First, you get your coffee.
You sip it. You listen to it for ideas. It has no ideas, because it’s just coffee, and coffee is idea fuel. So you drink the coffee. Or tea. Or gin, I dunno. Hell, drink some water. Just drink something. YOU NEED TO HYDRATE that is just NaNoWriMo Law right there. You let the idea ghosts enter you. And percolate. And whisper their ways.
You open a Word document, or a Scrivener page, or a plain notebook.
You regard the open expanse.
The empty white.
It is perfect as-is.
It is pure and untouched like a newborn baby. (I mean, okay, that metaphor only works if you’ve never seen a newborn baby, who look like a bag of prunes that just crawled its way out of a burlap sack full of ambrosia salad. Those things are like Toilet Ghoulies.)
You have a choice —
You can leave the page as is, open, unscathed, unmarked, a snowy expanse after a fresh winter storm.
Or you can ruin it.
You can start putting crass LANGUAGE MARKS across it: clumsy, dirty scrawl denoting the gabble-gibber of humantongue. You can write words into sentences into paragraphs. You can stomp your muddy boots all over the damn thing. You can shit it all up. What once was an innocent tract of unbroken order is now a landfill of chaos.
So, that’s your choice.
Keep it perfect and pure.
Or ruin it.
My money’s on: ruin that motherfucker.
That, I think, is the guiding principle of National Novel Writing Month: you are here not for purity, not for innocence, not for perfection. You are here to ruin a perfectly good empty page. And that isn’t just the purview of this month — but it’s writing any story, on any day.
You do this.
And then you do it again.
And then again.
And again and again and again until you have something finished. And even then that finished thing isn’t finished, because you’ve got to rip it apart once more and stitch it back together again. Repair through destruction. A near-constant act of ruination.
Now, a word on ruination:
It sounds bad.
A mouse turd ruins an apple pie. Cockroach eggs ruin a perfectly good ear canal. A Trump supporter ruins any party. (Sorry, it’s not Halloween anymore, sorry for the scaaaaary stooooories.)
But ruination has value, too.
Think of how ruination contributes to the act of making a beautiful balsamic vinegar, or soy sauce, or whiskey. Cooking any meal is an act of ruining the thing again and again — chopping it, skinning it, cooking it, reducing it down and breaking it apart with knife and fork and later, teeth. Communication is the act of ruining silence. Having children is the act of ruining your ability to binge watch Netflix. You gotta ruin an acorn to make an oak tree. Gotta ruin a caterpillar to make a butterfly, who in turn must one day be ruined to make more caterpillars.
The act of creation is always paired with the act of ruination.
And so, in this National Novel Writing Month, you’re gonna do exactly that. You will make a story by destroying the space of the page and your own peace. It’s easier not to do it. It’s simpler to simply let your time and your world be unperturbed by the pyroclastic act of making cool shit, but I suspect you are not the kind to go comfortably unperturbed.
Today, you’re going to ruin one page. You’re going to fill it with words. Some will be amazing words. Some will be brutally inefficient. You will string them together and when read aloud, they will make music just as often as they make the sound of a tuba kicked down a set of steps. And you’re not going to care, because that is what it takes: the willingness to do a thing poorly, the eagerness to ruin an uninterrupted space, the sheer bloody-minded delight of carving your ideas down into rock even though the only desire of the rock is to be left the hell alone.
You’ll do this day in and day out until you have a finished thing.
Maybe it fits neatly into the box marked “November.”
Maybe it takes you into December and January.
Maybe it takes you twelve months instead of one, or three weeks instead of four.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Ruination is the best friend to creation.
So get to ruining.
Your month begins now.
* * *
DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative
What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.
Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.
Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.