The following blog post is written by Writers & Books staff member and blog coordinator Rylie Day
Hello again, fellow writers! I hope this blog post finds you healthy, happy, but most of all, furiously and tirelessly scribbling away at those outstanding first drafts I know you’ve been pouring your heart and souls (or at least your ink and energy) into. In fact, I hope that you’re so enthralled with your own genius, so overcome with inspiration, and so overwhelmed with the piles and piles of successfully typed pages in front of you that you have absolutely no time to pay any sort of attention to such a trivial blog as this. If this is the case, then read no further. Stop. Stop reading write now. Stop reading right now and go back to your productivity. I applaud you. I commend you. I envy you. However, if the wheels just aren’t turning as quickly as you would like and you aren’t cranking out those pages as swiftly as had you hoped and anticipated you would, then please, read on. (And more importantly, perhaps, don’t feel bad if you aren’t one of those aforementioned freakishly steady manufacturers-of-words…I’ve only heard of them in fairy tales, never met one in the flesh, and still am yet to be convinced they exist.) In any sense, hopefully this next small installment in the NaNoWriMo Survival Guide will serve as some form of encouragement, help, and/or motivation for whatever kind of writer you are and whatever amount of writing you’ve done – whether it be 6000 words a day or just…six. I’ll aim for at least marginal brevity here. I know we all have some very important writing towards which to return our attention. So…
1. Be the tortoise.
What’s that? A tortoise, you say? Yes. A tortoise. This past week I had the pleasure of spending the evening reading to my niece and nephew, a regular privilege which never gets old and which I never take for granted. (For more on the marvel of reading to the children in our lives, take a look at one of my previous entries on the Writers & Books blog page.) My five year old niece picked out an ancient Aesop’s fables off the shelf. Besides having to do some serious on-my-feet editing so as not to terrify them with some of the more morbid tales, I also had to do some serious searching for which ones they would understand and would be applicable to their little minds and lives. Well, guess what, folks? The tale of the tortoise and the hare can still apply to us grown-ups too, especially if you’re like me and tend to burn out. It’s been a tiring seventeen or so days for us all, I’m sure. My guess is (and excuse me if I’m too presumptuous) that you started strong, determined, dedicated, and motivated. This was your month, your time. You may or may not have given NaNoWriMo a shot in the past and you may or may not have been successful. We all, or many of us at least, embarked on this journey (or race) with the “hare mentality.” Even if you didn’t (and especially if you did), you’re probably a little weary right about now. It’s to be expected, but just remember that whole “slow and steady wins the race” shindig has survived through generations for a reason. That tortoise (and maybe I’m embellishing here) probably stopped to enjoy the scenery and even nibble on a flower bud or two in the meantime. Enjoy the experience, no matter how tired and/or discouraged you are; and, more importantly, just keep trucking — even if that blinking cursor haunts your dreams (or your bouts of insomnia) and that unblemished page threatens to drive you to fits of self-deprecating tantrums. Whether or not these past two and a half weeks have been as you expected or vowed for them to be, (I’ll leave you each to reflect on his/her own experience and apply my proposed sentiment in the manner and to the degree to which you each deem fit/appropriate) do yourself a favor and for the next twelve days or so of your life (just twelve little days!) devote yourself to the tortoise philosophy. Whether or not you have that hoped for draft by December 1st (and my guess is that you won’t – but maybe that’s just the pessimist in me combined with my own characteristically unattainable/unrealistic expectations for myself which I assume many of us apply to our own work), if you keep up a pace, now matter how slow, for the rest of the month?… Well, you’ll cross that finish line with something of which to be proud.
2. Reevaluate your expectations.
This, in many ways, echoes or reinforces what the tortoise philosophy proposes. As I said, we all went into this month with preconceived notions. Whether or not you were convinced that you’d have produced the next best seller or if you were content with just having a skeletal work which you planned to use as a spring board, the fact of the matter is that the month is the better part of two thirds of the way over. It’s time to get serious, get real, and be honest with ourselves. How much have you written? How much have you not? By now I’m assuming (yes once again, forgive me) that you’ve learned a lot about yourself since the first of the month, specifically in regards to your writing practices, habits, and techniques. You may or may not have applied some of my previous suggestions in regards to routine and scheduling that I mentioned in the first part of this blog series. Either way, I’m sure that you’ve noticed some tendencies and patterns that pertain to your writing style. By now you more than likely have some sort of idea of what motivates you and what doesn’t, what time of day you are most productive and what time of day you simply can’t find the right word. Does coffee help when writers’ block attacks? A drink? Nothing? Do you need to take a lap around the block when you get severely frustrated or just slap yourself in the face and keep writing? I won’t pretend to know and understand the intricacies or your writing life (hell, I don’t even know and understand mine half the time!), but what I will suggest is that you assess yourself as a writer (and no I don’t mean insofar as talent and/or quality of writing is concerned…we’re all most likely our own worst critic and to too harshly judge our progress is counterproductive at this point). Just look at those goals you set for yourself as November 1st came closer and closer and compare them to where you expected to be at this point in your journey. What have you learned about the writing process? About yourself, especially as a writer? What works for you? What simply does not? What might? Then, take whatever it is you may have learned (I’m being incredibly broad for a reason here…again, apply these concepts in any way you deem fit) and consider it in the context of the plans and expectations you had at the beginning of the month. How realistic were they? Are they still plausible, considering how the past couple of weeks have gone? Given what you’ve gained from your experience and what you now know about yourself as a writer, are they still realistic? Appropriate? Attainable? If they are, then fantastic. Keep (or start?) applying that tortoise mentality. If not, then find for yourself what is realistic, what is appropriate, what is attainable. You’ve gained enough insight by now to owe yourself the gift of practical ambitions. (And for God sakes don’t hate yourself if this month hasn’t been idealistic. Who says it should be?)
3. Learn from, or at least consider, the “best”.
In case you haven’t realized by now, I’m not a huge fan of someone getting down or being unnecessarily hard on his/herself. It’s just a damn shame when someone full of ambition, potential, and downright skill is incapacitated by his/her own inaccurate opinion of/expectation for his/her self. Hence, my hesitancy to use the term “best.” There are plenty (PLENTY!) of undiscovered and underappreciated blossoming writers out there. This combined with the pop culture’s definition of “good” writing and the ever-changing nature of the industry, many are left unnoticed and/or disregarded. (I will refrain from getting on a soap box or boring you all with a diatribe on this subject because I believe I mentioned something about brevity earlier.) All this being said, there is much to learn from many of those accomplished writers out there because, whether or not we begrudge/envy them for getting that “big break,” most if not all of them were exactly in our shoes at one point in time. Hence, as you devote yourself even more to your own writing and expectantly dedicate yourself to the rest of the month, draw hope and motivation from those who have walked this path before and (at least I hope!) know a thing or two. Here are some (okay…ten, but only because there are so many out there!) of the more notable and uplifting quotes from a few of the writers which I most respect and admire– may they be as encouraging for you as they are for me. (If not, feel free to stop in to the NaNoWriMo book display at Writers & Books and sift through the bowl of motivational quotes and find one that speaks best to you.)
— “Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
– Barbara Kingsolver
— “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
– William Faulkner
— “The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.”
– William Faulkner
— “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
– Anne Lamott
— “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”
— John Steinbeck
— “To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.”
–“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
— Barbara Kingsolver
— “You fail only if you stop writing.”
— Ray Bradbury
— “The secret of it all is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood of the moment–to put things down without deliberation–without worrying about their style–without waiting for a fit time or place.”
— Walt Whitman
— “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”
— John Steinbeck
Well, besides revealing some of those writers whom I respect the most (ahem, Steinbeck, ahem, Faulkner, ahem) I hope that these few quotes, along with tip #1 and #2 have given you some perspective and motivation…or at least a warranted distraction and break from your NaNoWriMo endeavors. Like I said, if none of the above bits of word candy resonate with you, then please, come in to Writers & Books and delve into some inspiration for yourself. Even if you missed the past couple NaNoWriMo events, we still have a final gathering to push you through to the end of the month. This Friday, November 22, join us for the NaNoWriMo: The End is Near (no this is not meant to terrify you!). If the fellowship and comfy space isn’t enough motivation, there will be free snacks! Or, stop in any time you need a quiet and inspirational place to sit in a chair or on a couch and sip some tea or coffee and write away – and if not, then check in for the third and final installment of this very loose and suggestive NaNoWriMo Survival Guide (and look for a guide for those friends and family members you may or may not have been neglecting and/or abusing this month).
With all of this (forget brevity at this point, I suppose), I will leave you, fellow writers, with the most positive energy I could possibly send you. Be encouraged. Be inspired. Be yourselves. Keep working. Keep thinking. Most importantly, however, keep writing.
I send you all my best wishes, most sincere hopes, and overall confidence. Cheers.