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NaNoWriMo: A Pep Talk and a Warning
Merlin Mann | Nov 2 2009
I honor any project to write something — especially to write a long piece of fiction. It's something I've always wanted to do but, like most people, I have always been too scared to attempt it.
But, here's the thing: it's hard to start writing, and it's almost as hard to keep writing. Believe me, I know. And, there will be times every day when you get discouraged or you want to throw in the towel because you feel lost or depressed or useless or just plain tired. Empty. That's the word. Empty.
All I want to say is, keep at it. You can do this.
Every time you sit down to write represents a new chance, and I really encourage you to make yourself see it that way. That means set aside the time (with a beginning and end, if possible), take it seriously, and, most importantly, try not to think. Thinking is not writing; thinking is thinking. Thinking does not make books.
So, keep your hands moving [PDF], don't self-edit, and above all, don't let past failures (or successes) have any place at your desk during the time you've set aside to do your work. There's no good that can come out of trying to see the present, creative moment through the overly emotional, shaded lenses of either the past or the future. Just be in the room with yourself and, as my pal Andy says, keep moving the cursor to the right.
And, the warning? Don't read too many blog posts like this.
The hounds are out this month, guys, and they smell your fear and self-doubt. So, shovelbloggers will be offering you a tantalizing Vegas-style buffet of endless writing "help" that will range from the indispensable to the stupid to the unconscionably poisonous. And, smile though they might, those folks could care less if all those page views end up killing your word count or distracting you at the one delicate moment you were about to figure out your troubled third act. Their job is to make you stop working. Don't let them. Okay?
Just as thinking is not writing, advice is not writing. Got it? So, don't blow your day on metajunk.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't treat yourself to the best advice about becoming a better writer (see below), but it does mean you sure as shooting better not be reading blog posts about "surprising writing tips" during your Special Writing Time. Personally, I love books about writing, writing advice, and just plain talking about writing. But, I also know (all too well) that something that seems or feels helpful can quickly turn into an anti-pattern. Especially when it does anything to stop that cursor from moving rightward.
Seriously. Read the next sentence out loud to yourself three times. No, do it:
And, of course, the irony is, nearly every (good) book on writing will eventually end up telling you -- or leading you to see -- the same handful of things.
Good luck with your novel, and have fun. For what it's worth, here's a few of my favorite books on writing (alphabetically, by author). Just remember: if you read them during Writing Time, you must smack yourself. Hard.
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