set yourself the challenge to write a novel in the 30 days of November. In this case, a “novel” is defined as a work that is 50,000 words, which is NOT novel-length, but I digress. This seems like a masochistic and weird journey to start on, at first glance. Why cause yourself the pain of writing that many words in a month? Why a month? What if none of those words are GOOD?
All valid reasons not to do it! For me, the value of NaNoWriMo for an author who is interested in participating is threefold:
It encourages consistency.
There is a hockey man I follow on instagram named Connor Carrick. He used to play for the Leafs, then he got traded to the Stars, and now he’s playing for the New Jersey Devils. Well, currently he’s not playing, because he shattered his pinky finger. (Ow.) I started following him over the summer because of his elevation of the art of the gym thirst trap selfie (slightly NSFW), but I kept following him because every day he posted an instagram story of himself in the gym, with his trainer, or journaling or something, and hashtagged it #consistency.
Initially, I thought this was weird. Weird, and a little off-putting. Like, don’t you have anything else to do, bro, than work your quads and fill out your mindfulness journal? Go read a book! Then I checked myself and realized: No, Jen, he doesn’t have anything else to do. Hockey is his job, his job is currently not happening, so he has to be ready to do the job again in October. So yeah, he’s in the gym six days a week doing daylong workouts that reduce grown men to tears. Yeah, he’s journaling about gratitude in an effort to keep his mind in shape, because frankly, being a professional athlete sounds like a fucking nightmare, and being honest about your feelings is probably a good thing in that situation.
Consistency is just the act of doing something over and over, for the purpose of honing the ability to keep doing that thing over and over. The muscles we use get stronger; the habits we do repeatedly grow more ingrained, until it’s hard to imagine not doing them. This can obviously be taken to extremes, and NaNoWriMo is itself a little extreme. But the idea is simple, and scalable; every day you figure out a way to sit down and write 1,667. That’s it! You can figure out what to do with those words later. For now, all those words have to do is get on the page.
November is a hellmouth; might as well figure out a way to write in it
November brings us the return to standard time, in the United States it gives us Thanksgiving, in the Northern Hemisphere it gives us cold weather and darkness and in many places actual snow. School is in session. It’s the beginning of holiday parties and the end-of-year scramble to get something, anything done before the end of the year. We are stressed and overscheduled to the max. It would seem that adding another large project on top of that - writing 50,000 words in 30 days - would be a foolish idea.
And for some people, it genuinely is! If there is Life Shit that prevents you from doing NaNoWriMo, don’t think that you’re less of a writer than someone who is able to do it. It’s one tool among many. Not being able to do NaNo is not the end of the world.
But if you don’t have Life Shit- or, well you have a moderate amount of life shit, NaNo can be a great way to figure out a way to work writing in around the things you have to do all the time. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to writing. Some people can’t write every day; their schedules just don’t allow it. Some can only snatch a few words here and there on breaks or on commutes. Some can block off hours on a weekend and tackle big chunks of wordcount at once. All these approaches are valid! Whatever works! NaNo can be a fun experiment in figuring out what’s the best approach for you; think of it as the America’s Test Kitchen for your writing routine.
Getting a book deal out of NaNo isn’t the point.
This might sound like heretical advice from a person whose job it is to figure out what writing is good or not, but I don’t think that the quality of what you produce in NaNoWriMo is important. It’s highly unlikely that something written in a rush is going to be publishable right off the bat. Knowing that is immensely freeing, I think. You don’t have to worry about publishing it; all you have to do is worry about writing it. The pressure of meeting ‘expectations’ is lifted. What if it’s good? Who cares? You sat down and you wrote a thing.
The industry of art is a brutal one. It’s easy to be focused on the “end goal” as being entirely business-oriented; sell the book, make the deal etc. But in the end, the more enjoyment you can get out of making the thing on the way to selling it, the better. There will be times when you can’t sell the thing. Or you sold the thing and it didn’t do well. Or you sold the thing and then the publisher imploded, in circumstances beyond your control. Having some enjoyment in the process, borne from consistent practice, frees you up so that you can still enjoy the work.
Connor Carrick made a video in August and posted it to his YouTube channel about his offseason routine, and titled it #Consistency. In it, he talked about how as a lower-ranked defenseman in the NHL, he got so focused on the game that it made the rest of his life suffer as a result. He talks about how switching to his daily practice helped him make room for his life, not just for his game. He talked about how the disappointment of the trade to Dallas led to the excitement of the trade to New Jersey. In the end, he gets to play the game he loves, but he enjoys the process of it more than he ever did when he was solely game-oriented. I think there are worse messages to hear. (FYI, the video has scenes of him getting acupuncture in it, in case needles are not your thing!)
If you’re interested in participating in NaNo it’s not too late! You can register on their website. And even if you’re not, I highly recommend clicking through and reading their collection of pep talks - some really fabulous people have contributed their wisdom over the years, and it’s fun to poke through. Regardless of what you do this November, I hope you figure out a way to make your art work for you. And give Connor Carrick a follow, if you want. He’s a smart little mini-fridge.
“Perhaps people are attracted to scammers because they have done away with the part of themselves that cares whether their truths are lies, leaving a covetable kind of false confidence. Perhaps every scammer is the upside-down mirror image of the American Dream, the logical endpoint to the kind of rugged individualism we are taught to admire and emulate.”
Volume 2, Issue 83: We Were Lucky by Will Leitch (**founder of Deadspin)
“But we’re still all so lucky. We’re lucky that a place like Deadspin existed. I’m lucky that we lived in a time that I got to shape it into what it was, and other people got to expand on that and make it so much more. I don’t know what would have happened had Deadspin never come along in my life. To hear the stories of people this week who had the same experience, people who said they found a community through Deadspin, or met their spouses through Deadspin, or needed Deadspin to get them during a particularly difficult time in their life, has been deeply moving. I was at a soccer game in Atlanta on Wednesday, and two guys recognized me at the bar, came up to me and said, “we’re really sorry about what’s happening over at Deadspin. That site has been a part of our lives for years.” We’re all a part of that community. That will always be what matters, even if those ghouls will never understand it.”
Trolls and Troubles: Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner review by Martin Cahill
Full disclosure: this is one of my client’s books!
“Unnatural Magic, a debut from author C. M. Waggoner, is utterly delightful. It has all the elements of a parlor room mystery, with the depth and complexity of any sturdy secondary world fantasy, with just enough sense of humor, danger, and reality to round out the whole book into a startling sort of debut.”