Chris Baty’s Pep Talk
You’re watching a movie. And halfway through it, the hero crumbles.
He or she is lost. Surrounded by zombies or forsaken by love or separated from their favorite wookiee. They stare forlornly at the mess their life has become, hope fading that things will ever be put right again.
Screenwriters call this moment “the long, dark night of the soul.” Every Hollywood movie has one because we love seeing our protagonists pummeled for a while before they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and head out to kick some ass.
NaNoWriMo participants go through their own long, dark nights of the soul halfway through November. If you haven’t experienced one already, you will very soon.
I say this with certainty because we’ve spent a lot of time and money making the middle stretch of this year’s adventure especially difficult.
We don’t have the costumes or the makeup budget to send a convincing-looking group of zombies to your door. Instead, we’ve relied on smaller, cheaper things to demoralize you mid-month. We’ve convinced your bosses and teachers to heap projects on you at the last minute. We’ve gotten your family to pitch fits when you need to get caught up on your word count. Most insidiously, we’ve paid your novel’s cast to stumble through their scenes with all the eloquence and charm of a baked potato.
Why? Because we have to do something to make your novel-in-a-month endeavor a fair fight. Which it isn’t. Look at you! You’re a fantastically gifted individual, with fierce courage and an imagination powerful enough to knock out a dozen books in November.
If you don’t believe me, just scroll back through all you’ve written so far. That’s more than most people achieve in a year, and you did it in two weeks. It may be less than you’d hoped, and the quality may be crappier than you’d envisioned. But first drafts are supposed to be rough, and I guarantee you’re too deep in the process right to recognize all the great stuff you’ve put on those pages. Despite our meddling, you’ve achieved a truck-load of literary goodness. And it’s just a taste of what’s ahead.
Because the second half of this noveling marathon is when things really begin to move. For starters, the NaNoWriMo-funded interference will end. This is partly because we’ve realized the whole “fair fight” thing was a dumb idea, and partly because we blew all of our harassment budget on yesterday’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to crash every word processor in Manitoba.
Shenanigans aside, the back half of NaNoWriMo has always been a place where writers get their second winds. As long as you keep working, your potatoes will turn back into charismatic protagonists, and your imagination will build a path right out of these mid-month doldrums.
You can help build that path faster by hitting your writing goals for the next three days. This may sound like a small thing, but little, consistent writing achievements open the door to huge writing breakthroughs.
If you’ve fallen behind on your word count or lost the thread of your story, you may think no breakthrough will be big enough to save your book. Take heart: There are 300,000 of us out there right now living that exact same movie. We’re all struggling to balance our books with the crazy stuff life has chucked at us these past two weeks. We’re all wondering if we have what it takes to see this thing through. And we’re all about to stand up, dust ourselves off, and go kick some major ass.
The long, dark night is ending, my friend. The homestretch lies ahead.
I’ll see you at the finish line.