Unfortunately, the title isn’t a sexual innuendo, perverts (not that I didn’t do it on purpose), and this won’t be a post giving you tips for your disgruntled girlfriend. It’s November right now, which is also the National Novel Writing Month, a time when everyone from your lover to her other lover are spending hours staring at empty Word documents, trying to reach the daily word count.
For those of you who aspire to be craftsmen of the written word, also known as the homeless, you should be more than halfway done with your NaNoWriMo 50k work by now. However, for the majority, the reality is not what it should be. Maybe you had an off day or several off days in a row, or maybe you threw your laptop out your window in a fit of rage when you realized that you weren’t as good a writer as you thought you were. Who’d have guessed that you’d need to have more than just middleschool poetry and comment sections on the internet under your belt to be a great writer?
Personally, I didn’t start writing because of NaNoWriMo. I’d always been a “casual” writer, with my own short 1-2k fiction and some poetry here and there, and it was only October ’11 when I started taking myself seriously. I hadn’t even heard of NaNoWriMo until mid November ’11, and then I realized I was going faster than the minimum requirements of NaNoWriMo writing per day anyway. I started looking into NaNoWriMo (which I will refer to as Nano from now on, because Jesus Christ), and as I kept following message boards and forums after it ended, I realized that a lot of people were looking at it the wrong way: some were disappointed with themselves for not having finished the goal, and others were wondering why their writing just wasn’t as good as they’d pictured it in their heads.
Now, I’m not trying to state the obvious, but everyone who’s attempting this should know how easy it is to blind yourself in self-doubt and self-pity, until you’re nothing more than a shaking husk of meat curled up in your corner afraid to even look at the word count blinking away on the computer screen. This isn’t because you’re new and unexperienced. This isn’t because it’s your first time in the ring or because you haven’t grown the calluses on your fingers from too much stringing yet. This is because, as you should remind yourself every single time it happens, that’s just what the creative process is. Everyone feels that way. All the time.
And again, it seems obvious, but we all need to be told that. Without my girlfriend I’d have quit writing on the first day, but she pushed me and told me I could do it, even on days when I wrote complete crap. And honestly, I don’t know what I would’ve done without her. I wouldn’t have continued writing, plainly. I’d still be playing video games or taking up a career path that would’ve just disappointed me in life, one that would’ve left me unfulfilled.
And I realize that a lot of people probably don’t have that support to lean on, that person always cheering them forward. You’re left feeling sad because your work just doesn’t look as good as that published stuff, and unlike experienced writers (since even they feel insecure at times), you don’t have that proof that you’re just being an idiot, because you actually are a good writer (that is, if you are, which I hope so). I think that’s what makes breaking into it so difficult: just the act of writing makes even the best writers feel like the worst, but when you first start writing, the quality of your work is probably nearer to the latter than the former.
Which means… your doubts might actually be true, at least, when you first start. But that doesn’t mean you should stop. You don’t go to the gym and slap on 210 pounds of weight on the bench press when your arms are skinnier than those of that awkward white boy actor they use for all the awkward white boy movies. You don’t graduate from Grade 12 without going through 1, 2, 3, 4, and all the way up to 11. Why do you think writing is going to be any different? Do you think Batman just put on the costume and became Batman? Why do you believe that writing is so simple that you’re going to be good just because you’re doing it?
The explanation is easy. Most people think that way because writing is something we’ve done since we were toddlers. We’ve all had to learn the ABCs, write stories, write essays, write everything in our day to day lives, and we all just instinctively believe that if we tried to write in the way of a novel, then a novel would just pop up. Because why not? Writing is just different from everything else, because everyone can do it.
See, when we look at sports stars, we see buff athletes who spend hours and hours on the fields, courts and gyms, toning their bodies and slaving under the heat of their layers of sweat. We know how hard that is. We look at scientists and lawyers and imagine piles and piles of books and reports. We know how hard that is too. But when we look at writers, they all seem like slack-jawed unemployed people with fancy reading rooms. We don’t see their stress, their hours toiling into the night, their own ghosts haunting them, telling them how horrible they are and how their next book is going to ruin their career. All we see is the table where they write, the hours it takes to write, and then a book.
And that’s why so many people give up on writing: we don’t realize how hard it is until we actually start trying. I was lucky that I had someone to push me all the way through, but for those of you without a person like that, you just have to really understand why you wanted to do this in the first place. Do you love reading? Do you love writing? Do you love creating intriguing stories and exploring personality? Yes, yes, yes? Then why quit?
Don’t be that guy who goes to the gym one time and then gives up because “it’s too far away” or “they stared at me strangely in the locker room”. Everyone knows the real reason why that guy quit. Nobody likes that guy, including you.
I’m not an expert, nowhere near one, but I think that’s what makes my advice different — you’ve all probably been reading tips from the pros and the vets, but even they can forget what it was like starting out as a writer. It’s so easy for other people to tell you to keep trudging on (which I’ve done in another post here).
It’s so easy not to believe people who have published books and years and years of praise to boost their confidence, while you have absolutely nothing. I guess, when you’re feeling like crap and you think you’re never going to be good enough, the best way to keep yourself motivated is to remember that everyone at one point was a beginner, just like you. You can only go one direction when you’re at the bottom, and that’s up.