Wednesday, November 06, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Trust Issues



Tomorrow it will be one week since writers around the world began working on their National Novel Writing Month book. I always love the first week of writing a new novel, but I always hate it, too. There's the excitement of beginning a new story, which clashes with the dread that I've chosen the wrong idea to write. I've probably had the characters in my head for quite some time, and yet I've never heard them before on the page (a bit of synethesia there; I hear my characters via the dialogue I write.) Unless I'm working on a series book I'm generally in a new place with a lot of unfamiliar folks doing things unknown to me, and this can be both exhilarating and exhausting.

For some of you this first week has been instructive; it's given you a chance to engage in a work routine, figure out how much you can comfortably write per day, etc. You've discovered self-discipline, internal or external motivation, and how you may best do this thing. For some of you it's been the exact opposite; you're fighting with the words and the characters and the concept; the story is getting away from you (or hasn't appeared at all as you imagined it), and you may even be thinking this was a very bad idea, and/or you're considering tossing in the towel now before you end up looking/feeling/writing like a fool. Most of you will waffle between these two states or land somewhere in the middle of them for the next twenty-five days.

From what I've experienced and observed over my 15+ years as a novelist, the difference between the writer who glides through the work and the writer who plows through it is monumental and yet also very simple: trust. If you trust in yourself and your idea and your skills and everything you possess to pour into writing this story, you will glide. If you don't, you will plow. You'll probably do a little of both -- and you never really know how it's going to be until you begin to write that day.

You can't fake trust; it's an instinct based on innumerable factors that contribute to making up who you are as a writer and a person. For example, if you've ever had any trouble writing anything, that will factor in, and hover over your keyboard and loom in the back of your mind and otherwise get between you and the page. For the rest of your writing life that difficulty will haunt you, and make you wonder if it'll happen again. Think about it more than what you're writing, and it probably will happen again -- because that's how doubts work.

You can't escape doubts anymore than you can force trust, but there is something that always helps me: I don't think about the writing; I just write. I write because that's what I do. I write because I trust myself to write well. I do know it's impossible to write well 100% of the time, but I also trust myself to edit, rewrite, or do whatever it takes to make it work after I write the first draft. Even if that means tossing out two-thirds of a book and rewriting it from scratch (something I've done more than once, in fact) I know I can do that. And if none of that works -- another, awful thing that has happened more than once in my career -- I trust myself to set aside the story that failed, and write something else, and keep writing until I do produce what I do want on the page, and what I do expect from myself as a novelist.

It's not easy to trust in yourself as a writer, particularly when you're in the beginning stage of creation. You're a stranger in a strange place with a lot of strange characters; you're entitled to feel the magic or the mayhem of that position. When you're away from the work, celebrate it, wallow in it, but whatever you feel, get it out of your system so that when you go back to the page it's just you and your story. Trust in both as you forge ahead, and you will reach that 50K finish line.

8 comments:

  1. I've got two finished books under my belt and I still have to remind myself I CAN do this again, to trust that the story will unfold if I trust in it. I'm not doing Nanowrimo owing to college obligations and a really cute 4 month old lad, but I do get some writing done every night and I think as I sit down at the keyboard "here we go again. We can do this."

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    1. Even with 50 finished books under my belt I have to have the same pep talk with myself every time I go to the keyboard, Nico -- but I think I would be more worried if I didn't have those doubts.

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  2. This year is my first NaNoWriMo and I am one of the "somewhere in the middles" you describe. Six days into it and one day I struggled to get 1,000 words and the next I did 4,000. But ... I trust I'll finish the 50,000 by Nov. 30th!

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    1. That trust will see you through, Fiona, even on those days when the words fight you tooth and nail.

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  3. This is my first NaNoWriMo and after the first two days found myself struggling and getting a bit lost. I am not giving up!

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    1. Not giving up is 95% of the battle, Kerry. I promise you that.

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