Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
I haven’t written an article of encouragement recently, but since the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) is next month, I thought I’d take a few minutes to encourage you to begin a new project, maybe push yourself into trying a new genre or writing style, if only as an exercise and only for 30 days.
I also needed a break from the article on misplaced modifiers I was working on. The examples and explanations were getting a bit tedious, so I figured a break was in order. I’ll get back to that article sometime later this week.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of NaNo, but if not, check out the good folks that put on this very public and very fun challenge to write at least 50,000 words toward a new novel in 30 days. They’re at NaNoWriMo.org.
There is no financial cost to participate, but there is an investment of time. If you’ve never written more than a couple hundred words a day, you’ll be surprised to find that you need to average 1,667 words a day for the month to “win” NaNo. Other than a badge you can display on your own website or blog, you don’t actually win anything tangible. But you can earn bragging rights. You may also lay the solid foundations of a new novel. Your efforts may see you break through writer’s block on another project. You may surprise yourself by succeeding at a genre new to you, maybe succeed at writing scenes in a point of view different from one you normally use or find success with a different narrative tense.
I wholly support NaNo and believe every writer should try it at least once. (I tried three times, but only won the first year. Still, I eventually finished the manuscript I started, my first shot at a genre I’d never attempted.)
The discipline of writing every day may be very different from your normal writing practice, but that’s a plus; different approaches produce different results. You can push yourself to write more than 200 or 300 words a day.
Because of the relatively high word count, you’ll have to turn off your inner editor and censor and simply write, a marvelous way to get into the creative flow. If you’re a deliberate writer, writing one exact word at a time, writing with freedom may not only help you create some very free passages, but the approach may get you out of a rut.
I’m not saying that writing this way will ultimately work for every writer, but it is worth exploring by every writer. It is worth your exploration.
And I’m not saying that you’ll have perfect prose at the end of the month—you may have only the vaguest kernel of a story or the basics for plot or character—but it’s likely you’ll produce some text you can use or you’ll have learned a new way to write freely without censoring every word choice.
And you may actually start a story that will ultimately be published—dozens of novels begun in NaNo have been published traditionally, while others have been self-published.
Whether or not you try NaNo this year, do consider trying something new in the next weeks or months—a different style, a different approach, a different type of protagonist. Push yourself to explore the craft in a way you’ve never done.
If you always write a detailed outline, try beginning a new story with only the briefest of outlines. If you never outline, take the next few weeks and outline a new story so that you’re ready to begin at midnight on November first.
If you’re not ready to write, not ready to begin a new project, or don’t have the time to do so in November, commit to something else.
Read a new grammar book
Work through all the exercises in a writing book
Join a writing group and learn to critique
Spend the month going in-depth with one or two of the fiction elements, preferably elements you either have trouble with or know nothing about—subtext? theme? mood?
Force yourself out of your comfort zone and make yourself uncomfortable with some writing element (saturate yourself with grammar rules) until you become proficient with it
Read at least five to ten novels in a genre you don’t normally read or have never read
Take an online writing course and participate in the discussion groups and forums
Find a critique partner
Submit a finished manuscript to at least five agents or publishers
If you’re one who’s always online visiting writing groups and forums instead of actually writing, cut your Internet time and write instead—yes, I know this may be the most difficult suggestion of the group
If you’re one who never visits online writing sites and forums and have no idea what’s going on in the wider writing community, find a few sites and engage with writers already there
Write some poetry
Write a three-page synopsis or two for each of your completed manuscripts
I could go on and on with suggestions, but you get the picture—do something different and challenging. If your stories need an infusion, give them one by breaking out of whatever is commonplace and normal for you and try something else. Give yourself permission to try something radically different from your normal practices. Write at a different time of day. Go without lunch every day and give that time over to writing. Just try something different. Shake up normal and see what develops from doing so.
When you make a discovery, positive or negative, push beyond that single discovery and see what else you can discover. Don’t be satisfied with one revelation—search for more.
If you can try NaNo, do. If you succeed even partially, you’ll feel the success and it will spur you to try more.
There’s plenty of support for those who commit to NaNo. The NaNo website has forums where you can find encouragement as well as writing tips. There are groups online you can join, or you can physically meet up with groups in many countries around the world.
You can join groups where NaNo “teams” challenge other teams to word counts. Some groups even meet for writing sessions—they get together at cafes or libraries and have write-ins.
You can do this—I promise that you can. You may need help from a spouse or others in terms of logistics, but this is only one month out of a lifetime of months, a few hours a day—go for it. Push yourself to try something new. Push yourself beyond your long-held expectations.
If you don’t succeed, don’t write 50,000 words in one month, so what? There’s no shame in not meeting the goal. It’s a benchmark, not a do-or-die finish line. Try it. See what you can do. See what you can learn about writing, about yourself, about your stories and your style.
Press deep and stop settling for surface successes. There’s more inside you than surface-level discoveries. There are deeper emotions and more evocative phrases. There’s depth and strength and power. There is light and darkness. There are twists and calm seas and surprises. There are stories and characters and worlds that no one else can write.
There are adventures and insights in your soul that no one else can uncover, that no one else has ever touched or seen or heard. There is power to create churning inside you, power that needs an outlet, that needs life, and only you can give life to that power, to the power that moves readers and opens their eyes to truths that only your heart understands. We—all the readers of the world—we need your gifts and your daring. We need you to be fearless. We need you to let out the stories that are roaring inside your soul.
Give the world your best—what good is only a percentage of your talent or your effort? What good is good enough when readers want passion and majesty and despair and victory over overwhelming odds? What good is so-so? What reader wants to spend time in a so-so world with so-so characters whose dilemmas don’t move that reader? That don’t offer hope? That don’t challenge? That don’t even entertain?
No reader wants a writer to hold back. No reader wants you to hold back. Readers want the full gamut of emotions and adventures that beset characters. They want the richness of every emotion expressed to the nth degree. They want to cry and laugh and rage and fear. They want to feel.
Give readers what they want. Give them what they come to fiction for. Write with power and passion. Push beyond the safe and explore what the deep places have to say.
Push yourself. Rise above the ordinary and press into the deep places. Give all and not only part. Write us something astonishing.
Write the story of your heart.