Maybe you’re doing NaNoWriMo.
Maybe you’re just writing a novel. Or a script. Or an epic YouTube video where a guy gets hit in the nuts by a wrecking ball covered in Christmas lights.
Inevitably you hit that point in any project where you feel like you’re in the weeds. Vines tangled around your feet. The forest’s hissed warnings telling you, You’re just not good enough. The mud pulls at your feet. Red eyes stare from the darkness — the pinpointy stares of winged monkeys waiting in the shadows, waiting to swoop in and steal your shoes and, I dunno, probably poop in them or something. (Because winged monkeys are uniformly dicks. Total assholes. And terrible tippers, to boot. I mean, five percent on a bar-and-dinner tab? You go to hell, winged monkeys.)
Point is, the wheels are coming off the cart.
And you start to think, “I could just give up. No. I should just give up.”
Fuck that frequency, homeslice.
I’ll brook none of that babble around these parts. Because around these parts? We finish the shit that we started or we get our precious widdle toesy-woeises broken with a ball-peen hammer. (“This little piggy went to market, this little piggy got thrown into a car crusher where all his tender bones were pulverized into pork dust WHAM WHAM WHAM.”)
Over there, you’ll see a wide open field of lonely writers milling about. Millions of them. Slack-jawed and bumping into each other, sometimes saying, “Oh, let me tell you about my novel,” before voiding their bowels and pawing at one another while making sad moosey noises. Then, over here, you’ll see a much smaller group of writers. Easily a fraction of the wider herd.
You know the difference between the two groups? The big herd never finished a thing. Endless novels begun, and just as many never completed. The smaller group — the ones breathing rarefied air — are those writers who have finished something. Most don’t. That’s the big separation. Most never finish what they start. And you cannot ever be a successful writer if you don’t complete the stories you begin.
It’s the first and most critical step.
And you’re going to finish what you’re doing.
You’re going to do it, because you’re going to say —
(say it with me)
Fuck The Haters
A writer encountering dissenting voices is like a fish encountering water molecules — it’s going to happen. And it’s going to hit you from all sides and it’s going to take myriad forms. “Nobody reads,” someone might say. “Being a writer isn’t a career.” They’ll have a list of reasons to check off. Unsteady income, general lack of health care, a supposedly failing publishing industry, whatever. Or maybe they’ll take specific aim at this one task: you can’t finish, why waste your time, that story’s not that good, what a terrible idea, blah blah blah. It could come from family, friends, strangers, even other writers.
Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em right in the eye with a yellowlicious stream of sweet, steamy urine. They don’t get it. They don’t have to get it. It’s not their life. Not their dream. You wanna write this thing, you can’t be bogged down by the naysayers and shit-birds. Maybe they’re jealous that you’re making a go of something special. Or maybe they think they really have your best interests at heart. Tell them it’s not like you’re trying to climb K2 in your fucking underwear. You’ll do what you like, thanks-very-much. Squeeze your teat at them and tell them, “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of me ROCKING THE SHIT OUT OF THIS BOOK. Now have a body-temperature blast of Haterade, hater-face!”
(Haterade is really just pee. So we’re clear on that point.)
Fuck What Everybody Else Is Doing
In NaNoWriMo in particular, it’s all about the community and commiseration of all the nutty wordmonkeys wordmonkeying together. That’s cool. It’s a good thing — if it helps you.
But it can also be a real bummer. On the one hand you see people less than two weeks in and they’re like, “I WROTE 400,000 WORDS — THAT’S EIGHT NOVELS, BITCHES!” and suddenly you can’t help but feel woefully, dreadfully behind. On the other hand you get the tireless self-pity party, “Oh, I’m still behind, oh, I don’t know if I can pull it out of the fire, ohhh, I didn’t write today, muhhh guh fnuh.” Those folks have their own kind of… contagious inertia, their own infectious ennui. You start to think, “Well, if all these people can’t do it, maybe neither can I. And maybe it’s okay if I’m not going to finish because, hey, a lot of writers don’t!” You become attracted to the commiseration. Misery, after all, loves company. (It also loves old lunchmeat. So if you leave out some month-old ham, you’ll find fruiting misery-spores! Science.)
Or worse, you start comparing your first draft to published books. That’s an epic no-no, the kind of no-no where you should be shaken like a baby until you lose consciousness. The midpoint of your first draft need not possess the quality of a book plucked off the shelf. Your first and most significant goal is to complete that which you are writing. Quality is great if it lives in the first draft. If it doesn’t — that’s why Book Jesus invented the “rewrite” process. So, just go ahead and sacrifice a white bull — or at least a nearby homeless guy — to Book Jesus and thank him for his gift to all penmonkeys everywhere.
Fuck what the rest of the writers are doing. Fuck ’em right in the ear with your middle finger, a finger sticky with honey and dipped in wasps. Concentrate on your own world. Blinders on, and write.
Fuck The Industry
“But the trend right now is Young Adult golem romance! But all the bookstores exploded! But the average price for e-books right now is thirty-seven old buttons! GNEAAAARRRGH.”
Thinking about the industry is just going to harsh your buzz, man. So, fuck it. Fuck ’em under the armpit with a cranky Bohemian pit viper. You can worry about the industry — and trends and book prices and what agents want and what the average advance is and which publisher tried to screw which writer and which self-published author just became an overnight success and then took a four billion dollar contract from Amazon’s new “golem romance” publishing company — later. Now is not later, and now is the time to write your book and ride that pony until it dies and then keep riding it till you get where you’re going.
If NaNoWriMo is working for you — then ignore this.
But maybe it isn’t working for you. And that feels like an indictment against you.
It’s not. Not yet.
NaNoWriMo offers you one path toward completing a novel.
That novel is a short novel by many standards, and the time frame is also a fairly short one. Further, it asks that you write this novel during one month of the entire year and during a pretty shitty month, to boot (Daylight Savings! Thanksgiving! Black Friday! Christmas Shopping! And don’t forget about the Sadie Hawkins Day Under The Overpass Hobo Prom!).
Sometimes you go to the doctor and you say, “Doctor, I got a sixth toe growing out of my left foot and this sinister leftmost toe has a little face on it and it’s trying to convince all the other toes to revolt against me,” and the doctor prescribes you some antibiotics. You take ’em and they don’t work. So maybe he prescribes you an oily unguent and that works for a little while but then the toe grows back, bigger and meaner and now it’s got fangs and a little Viking hat. So finally the doctor prescribes you a meat cleaver and a bottle of cheap Canadian whiskey and that’s the prescription that works.
Every writer, and indeed, every book, demands its own prescription. No, I don’t believe that every writer is a glimmering glittery snowflake — at the end of the day, it’s all about boots on the ground and words on the page, and work is work and we all gotta commit. But how we do that work — pantser or plotter, 1k per day or 3k per day, Scotch or Bourbon, coffee or tea, self-pub or trad-pub — is ours. You can try to cram the square peg in the circle hole but all you get for that is frustration.
So, if NaNoWriMo is the square peg but your book is a circle hole…
Fuck it. Fuck NaNoWriMo. Fuck it right in the word count. Fuck it right in the win conditions. Fuck it in its silly name with a sexual device known only as “The Gauntlet of Hephaestus.”
All that crass and disruptive noise is coming loudest from inside the broadcast station of your own silly head. Those swirling self-doubts. That thorny tangle of fear. The whispers of winnowing confidence, the demons of diminished patience, the ugly ducklings of unease and uncertainty. You’re the one who gives into all this stuff. You’re the one with his hand on the stick, his fingers on the keys, his pen in the inkwell. If you don’t finish this thing it’s nobody’s fault but your own. Take the blame. And then claim the power — because it’s never too late to drive this motherfucker across the finish line.
So, fuck you for not finishing. Fuck yourself in all those moist grottoes where fear clings to the ceiling and the fear guano piles upon the floor. You’re going to do this. Don’t stare at me like that. Don’t give me that look. You’re going to finish that which you began. You’re going to become one of those writers who does what he wants, not one of those pretenders who falls under the wheels of his own bus. You can do this. It’s one word at a time. Many words make a sentence, many sentences make a paragraph, and many paragraphs make a chapter. And many chapters add up to a completed manuscript.
There’s your angry, surly pep-talk from your unfriendly neighborhood penmonkey drill sergeant: head down, nose in the word salad, fingers on the story machine.
You can do this.
You will do this.
This is who you are and what you want.
Keep writing until the writing is done.