Don Your Helmet

The MLs for NaNoWriMo in my area asked me (for some unknowable reason) to write them a booster letter to send out to local participants. I’m struggling with deep-seated “What the fuck do I know?” issues at the moment but NaNoWriMo is something I can always get behind. So, here it is, in all its militaristic glory/vainglory.

You have been warned.

Greetings fellow novelists!

To those returning to NaNoWriMo, welcome back to this crazy, awesome ride. You know what you’re in for and you’ve come back bearing your scars and weapons, eager for battle like a horde of Valhalla-pining Norseman. If you aren’t beating your chest and howling your commitment at the top of your lungs, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t worry. We’ll help you get there.

To those new to NaNoWriMo, ignore what I wrote above. Did that sound crazy? That’s okay. It’s not for you. Not yet. It will make more sense later. Once we’ve had our little talk. Because …

Failure is Not An Option:

50,000 words feels overwhelming. You may look out across the field and see all those words and think — impossible! There are so many of them and only one of me. Your pen (your sword) and your keyboard (your shield) look pretty frail against so many. It’s only a matter of time before I succumb, you think, the pen almost falling from your hand.

Screw that. Look to the left, look to the right. You will see the rest of us, wearing our battle-gear, grinning and mad and thirsty for victory. We have battled. We have survived. And so will you.

Remember, this isn’t English class and this isn’t Swordsmanship 101. This is war. It’s not how prettily and cleanly you can write down the words, this is about volume, gross numbers — getting them before they get you. You don’t hem and haw that the last stab of yours wasn’t as skilled as it should have been or, worse, that it was blind luck. Bottom line, he’s down, you’re not, and that’s what counts because there are a whole host of other fighters waiting to take his place. Take it one word, one slash, at a time. Your pen will move faster, your sword will strike true. You will gain momentum and it will carry you through. Getting to the other side is your only goal.

And it’s doable. People with less time and people with more time have both won and lost. It’s not about time, it’s about committing to the idea of battle, showing up prepared, ready to bleed to get it done. You write, you fight with others who have battled and won. And if they can win, there’s no damn reason why you can’t win. None.

But one important corollary for would-be Vikings to note.

Winning is Not The Point:

Despite what’s written above, winning isn’t everything. It’s not the be-all, end-all of NaNoWriMo.

There are those among us who, while talking about how many purple-tailed ninjas they are going to have battling cyborg pirates, really want to write. Really want to write. Dreams they’ve held tight to their hearts for as long as they can remember. But writing is scary, personal, and bloody. They can’t or won’t commit. And, perversely, they figure that if they never really commit, they can honestly say they never really tried — as if that makes it better.

Well, you’re trying now. This is your time. Your fellow spear-throwers and shield-maidens are here to help you, guide you, and cheer you on. We will not let you fall.

There is a saying: the perfect is the enemy of the good! And it’s never truer now. Of course what you are writing is a muddy, messy first draft. That can and will be fixed later, once you have navigated the battlefield and survived, 50,000 words or not. If you get to the other side and your armor is still clean, you are doing it wrong! Abandon yourself to the work. Let the fog of battle cloud the mind and let instinct take over. It will guide pen and blade alike and you will make it to the other side.

And once it’s all over, once you have cracked wide the door that has always been closed, you may never want to go back. Follow us into the halls of Valhalla where we write and write and write and write …

Stephanie Charette is a sometimes winner and sometimes loser of National Novel Writing Month and has the scars to prove it. She wouldn’t have it any other way.


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