As I’ve mentioned previously, the first two weeks of my month had me off to a rocky start. Because of how busy work was and the personal issues I was dealing with at the time, I fell behind my target goals rather quickly and am still working on recovering from that period of emotional turmoil. However, for the last week, I’ve managed to hit my daily minimums every day and surpass them more often than not. I’m not quite writing as many words as I did during my initial word binges, but I’m making steady progress that will see me caught up by the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, if nothing else. That being said, I’m also finding that writing as a whole is easier than ever before. I never would have imagined that I could sit down and, in about ten minutes, pound out eight hundred words. They were easy words, a character monologuing his way through a story he was telling about a cruddy day at work with only a few interjections from other characters, but it was still an impressive moment to see in the rear-view mirror.
The more I write and the more time I spend on trying to create, the more I see just how much I’ve grown since I started my daily writing journey in November of 2017. There are all the skills I’ve learned from having an amazing editor and the better understanding of the English language that I went over in my one year celebration post, but that’s not all. As a result of the year of writing, I am now comfortable with story formats I used to dislike. I specifically challenged myself to practice shorter pieces like flash fiction and specifically paced stuff like serial fiction because I was not good at trying to tell a story in what felt like very constrained formats. Now, I have a ton of experience with them and am looking forward to another year of exploring what I can do in three hundred words. I’m also the closest I’ve ever come to having an edited draft of a story, thanks to the weekly nature of my serial science fiction story, though I imagine turning it into a non-serial story will take a bit more work than I’d like to imagine. I’m sure there are inconsistencies and things I’d like to add to the beginning that I hadn’t come up with until partway through the story.
In my novel writing for this month, it’s mostly benefited me in regards to allocating time for writing and avoiding procrastination. I’m used to setting aside time every day for writing and I’ve created a habit of writing every day to the point that not writing feels uncomfortable. I know myself and my mental processes so well that I no longer fall for my own tricks when it comes time to sit down and work. I know that it might take a lot of work to get started, but continuing to write is easy. If I can just push myself to start stringing words together, the momentum will easily carry me through my daily minimum. There are exceptions, of course. I can’t push myself to write if I’m sick or struggling with an emotional issue, and now I’m better at recognizing when that’s the case. I’ve got a whole history of finding compromises with my mental health so I can avoid the sting of feeling like I’ve wasted the day without pushing myself so hard that I make myself feel worse.
As someone who has been working on writing for the larger half of my life at this point, these skills and this level of self-management is invaluable. Being able to just sit down and write no matter where I am will serve me well if I ever manage to go into writing as a self-supporting career. Being able to work through stories quickly, to come up with new ones at the drop of a hat, and to be able to rely on my creativity to work with me on demand is amazing. It also took an entire year of working at this to make it happen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is easy to look at someone like me and see how simple it can look to write over sixty thousand words in nineteen days, but this has only been made possible by a decade of learning and a solid year of daily practice. You want to get good at writing? Put in the time. Do the work. Practice. There are no shortcuts, though the starting point may vary to some degree, so just take your time, set reasonable goals, and you’ll get there before you know it. Despite being a really difficult year for a lot of non-writing reasons, it feels like it flew past me as I slowly worked my way from an ambitious idea to the self-affirming conclusion.
The point I’m trying to get at is that writing is more than just one month, even if that month is nationally recognized. Even if this is the only time you really work on a novel, there’s still another three hundred thirty-five (or thirty-six) in the year and everything you do during those days is going to contribute to your National Novel Writing Month project. The more you read, the more exposure to different ideas you will have and the better your own ideas will be. The more you write, the easier it will be to get through your National Novel Writing Month goals. If you really want to turn this story idea into something bigger than a one-month project, you should probably start thinking about what comes next. December first is just another day, sure, but I once decided it was going to be the day I turned a one-month goal I’d set for myself into a one-year goal I thought was going to take a few tries to actually manage. Everything starts somewhere, so start thinking where you want to start.
That being said, there are reasons to wait, too. One of my friends is struggling with her family situation, the demands they place on her time, and a significant degree of burnout I can relate to since she’s never really gotten an uninterrupted break since college. That’s a situation where you need to acknowledge your limitations and pick a time to start after you’ve rested. There’s no shame in needing to rest, which is something I should tell myself as often as I tell my friends.
I’m not trying to force you to make a decision or to have an answer. I tend to make decisions quickly, but I spend so much time thinking about hypothetical situations that there aren’t many realistic scenarios I haven’t considered already so it’s easy for me to just make a decision. Just figure out what your pace is, what you want to do, what your needs are, and come up with a plan. Whatever you do, just don’t forget that nothing happens in isolation and gradually working on something will always yield better results than trying to rush through something quickly. Good luck with your writing today!
An unfortunate fact of the world is that most people define what they support by listing what they’re against. Hate is easier than love and sometimes it can feel so good to finally be able to score a decisive victory against something or someone we hate. Maybe it’s someone in an argument on the internet admitting they were wrong (I’ve seen it happen) or maybe they finally got Bob next door to cut back his hedges by three inches so they’re firmly on his side of the property line. Maybe it’s even a just hatred and someone scored a major point by standing up against worse hatred. However you want to do it, show us what your protagonist hates and the battles they choose to fight against whatever it is they hate. If your protagonist doesn’t hate anything, have one of their companions do it instead.
One of the first stories that ever made me want to tell stories myself was The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Mostly the Hobbit, because that was one of my bedtime stories growing up, but also Lord of the Rings because it was one of the first stories I read once I finally got over my disinterest in reading. The idea of an entire made up world filled with such interesting characters as you found in Lord of the Rings, the sense of history and weight behind each of the tales told, and the expansive world full of intricate detail that appealed to my much more literal (at the time, anyway) mind. It got me interested in making worlds of my own and trying to explore them beyond the immediate bits you saw when playing pretending or telling a story and that led to my decision to write stories of my own instead of just verbally telling them to my sisters.
Never underestimate the power of music to influence your writing. The right mix can get your brain thinking along the right track for pretty much any emotional scenario. I’ve got mixes for all of the major emotions, situations, and scenes. I’ve got five different varieties of fight scene music (overwhelming good guy power, overwhelming bad guy power, the hero narrowly prevails, and the death of a hero in both tragic and noble variants), I’ve got music for interpersonal conflict that is not violent (over a dozen playlists, so I’m not going to list them), and all of the emotions with the direction the emotion is heading (for example, sad and getting sadder or sad and getting less sad). I’ve got music for investigations, music for explorations, music for tense moments and near death experiences, and even music for romantic moments, though that tends to vary by the characters involved. I’ve also got playlists for each of the major characters that generally form the auditory backdrop of any moment I’m not focused on a difficult scene.
Music is such a big part of my process that half of my book ideas were born from a song or the mental image from a song. One of my favorites and the one I got the furthest in, “Between Light and Dark,” is inspired by a Vampire Weekend lyric. Their song “Giving Up the Gun” repeats a line: “You sword’s gone old and rusty… …It’s locked up like a trophy forgetting all the things its done.” That one line spawned the tale of an older swordsmen blessed by an elusive god with a talent for swordplay unrivaled in his lifetime who decides he doesn’t want to kill anymore. It explores the erasure of his identity as anything but this ultimate killer and his fumbling attempts to help prevent the protagonist from following him down that particular path, all told in a fantasy setting where the Elves are the evil people. Man, I want to get back to that story. Maybe once I’ve finished “Coldheart and Iron” and “What You Know You Need” I’ll get back to it. Anyway, music is great and you should let it influence you. It won’t disappoint.