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Non Sequitur Fridays

Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write That Stupid Book

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Emily Coleman is a customer champion at Wistia. This is her first Non Sequitur post!

I've started a lot of novels. Really, really brutal novels—like the one about the unsupervised teenagers flying steam-punk style airplanes, or that awful modern retelling of Oedipus (starring kids). Or the glorified V for Vendetta fanfiction novel.

Most of the novels I've started are sheer and utter trash, imaginative ideas with zero follow-through. They're three pages of excitement, a half a page of "well, this idea could be better," and then completely abandoned by page four.

 

As atrocious as some of these monstrosities are, there is a part of me that regrets these defeats. I doubt I would have had the Next Great American Novel with "Totally Self-Indulgent Sci-Fi Teen Novel," but once upon a time I had a great idea. I was excited about it, couldn’t stop the rabbit trails of plots when I thought about it. It was going to be something great, if only I wrote it down.

We're all filled with really brilliant ideas—maybe it's an app, or a screenplay, or a novel. But we often tell ourselves that we're not the ones responsible for the follow through. We shouldn't start building because we're not good, intelligent, prepared, skilled, researched, trained enough. We're not enough. Someone else can do it better.

Guess what?

There is no one else.

No one else is going to do the work for you. There's no one who knows just how intricate the plotlines should be, the quirks of the characters, the one-liners, the hijinx, the romantic subplots. No one else will do it justice because no one else will do it. You're the only one.

But when is there time to write a book (or screenplay, or memoir, or even grocery list)? When is there time between work and commuting and friends and family and just life? You'll need to take a sabbatical or quit your job to pull this nonsense off.

Not quite.

You just need to be a little… zany for 30 days. Just a bit adventurous and unstoppable for one month, and you’ll get it done.*

I'm talking, of course, about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. Thirty days and nights of literary abandon.

NaNoWriMo takes place every year in November. It's 50,000 words by 11:59PM on November 30, come hell or high water. That works out to around 1,667 words a day, or roughly 3 pages single-spaced. It's moments of "this is incredibly genius" followed quickly by "this is the worst thing in the world." It's realizing you've got some gems hidden inside heaps, mounds, pages of dirt.

I've done NaNoWriMo on and off for the last 10 years, completing my first novel in 2007. It's completely chaotic and it feels like fanfiction on steroids, but it's done. It's 50,000 words of rambling, abandoned subplots, several characters with mid-book name changes—but it’s done. It was an idea I'd wanted to pursue for years, something that I couldn't stop thinking about. It taught me that I could finish something.

I wrote a novel, and there are few things more powerful than that.

There were days when I wanted to abandon it, of course. Around day seven I thought about leaving it behind, struggling through atrocious sentences no human should be subjected to. ("The rest of the guests at the naming ceremony were required to walk, and the carriages were used by the council of Velin in very rare instances. It meant that the people inside were important, mainly due to the giant crest engraved on the side." — whoops.)

But I couldn't neglect the word count. To skip a day of writing meant having to write 3,334 the next day. And then 5,000 the next. Taking a weekend off meant staring at 6,668 words come Monday morning. Stopping was not an option, even in the midst of some really awful prose.

Why slog through? Why wade through the disastrous sentences and even worse dialogue? Because of the gems, the nuggets of creativity that could only come at 2 am after several cups of coffee, a bottle of red wine, and a sleeve of Oreos. The lines that make me stop and wonder how in the world I wrote that.

I finished my first actual novel last year. I hit 50,000 words and kept going until it was completed. And while it's a total mess, it's something I'm quite proud of. It's silly and a bit over-the-top, but I wouldn't trade it for something polished. For 30 days it was all I could think about; it took over my entire life. It drove me up the wall some days, but I love that it's finished. I wrote an actual novel—from the opening sentence (the lyrics to Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero") to the final line ("I can never stop kissing this man"). I wrote a book.

Now it's your turn. In the immortal words of Ze Frank, "Life isn't just a sequence of waiting for things to be done."

Who's in for this year?

* Sorry, the edit is on your own! But December never looked so free. NaNoEdMo anyone?

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