The NaNoWriMo Epilogue: “Miles To Go Before You Sleep”

(Related: “25 Things You Should Know About Your Completed Novel.”)

Maybe you finished — er, excuse me, “won” — your NaNoWriMo novel.

That’s good. You should be beaming. Chest puffed out. Fists on cocked hips. Cheeks ruddy from neighbors and parents pinching them. Your pride is well-earned. Bask in it its triumphant musk.

On the other hand, maybe you didn’t finish — er, excuse me, “you lost” — NaNoWriMo this year.

That’s good, too. I see you there, blustery and stammering — “Buh-buh-buh but how is it good that I didn’t finish what I started? What’s happening? Why is my face numb? Who took my shirt off?”

My message to both of you is the same.

You’re not done.

I know. You want to be done. If you finished, you want to slam it down, freeze-frame high-five yourself, and then go have an egg cream. If you didn’t finish, you want to delete the file, close the drawer, and pretend that none of this shame spiral ever happened. To both of you: bzzt. Wrongo, word-nerds.

You’re not done.

Writing a book is a war. What you just did was experience only one of the many battles in fighting that war: muddy in the trenches, crawling through the ejected blood of your cohorts, the stink of burning ink slithering up your nose like so many grave-worms. Maybe you won this battle. Maybe you lost. But the war goes on, friend-o. The typewriter keeps chattering. The story keeps struggling to be born. The screams of forgotten characters echo (echo echo) across the battlefield.

If you finished, well — ahem, be advised that the definition of “finished” is as loose as a blown-out butthole. One draft doth not a novel make, my friend. You may have many drafts minor and major ahead of you, some featuring subtle tweaks, others offering full-bore double-barrel rewrites. You’ve got beta readers and editors and reading the book aloud and putting it through its cruel and measured paces.

If you didn’t finish, c’mon. C’mon. Did you really think that November was the only month you’re allowed to write a novel? Do you believe that come November, all us novelists are let out of our hermetically-sealed mountain cottages and we bound down the snowy expanse, our fingers eager to taste keyboards and Bic pens for the 30 days we’re allowed to tell proper stories? November is but one month out of 12, and if you’re a true-blue writer you’ll wish you had 13 of those motherfuckers in which to keep boot-stomping your novels into the clay. On December 1st, you know what you can do? Keep writing.

For the sweet sake of Saint Fuck, keep on writing.

NaNoWriMo? Just a costume. And now the costume has come off and it’s time to decide if this thing is real or if this thing was just a scarecrow with all his stuffing gone soft. If you didn’t get a taste for the bug, that’s okay. Hell, that’s actually a good thing — our lives are best lived when we take things into our corner and try them out to see if we like them. If you never tried spinach, goat cheese, snowboarding, ear-candling or bondage, how would you know if you liked it? If it was truly for you? You wouldn’t. So, you brought novel-writing into your world and maybe it didn’t pan out. No harm, no foul. High-five for trying.

But maybe the bug bit you. Maybe this isn’t just a costume at all, but rather, it’s your real flesh, your true face. That means it’s all up in you. You can’t rip the face off. You won’t find any vaccine.

You’re a writer now.

Which means you gotta keep on writing. You’re like the bus from Speed: you either write or you explode.

Now you’ve got a malformed lump of story in front of you. A novel, fully-formed or missing parts. It’s a beautiful thing, a weird little word-baby that needs your love. He’s squirming and squalling and if you don’t help him out he’ll wither away and disappear — and then all your work, your NaNoWriMo gestational period, will have gone to waste.

Keep writing. Start editing. Raise your word-baby until it’s a proper story.

And keep coming back to terribleminds as we talk about hammering your work on the anvil, forging your tale into a blade that will chop the audience’s boredom in twain.

So — I want to ask those of you who did NaNoWriMo this year:

How’d it go?

Finish? Not finish?

Will you keep on working on it?

How well did NaNo fit your writing style (or vice versa)?

Final thoughts on the National Novel Writing Month?