Now that we’ve established that you should ignore the NaNoWriMo naysayers, I’d like to share with you two complementary bits of advice I’ve found online and one book that I think get at the heart of the spirit of National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who have chosen to participate in it. A few months ago, John Scalzi wrote a short essay in which the takeaway line (at least for me) was, “Either you want to write or you don’t, and thinking that you want to write really doesn’t mean anything.”
“Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is ‘yes, but,’ then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say ‘no.’ And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what ‘yes, but’ means.
“If your answer is ‘yes,’ then the question is simply when and how you find the time to do it. If you spend your free time after work watching TV, turn off the TV and write. If you prefer to spend time with your family when you get home, write a bit after the kids are in bed and before you turn in yourself. If your work makes you too tired to think straight when you get home, wake up early and write a little in the morning before you head off. If you can’t do that (I’m not a morning person myself) then you have your weekend… And if you can’t manage that, then what you’re saying is that you were lying when you said your answer is ‘yes.’”
Last year, Merlin Mann offered very similar advice, elaborating on the importance of keeping up your momentum: Start writing, and keep writing! He also warned about paying too much attention to creative writing advice: “When I’m reading about writing, I’m not writing.”
That said, I do want to take a quick moment to plug one of my all-time favorite books about creativity and writing, Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake. Its core message is straightforward, best expressed by two of the four “noble truths” upon which Sher builds her advice. “Writers write,” she says. “If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write.” The rest of the book is about opening yourself up to the process of writing and teaching yourself to get out of your own way. The chapters are short, but each one is packed tightly; in a way, the book is more useful as a devotional-like object than as an argument to be read all the way through. Because, after all, you really should be writing.