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
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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.
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26 responses to “Here Is How You NaNoWriMo, You Ruinous Monster, You”
I shall go forth and ruin in thy name!
Well, not really, that seems religious in a creepy way, but thanks for the damn fine pep talk
I shall ruin the page. Thank you.
I ruined a bunch of pages last November. 50k words of them. Will continue ruining this November. Continue all the ruined pages that happened between last year and this. If I ruin a few more years, I might have ruined myself into an actual book. Or not. But I’ll be doing what you told us to: just do the shit.
I too shall ruin a page or two – but FIRST there is all this left over Hallowe’en candy!
That’s just what I needed to hear. Thanks for the swift kick in the ass to get it done!
Why do you need a kick in the ass to get it done? This is what I don’t get about NanoWriMo. If you can’t write a novel now you could’ve written it anytime you’ve wanted.
I dunno. Writing can be pretty lonely – in Nanowrimo you might be writing alone, but you also know that there are others in your community or in your tribe who are struggling in the dark and silence at the same time. Occasionally you can even struggle together in the same place with other people who are waging their own private word battles.
Other people need a deadline to finish a project, and self-imposed isn’t enough.
Other people thrive on the challenge of seeing where their compatriots are – Nanowrimo has tools to show you how many words your friends have written. If you’re competitive in that way, it’s a great inspiration.
And some people just need an external excuse. Sometimes it’s hard to rely on your own chutzpah, that old “The magic was inside me the whole time!” line feels like utter bullshit when you’re wondering how to move a whole mountain. Nanowrimo gives you daily goals, an end-point, peptalks, community… you can find that shit on your own, or you can take advantage of all of it being magically in one place curated by a community of other writers during November. So yeah, you CAN write a novel any time, but Nanowrimo does a lot to grease the skids and push you over the sandbar of inertia.
Such amazing advice for art in general. I’m going to take your advice and ruin something perfectly pristine by turning it into something better.
I wish I had the time to commit to this completely, but I shall ruin as many pages as possible.
My words were definitely excreted through gritted teeth today. Does that qualify as ruining the page? Managed to egest over 4,000 of them, mind you.
I’m stoked to start ruining for my 10th year. <3 You, sir, are a fucking gift. Keep it up.
What a great post for the first day of NaNoWriMo 2018! I head into my 15th NaNo today, using an IBM Selectric typewriter and a lot of actual, blank, perfect pieces of paper. I’ll physically watch that pristine pile of paper on the left side of the typewriter transform into the ugly, ruined, blotched pile of pulp on the right side as the month progresses.
Here’s to ruination!
Shall be ruining both a page and also the strings of a guitar. Also the silence – silence will be ruined.
Nah, I’ll just go at my own pace right now, because, it’s working. Trying something completely new. Can’t keep the focus of good writing going with forced deadlines. But I encourage anyone who can write and needs a prod or two to go for it. Chuck, tried to redo my outline today and wow, it’s changed. So, still writing. Fan of all of us who endeavor. On, on.
I think I may have been waiting my whole life too say, “I’m going to ruin this motherfucker.”
Such happy, happy tears.
Always appreciating your unique flavor of writing advice! Ruin on!
Ha! Love it, Chuck. I’m on day two of ruination. The first day was filled with the horror of self-doubt exacerbated by the fact that I’ve never written fantasy before. I realized I was forcing it instead of letting the words flow. Once I let go of constraints and overthinking, spewing a steady stream (from collective consciousness?) came naturally .
Writing ruinous fan fiction. Because it’s been a hell of a year that kicked off with the death of my husband of 20 years. And because I’m still alive, I’ve made it through the darkest deepest days, and because I CAN!
Having to ruin something has never sounded so positive. Everybody get out of the way…I’m about to ruin something.
Love this — got to go ruin some pages.
I’m bouncing between page-ruining projects this Nano. Two novels and two shorts. Today was my day to ruin the pages of a short that grew from 1500 words to 2185 words. I ruined it so much, it’s now off to the contest it was intended for. 1 down, 3 to go. Ruin away!
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NaNoDate 11112018: Read your post in preparation for another ruinous session of writing. Definitely not because I was procrastinating. Definitely not. Your words of wisdom and encouragement are much appreciated. Just when I’m doubting my abilities and my work, you post exactly what I need to read. Thank you! 🙂
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