Tag Archives: Steven King

Nailing NaNoWriMo: Or Not

So NaNoWriMo is under way and I’m sure all of you are demolishing your word count goals, right? Right? Well, for those of you who can answer in the affirmative, I offer you my congratulations.

But it has come to my attention that there are some of you who are struggling. You’ve already fallen woefully far behind in the race and it’s looking more and more like you’re not going to be able to complete things on time. It’s only a few days in, but already you’re thinking you bit off more than you could chew. 1,667 words per day? What kind of masochist would put themselves through that kind of torture?

If you’re in the second group then I’d like you offer you my congratulations as well.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Whatever, it’s not like it matters. I just can’t keep up with the rest of you speed demons. Maybe this writing thing just isn’t for me.”

Hey now, lets not hear that kind of bummery. Turn that frown upside down, fellow-writer. Actually, never mind, that sounds like it might hurt. Instead, why not flex different facial muscles in such a manner that the corners of your mouth turn up rather than down? Because I am about to impart precious nugget of writing encouragement.

Here’s the thing: not everyone writes at the same speed.

Some of you just aren’t “there” yet. When I started writing I set a goal of a thousand words a day, and those thousand words were tough. I looked at NaNoWriMo and thought, “What, are you kidding? 1,667 words every day? That…that’s impossible.” And for me, at the time, it practically would have been impossible. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Speed in writing comes with time and practice.

Some of you just don’t have the time. I know, I know, writers make time to write, and that’s all well and good, but I can testify that making that time is a whole lot harder this year than it was last year. Why? Well for one thing I’ve got foster kids now. Also, my wife isn’t working which means in order to make writing time sometimes I have to say, “No I don’t want to go down and browse though that awesome antique mall with you. Spending time with the characters in my novel is far more important than spending time with the woman I married in real life.” Add on top of all that the fact that I’m working full-time, and trying to get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can say to the writers struggling to find time out there, I feel your pain.

And some of you just aren’t cut out to write, 1,667 words per day. Which is fine. Not all writers are cut from the same mold. (For instance, I was cut from that black mold that grows on your walls, and makes you sick sometimes. Don’t bleach me bro!) Not everyone can be Steven King and churn out six pages a days. Somebody’s got to be James Joyce, and obsess over the correct order of words in a single sentence for hours. Can you imagine how he would have reacted to NaNoWriMo?

But no matter what type of writer you are, the most important thing to remember is that NaNoWriMo is a tool. It’s a source of encouragement and common energy among writers, a chance to set an audacious goal and fight to meet it. But not every tool is right for every job.

So keep on plugging. And if you can’t keep up with the rest of the speed demons out there, don’t get too discouraged.

Always remember: NaNoWriMo does not define you. One single month out of the year will not make you a writer. The true test of your mettle is what you do with the other eleven.

Step 1. Learn the Rules. Step 2. Forget the Rules.

When I was sixteen I received a wonderful piece of literature, a book which has inspired literally millions of young readers, a book which has been the key which has opened the door to boundless possibility in my life and the lives of others.  The name of this book? The Florida Driver’s Handbook.

The Florida Driver’s Handbook was a book of with instructions for new drivers as well as lists of many wonderful rules concocted by the government to keep me from dashing my young brains out on the dashboard of my car.

Hey, I wonder if that’s why they call it a dashboard?  Because people dash their brains out on it? Man that’s pretty gruesome and [tangent alert, tangent alert, please correct course]

Oh, right.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  The handbook.  I studied those rules hard, because I knew if I was going to get my driver’s license I would have to pass a rigorous test of my knowledge of those rules.  Eventually I did pass that test, and after a shaky jaunt through the tiny oval-shaped course behind the DMV I walked out the proud owner of a shiny new drivers license.

Fast forward ten years.  I can’t tell you a single thing I remember out of that book.  Except for the rule about not using your turn signal to let someone know it’s okay to pass.  That one stuck with me for some reason.  But everything else is gone.  And yet, I’d say I’m still a passable driver.  Not a great driver, as my wife will tell you as we skid to a halt behind a car that has been stopped at a red light for approximated forty years before hand, but I do get by, and so far haven’t been in any major accidents.

So what’s the verdict?  Where the rules useless?  Did I waste my time learning something that ultimately didn’t matter?

Well, yes and no.  I can tell you that if I tried to drive by the rules now, I’d be so distracted trying to remember all of them that I’d run up on the sidewalk and mow down a bunch of power walkers.  But there was a time when the rules played an important role in my life.

When I was a new driver, I knew literally nothing.  I had to be told to only use one foot instead of two, I had to constantly check myself to make sure I wasn’t wandering out of my lane, I had to consciously calculate how soon I need to start breaking to come to a successful stop.  If I hadn’t had the rules back then, I would have likely killed myself.

What does this have to do with all of you wonderful writers out there?  Well in a way, writing is like driving a car.  See, when you’re a freshly minted writer you go out and buy all the writing books that tell you how to craft good prose and write gripping scenes.  They’re full of advice like “show, don’t tell” and “use active verbs instead of ‘be’ verbs” and a whole host of other tips to keep you on the writing road.  And all of those rules are good for you.

But here’s the rub.  You don’t learn to drive by reading the Driver’s Handbook.  You learn to drive, by driving.  Writing is the same way.  Memorizing all the rules in the world won’t make you a great writer without practice.

When you’re driving they give you something called a learners permit.  And when you’re writing you get the infamous First Novel.

Now I know you’re the exception to the rule.  I know you’re going to write that puppy straight and edit it hard, and then come back and edit it again, and when finally you send it off to the publisher’s you’ll have a world-wide best seller on your hands.

But let me tell you about an author who didn’t sell the first book he ever wrote right off the bat.  No, it isn’t me.  It’s Steven King.  Everyone probably knows that his first published work was Carrie.  What you may not know is that the first book he wrote was called The Long Walk.  And yes, he did eventually get it published, but not until after he got some experience under his belt.

Why? Because Steven King had to learn just like the rest of us.  He had to start somewhere.  He had to figure out how to let go of the rule book and start writing.  It didn’t happen all at once for him, and it won’t happen all at once for you either.  Call yourself a writer?  Then know you’re in this for the long haul my friends.

And that isn’t a bad thing.  I know I sound like I’m being negative here, but really I’m trying to encourage you.  See, if you let yourself get into that “my first book will sell and I will be famous” mindset you’re hurting yourself more than you know. Writing, like driving, is a lifestyle, and you’ll cripple yourself if you forget that.  Because when that first book is done and you don’t sell it you’re going to get super depressed.  You’ll think to yourself, “I’m really just a terrible writer.  I don’t know why I thought I could do this in the first place.  Nobody wants to read my crap.”  And you’ll give up.

But the truth is you were just on the verge of something greater.  So sit back down in your chair and keep writing.  You’ll notice that you start to feel a little more comfortable letting go of the rulebook every day.  And before you know it, you’ll be soaring along like an uncaged canary tracing your own rules in the skies of possibility.