You: *panicked gulps of breath*
Me: You seem a little wibbly.
You: Oh, I’m wibbly. Super-wibbly. Wibbly to the max.
Me: *looks at calendar* Oh.
You: It’s National Novel Writing month.
Me: I see that. So: you’re writing a novel.
You: *vomits in a shoe*
Me: Definitely writing a novel. Also, that was my shoe.
Me: I didn’t like that shoe, anyway. A very hateful shoe. So, what’s the prob?
You: I just — I can’t — baaaaaah. *flails and points at the blank screen*
Me: The empty page.
Me: Tabula rasa. The blank page is some terrifying business.
You: It’s scaring the shitkittens right out of me.
Me: Understandably. The white page is all cliff, no bottom. It’s an endless pit. A snowy expanse without a single track to follow — and you’re thinking, if I go stomping my boots into this stuff I’m going to ruin it. It’s pristine, now. Untouched. Infinite possibility. The novel you’ve not written will always be more interesting and more vibrant than the one you do. That novel, the imaginary one, the eternal multiplicative one, is like a flawless fucking diamond.
You: It is. So I shouldn’t write it.
Me: *kicks your shin*
You: Jesus, ow.
Me: I guess it wasn’t the shoes that were hateful. It’s my feet. My violent, angry feet. Anyway: shut up about not writing the novel. What are you, an asshole?
You: Maybe. Probably. You said the unwritten novel was perfect.
Me: It is! In your mind. And you can always go and tell people, Oh, I’m writing a novel, and they’ll mmm and ohhh and they might even look impressed and if that’s all you want — the illusion of writing, the acknowledged potential of writing — hey, fuckin’ great, go on and keep pretending to write that novel. But for my mileage, I’d rather have an imperfect story penned in blood and coaldust than the gleaming perfect unicorn fart that lives inside my head.
You: Unicorn farts live inside your head?
Me: I hate you so bad right now.
You: That’s fair. Okay! Fine, I’ll write it, I’ll write it. You’ve convinced me. If only because I’m afraid you’ll kick me again.
Me: An entirely reasonable fear.
You: I have another fear: the fear I’m not good enough.
Me: Well, so what? What the fuck does ‘good enough’ even mean, anyway?
You: Good enough to get published. Or publish myself. Or be read. OR TO EVEN EXIST AT ALL.
Me: This is a first draft. Calm down, Twitchy McGee. May I suggest you care less about your work? You’re not saving babies, okay? And besides, good enough is a made-up metric. It’s not like there exists some kind of checklist. You’re not the one to judge. The audience will judge. And the only way they get to judge is if you’re willing to write this first draft and then edit the unmerciful sin out of it until it’s as good as you can possibly make it. You need to give them that chance, and that means letting go of this absurd horseshit notion of ‘good enough’ and instead grab hold of a far stronger and more applicable one: are you determined enough? Are you disciplined enough? Are you stubborn-as-a-motherfucker enough? That’s the metric. That’s your measure.
You: Okay. Okay! I can maybe do this. Do I need to write to market?
Me: The only market that matters is you. This is your book. Barf your heart onto the page.
You: Uh, ew. Also: that sounds easier said than done.
Me: It is. But it’s worth doing just the same. Listen: put one word after the other. Approximately 2000 of these a day. Throw in periods and commas where appropriate. Make sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters. Put characters on the page and in those chapters that interest you. Have them do things that scare you and delight you in equal measure. Commit them to plots and ideas that compel you and that have no easy answers. You’re the first audience. Entertain yourself. Challenge yourself. Let the story lead. Let your own desires for the story lead. Fuck what anybody else thinks right now. This isn’t for them. This is for you. This is a test. This is the Tough Mudder of novel-writing. This is mud and electric shocks and rabid badgers and Sarlacc pits and homeless doomsday preppers with knives made of glass and electrical tape —
You: You’ve never run the Tough Mudder, have you?
Me: No, but I’m pretty sure that visual is accurate.
You: It’s not.
Me: Shut up, Captain Howdy. Daddy’s talking. Listen: anybody can be a writer. No writer wants to admit that — because we want to feel like special precious spacemen who are breathing rarified space air with all our particular and peculiar writernaut training. But writing is a mechanical act. It’s just plonking words down onto a page. Storyteller is more than mechanical — that’s where the art really lives, in the storytelling, but even there, storytelling is an act that’s twisted around our DNA. Everybody tells stories. We tell stories about that guy we saw at the bank, about that car accident, that night at the High School Prom, that time we did that thing with the double-dildos at the shopping mall. Half our lives are remembered as and communicated via story. So this is just that: you utilizing the mechanical act of writing to impart the intuitive act of storytelling.
You: You make it sound so simple.
Me: It isn’t. And it is. And then it isn’t again. Nobody said you’re going to be a good writer. Or a paid or successful writer. But that’s not the point of National Novel Writing Month. It might become that, later on. But for now: it’s the act of doing. The act of commanding dreams down from the ether and staple-gunning them to the fabric of reality. This is you stomping your footprints across the artistic landscape.
You: *stares at the blank page again, vomits*
Me: At least you missed my shoe this time.
You: *wipes chin* I’M SO NOT READY
Me: No, you’re not. I’ve written way too many novels in the last two years alone and I’ve written screenplays and games and short stories and nope, I’m never really ready. Sometimes I think I am. Sometimes I realize I’m not. And it doesn’t matter. Because being really truly ready would ruin the fun. You know how you get ready? How you get good enough? By doing exactly this. By writing. By finishing. By editing. And by going back and doing it all again and again.
You: I’m going to do this.
Me: Yes, you are.
You: I’m going to write a book.
Me: And it will be one of the coolest, weirdest things you’ve ever done.
You: Awesome. I’m gonna go write now.
Me: You wanna make out first?
You: I just threw up.
Me: That’s okay. I brought Altoids.
You: Sure, okay.
Me: *hands you an Altoid*