Chris Baty’s 2010 Pep Talk
Dear Brave Writer,
Several of my friends are cakewalking through NaNoWriMo this year. One of them, who shall remain nameless, just hit 50,000 words, and is now considering writing a second book this month “just to keep things interesting.”
I feel sorry for these people. The best part of NaNoWriMo is overcoming adversity and seizing noveling victory on the final lap. My friends brazenly seized their victories in Week Two, and are now consigned to a miserable November full of achievement, leisure, and obscenely impressive word counts.
Bah. Those of us who are grappling with sluggish stories and dwindling mojo? We’re having the real NaNoWriMo party—the Struggler’s Party! I’ve been hanging out at this low-energy fiesta for the past week, and I’ve been hearing some familiar laments around the punch bowl.
“I think I picked the wrong story.”
“Work ate my word count.”
“Nothing seems to happen in my book.”
“My main character is getting on my nerves.”
The most common refrain at the Struggler’s Party, though, is that we’re just feeling Blah. Our stories are Blah, our writing is Blah. We’ve spent the last two weeks mining our creative depths, and many of us have emerged with too few diamonds and way too many lumps of coal.
NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun! An anything-goes adventure where stories take flight and our characters surprise and delight us. When does that NaNoWriMo kick in?
In all my years of NaNoWriMo, it has always kicked in right about now. I wanted to share two quick tips on harnessing the power of the second wind that’s about to blow across our novels.
1) Incite change. If your story is losing momentum, juice it up by inflicting some major changes on your characters. Crash the spaceship. End the marriage. Buy the monkey. Change is scary because we have to figure out what comes next. But feeling afraid is ten times better than feeling bored, and your book will benefit from your risk-taking. Go big this week! You won’t regret it.
2) Trust the process. If you’re doubting yourself or your story, just keep moving forward. It will work itself out in the end. Every year, NaNoWriMo authors who press on to 50K are treated to the equivalent of NaNoWriMo’s northern lights. This is the electric moment when the tangle of plots and people we dropped into the first half of our books end up forming unexpected connections with what we write in Weeks Three and Four. Themes develop. Arcs emerge. As we fly out of the 30,000s and into the 40,000s, a current begins to flow through our writing. Things crackle, then hum, and, at the very end of the month, enough circuits connect that the whole story lights up with a charmingly bookish glow.
I don’t fully understand it, but I do know that it’s one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had.
To my friends who are far ahead on your word-counts, I only mock you because I am deeply jealous of you.
To my fellow strugglers—our electric Third Week is about to begin.
I’ll see you at 50K, novelists.