No, you are not, in fact, a novelist.

Let me start by saying that, the things I’m about to say will probably offend some people.

Well good.

A sight I stumble upon far too often is disgruntled ‘writers’ in the comment sections talking about how this post or that thing that someone said offended them. Really? You were offended? As in, someone took active offense against you? And, even if that is the case, why are you so quick to tell the world how hurt you are by a few words someone you never will never meet wrote? Stop it, stop victimizing yourselves.

And, I might point out that if I manage to offend you, at least you’ve got some idea of what you believe tucked away under the folds of your neck. At least you don’t numbly nod after reading my blog and say, “Well the truth is relative, after all.” If you disagree with me, I beg you to tell me why.

Before this turns into a full-steam-ahead rant, I will get back to what I was saying.

You are not a novelist.

Now, if you are, by chance, a traditionally published author who was succeeded in making a living from their craft, please raise your hand. I am flattered you are even reading this. As for the rest of you, you aren’t novelists. Here are some of the reasons that you aren’t a novelist:

1. Fanfiction is not creative writing.

For some unbeknownst reason, there is an entire section, and actual category dedicated to fanfiction on the NaNoWriMo website. This goes a long way to reflect NaNo’s standards of writing, which is to say, none. Fanfiction is little more than plagarism, and I know anyone who writes this putrid smegma will defend themselves by saying they are exploring the depths to the characters that the author (or producer, writers, artist, ect.) never portrayed. They seem to think that there is something particularly special about these characters that gives them free reign to do as they may with them. It is one thing to enjoy characters, but to actually write an entire book of it is disgusting. I can’t even look at Marvel’s Loki anymore without imagining him get slammed in the behind by his brother, Thor, because that is what he most commonly adored for.

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Fan art of Hiddleson’s Loki. It actually took me a while to find something this well drawn.

Fanfiction is a bit of a trap. Fans eat that stuff up, and writers of such fiction are usually hailed by a hungry audience eager to sing their praises at whatever steamy incest scenes the writer can come up with. These kids literally get off to that stuff. To have such an enthusiastic audience is, I’m sure, a hard thing for anyone to turn down, and a huge ego boost. Not only is writing fanfiction easy, because all your resources are already there, but it is immediately rewarding as well.

Writing is creating. Fanfiction is not creating, it is rearranging.

So, if you do write a novel, based on characters, places and concepts invented by someone else, then know that I hate you. Really, I do. And mostly I hate you because it means that you are a creative person, choosing to throw away your gifts on something so petty.

2. 50,000 words is not actually considered a novel.

Say, for a moment, that you had your 50k written out. And you had spent months, perhaps years revising it. And it was good. Great, even. Each word was carefully chosen, your sentences were well thought out and your story was rock solid and deliciously original. Say that some publishing company loved it so much, they published it.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but that still doesn’t count. 50k of words is considered a novella, and most serious novels range from 80-250k words. (YA fiction is usually an exception, but 50k is still too short.)

Now, I know that nobody published your 50k words, and I also know it isn’t the result of years of hard work, but, far more likely, result of a month of banging your greasy face against your mother’s keyboard. So, if the guy who published his 50k isn’t considered a novelist, why should you be?

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“Look, ma! I wrote a book!”
“Dammit, son.”

3. Because your writing simply isn’t good enough.

Maybe your blood is finally coming to a boil.

I wrote my very first novel last year during NaNoWrimo. For the next year, I worked every single day on that book, putting around 800 hours into making it worth something. The funny thing is, my writing still sucks. It still isn’t good enough. How do I know? Because no one wanted to publish it.

J.K. Rowling spent seven years on the first Harry Potter book. Your manuscript is not good enough to be a novel, because I know you haven’t put that kind of time into it, and if you have, and it’s still not published, well, I have some bad news for you. You might not be cut out for this whole writing thing.

Anyways, lets assume your novel is 80k words, and it’s actually pretty good, and you have put some serious time into it. I shake your hand for your dedication, and am impressed by your perseverance. Now, at this point you are going to do one of two things.

Option A: Publish your Novel

Assuming you are trying to go with this option, and have not succeeded, I don’t think I need to tell you that your manuscript doesn’t quite cut it yet. And, that means, it isn’t good enough.

Option B: Don’t Publish your Novel

A lot of people write themselves books with no intention to publish them. It’s for pure pleasure, with the intent of enjoy the characters and world they made up, and perhaps the intent to share it among their loved ones. I can’t possibly tell you that this is a bad thing, despite the fact that I find it a bit weird and self-indulgent. But, if you have the humbleness to say that your project was just a work of love and you had no real intentions for it, then bless your heart.

But, let me tell you a few things about myself.

Sometimes I run. I have to get my hot water off the stove, for instance, or I don’t want to miss my bus. I run, therefore I am a runner. But it does not make me an athelete.

Sometimes I cook food. Because I’m hungry, and my body needs it. Therefore I am a cook. But it does not make me a chef.

Everyone writes. Whether you text, blog, hash up essays for school, or put down grocery lists, you are still writing. So, yes, in the technical sense, you are a writer. So, if you write novels for your own pleasure, you are, in the technical sense, a novelist. So, essentially, if you want that title of novelist, you might actually be able to call yourself one. The other day I lit a leaf on fire. Clearly, this makes me a pyromaniac… right?

I don’t think I need to expound upon that point any further.

But some day I would like to be a real novelist. My idea of a novelist, where I’m published, recognized and maybe even a little successful. But the reason I do not give myself that title yet, even though I could, is because it’s something I want to become. I don’t want it to be a part of my online persona, or a little invisible badge that I self-indulgently pinned to my breast-pocket. I have a goal, a pretty singular and well-defined goal, that I will not dilute by pretending to accomplish before I really have.

NaNoWriMo Emergency Escape Plan

When I wrote my first novel, The Ace of Spades, it was easy. Well, okay, it wasn’t easy, but I remember it being so much easier than what I’m going through right now. If I was honest with myself, I would remember the dozens of sleepless nights, the months of rearranging and editing, and the agony of deleting thousands of words. None of it seemed to be working out.

However, for some reason, I can even seem to get the first draft of my new book down. The plot, which I thought I had some idea of, has completely abandoned me, and I’m left doing nothing but writing thousands of words of dialogue with very little action. I think I would be surprised it half of what I’ve written so far makes it to the final cut. And, despite the fact that I am on schedule, I’m not confident I’ll make the final cut this year, because I have truly run out of things to write.

In my desperate attempt to figure out what to do, I came upon a revelation.

Every book is different.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really that earth-shattering, but all this month I’ve been hoping to write my book the same way I wrote my first one- a tortuous structure of bone and wire that I could later reshape and fill out during the following months of revising. But my book refuses to come together in any way.

So, I’m breaking from the pattern completely. Because I am tired of writing things I’m probably going to delete in December, I’ve decided to write only the things I know will make the final cut. I’m disregarding the plot, because I no longer know what it is. Instead, I’m going to break my own rules and write pieces of the story wherever I can, and just try to give myself as much material to work with as possible by the end of November.

This prospect scares me, because I’m afraid that I won’t feel motivated to pull it all together again when December hits, or that I’ll just have such a mess I’ll want to start over. But I’m going to finish this damn novel no matter what.

Even though Menagerie of Sins has not come together the way I wanted it to, I still have my original vision for it, and just because it hasn’t grown up the same way my last book did, doesn’t mean I should discard it. It’s a different book, so of course the process of creating it will be different.

I just want to encourage anyone who is feeling frustrated at having practically nothing to show two and a half-weeks into this. Screw the plot, the formula, hell, even the characters if you have to. Don’t get locked into the idea of writing forward and only forward until you’re carving a plot out of your own flesh.  Remember what your book was originally supposed to be about and write that.

Motivational tools for NaNoWriMo

At the end of November, having an entire (or entirely new) novel to your name is enough of a reward and motivation all by itself. Nonetheless, here are a few things that helped me get through last year’s marathon and might give you that extra shove, too.

1: Chocolate

Or any assorted candy, really. Last year, for every five hundred words, I broke off a brick from my favorite chocolate bar and savored it slowly as I mulled over what to do with my next five hundred words. This served to set up a reward system in my head, and made it much easier for me to reach my daily goal because it felt like I was writing in small chunks rather than forcing out my sixteen hundred in one go. This also encouraged me, once I reached my word goal, to push myself a little farther to get that last piece of chocolate. A fair warning though, this takes a considerable amount of self-control.

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Chocolate is great, but any treat will do the trick. Try adjusting the word goal to suit your own needs… and desires.

2: Sound

No, not music, Sound. I’ve talked with a lot of NaNos that say they can’t work at home to save their lives, and they need the quiet hubbub of a cafe or library to keep them going. And I admit, there is something about being in public that keeps you from being overly distracted. That’s why the internet has given us the magic of Coffitivity.

Coffitivity.com

Nothing makes you feel like writing more than an atmosphere that says “I spend 200 bucks every month on Starbucks.”

Another thing I love listening to while writing is recordings of thunderstorms. Just go to Youtube and you’ll find hundreds of them, with lengths suited to every writer’s needs. The sounds of steady rain, added to music, can really accent the emotion of whatever you might be listening to. I find this very helpful when I need to write a something particularly heart-wrenching. Thunderstorms practically generate adverbs.

3: Hiding

Okay, so I wouldn’t employ this tactic every time you pause to jot down a clever one-liner. But last year I went down to the basement and hid in the closet in the storage room in order to write. My reasoning? I had in-laws in town. A lot of them. Sometimes, you don’t need to physically hide, but rather find a way to separate yourself from the mental and emotional insanity of life. I’m still waiting for someone to teach me that one. But in all seriousness, you need to be willing to lock yourself away if that’s what it takes, and finish this novel even at the cost of your dignity.

4: Totems

I’m sure most NaNoWriMos are familiar with the old viking helmet that’s been on our logo for a few years now. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, spoke about how he would sometimes wear a viking helmet when he needed to steel himself and work through a difficult passage. A totem is basically an object you set up only when you’re writing, and it’s meant to make your brain realize that now is the time to write, NOT the time to memorize the lyrics of that Phantom of the Opera song that’s been stuck in your head, but you just can’t get down all the words yet. Really, a totem could be anything, from a stick of burning incense to that weird rock you found last week. Or you could even go Christ Baty and pick out a piece of apparel.

Viking helmets used at the Office of Letters and Light. OLL members offer their viking helmets up in order to pass a motion.

 

5: Your inner editor

Last year, my inner editor was a huge help to me. Whenever I was feeling discouraged, he would rub his hands together and, while chuckling darkly, say “Yes, continue to write like a fourth grader. My, my, what fun we will having revising this.”

Okay, so I don’t actually hear voices in my head except for Monday mornings. But my point remains. When you’re writing, revel in the fact that your writing is sloppy, poorly planned and pretty much worthless. The fun is getting to go back and make your novel into something worthwhile. But, in the meantime, simply put those words onto the page and be confident that you’re going to come back and fix it later. This part is mostly having trust and confidence in yourself, just like you have confidence today that in a month and a half you’ll have a full novel no matter what the cost.

6: Donate

No, I wasn’t paid to suggest you donate to NaNoWriMo. I also confess that I’ve yet to do it myself. Nonetheless, statistics show (vague statistics that I’ve only heard mentioned and never actually seen) that donors have a higher success rate than those who don’t donate. The idea is that once you’ve donated, you’re more invested in NaNoWriMo and your project, and you have a greater appreciation for the big picture of NaNo, not just your own project. So, uh, here’s a button for that.

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I actually plan on donating myself this year, and would encourage everyone with a few extra dollars to do so as well. After all, the only reason you heard about NaNoWriMo was because of the early donations and sacrifices made years and years ago. And if you use the NaNo website, you get a little angel halo around your profile picture, which is way cooler than it sounds.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help get you guys through the coming November. Just because your family and friends aren’t on board doesn’t mean you’re all alone. In fact, you should be getting the most help from, well, yourself.

Landfills of Words

NaNoWriMo is working it’s way back around to us, and as October tips over the hill, thousands aspiring novelists begin to steel themselves for a month of sustained masochism.

The prize? The title of NaNoWriMo champion and a your very own novel. Supposedly.

What you really get is a primordial mass, fifty thousands words heavy and the result of (probably) less than a hundred hours of work. Let me tell you something: This is NOT a novel.

Of course, you already know this, and I’m sure most NaNo’s plan to edit and revise their novel until it can be shelved between Jane Austen and The Count of Monte Cristo. The problem is, you’ve essentially created a messy mass of words that is not even remotely ready for publication. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even read it aloud to your cat. If you think of your novel as a sculpture, you essentially get a lump of clay when NaNo is over. The only goal is getting to that 50k word mark. No one even cares if you stamped ‘The End’ on it.

There were over four hundred thousand official winners for the 2012 NaNoWriMo, which means more than twenty billion words were generated by the winners circle alone.

20 Billion. As you let that sink in, think about the fact that there were countless other novelists who didn’t quite make the cut, but still contributed their tens of thousands to the heap.

Now, I love NaNoWriMo. If you don’t believe me, here’s my novel’s page on the NaNo Website: http://nanowrimo.org/en/participants/fadohacolu/novels/ace-of-spades-225052

But, that doesn’t change the fact that I think there is something very wrong with it. Or, rather, that it is the sign of something being very, very wrong.

The fact that this program could encourage four-hundred thousand (mostly) young people to write an entire novel for themselves is wonderful, a cause for celebration, even. But, the problem is this: Literature is transforming.

Content volume is king, in the modern world of literature. Well, actually content might be second to speed, as glorified by sites like twitter where we are a fed a constant stream of new content, delivered at a lightning fast pace.

What ever happened to the quest for perfection and art? What I find most sad is that the overwhelming majority of these novels never ever see the light of day. Too many people write their 50k, are satisfied and move on. Maybe that’s all well and good for you, but not for me. I want to make something of those words. And if you ever want to be a novelist you should too. It doesn’t end in December. That’s when it’s only just begun.

You owe it to yourself and your novel to take it beyond November and turn it into something truly worthwhile.

We don’t describe things anymore.

‘Words cannot describe…’

I know you’ve heard this phrase before. Hell, you’ve probably used it a few times. I know I have.

I hate this phrase because it’s a blatant lie. Words are powerful and descriptive beyond what we’ve even accomplished with them so far. It’s one thing to use this in everyday speech, but to used this phrase in any piece of creative literature is a serious crime. We are writers. Our job is to describe things. We need to reach into the mortar between the bricks and show our readers the texture, we need to illustrate the way each cherry blossom falls to the ground, we need to take them to Venice and let them smell it for themselves.

In fact, I rarely see that in writing these days, either published or personal. For the most part, artists seem to describe things in vague, simple ways. Words like ‘amazingly, extremely, incredibly, unbelievably, fantastic, unimaginable (unimaginable? Really?)’

The list goes on and on, and sometimes they get a little more creative and use words like ‘breathtaking’ and ‘riveting’. These words are the constant victims of hyperbole, and are used far too often to excuse the writer from actually describing something. Most of the time, when I read something more ‘modern’ I am left with a very vague idea of what the artist was trying to say, with some generic images floating in my head as my brain struggles to understand what exactly was so ‘amazing’ about the scene sprawled out before the main character.

If Dante had really wanted to, he could have summed up Hell in one word. ‘Horrifying’. And that would actually be a pretty accurate summation of the place he created. But Dante decided instead to take us, circle by circle, torture my torture, down to the very bottom of hell.  Try to paint the Aurora Borealis, try to make the reader truly understand the awe they might feel if they actually saw a fleet of airships flying over the city.

Using the phrase ‘words cannot describe’ is an excuse for hyperbole. With enough time, with enough words and with enough imagination, you can describe anything.

Next time you write something, think of your reader as being blind, because they truly cannot see the world you’ve created in your head. If you want them to think it’s simply ‘incredible’ than tell them that, but the chances are much greater that you want them to understand why it’s incredible, and therefore you must describe to them, piece by piece, what your world looks like and how it works.

To hate what you create.

Everyone does this. After the joyous glow of creating something wears off (which usually takes an hour or less for me) we can suddenly begin to despise what we made. Maybe for a few days we’ll continue to go after our latest piece and admire it, like a proud father, but eventually most artists seem to inevitably begin to hate what they had created. Especially when they’ve started on a new project.

Invariably, if someone asks to see one of your completed novels, or perhaps peruse through last years sketchbook you might say, “Yeah that’s fine, but it’s nothing compared to what I can do now.” I know plenty of people who discard their old drawings and novels out of sheer disgust. “What was I thinking when I made that?”

But this is very, very much the wrong way to go about things. If you look back on something you created and see a myriad of mistakes, poor word choices, awkward character conversations and clumsily assembled settings, you should be proud. You should be proud of how far you’ve come.

The fact is, you needed to be that bad, to be as good as you are today. Each poorly written novel is a stepping stone on your path to mastery. If you can recognize what your novel needs, and you’ve improved on it, then there is no need to look back on your work with disdain. If that short story you’re so ashamed of didn’t have those silly plot holes, you may have never learned to recognize them.

And trust me, what you plan to write today, or during NaNoWriMo, will be laughable and pathetic a few months from now. But, that doesn’t mean you should laugh at it, because it was another step you took on your journey. Whenever I create something, I look forward to being able to go back to my old works, relive my experiences and patterns of thinking. To me, those old novels are trophies, sitting proudly on my bookshelf, each one, a struggle I overcame.

I really would love to end it on that note, but let me give a fair warning. I have a friend who writes more than anyone I know. Last time I checked, she had somewhere around thirty books under her belt. To her, writing is no less of a need than eating, sleeping or watching Game of Thrones. But she doesn’t improve. Not remarkably, at least, and she certainly doesn’t try to. Each piece is much the same, not that any are particularly bad.

I only share that to say this: If you’re not improving, then you don’t even have the right to turn your nose up at past projects. If you want to be disappointed in the poems and stories of yesteryear, then use that disappointment to drive you to new heights. You’re not trying to create a heap of words, you’re trying to create a path.

Your own worst critic.

Of all the experiences I had and things I learned during last year’s NaNoWriMo, one thing stood out to me the most. As I was plucking away at my very first novel, determined to become what I would consider a ‘real writer’ (my definition would change later) one of the NaNo’s in my region caught my attention.

Being naturally competitive, I was watching the word counts of everyone around me, trying to see how I sized up. I almost croaked when I came across a woman clocking over five thousand words a day.

Granted, you can write five thousand words in a single day. I’ve done ten thousand. But she was doing it consistently. Every single day. Before we even reached the halfway point her novel was complete.

But that wasn’t what struck me, because at the time I was a little disgusted that someone would churn out a novel in ten days. What struck me was the fact that as soon as December hit, literally the first of December, she had released aforementioned novel for sale on Amazon.

I sampled the novel for myself, out of sheer morbid curiosity, and was not surprised to find that it was exactly what you would expect from a book written in under a month. It wasn’t a long shot to say that she was absolutely deluding herself. There was no way more than a handful of people would ever be interested in reading what she had created.

So often, I hear writers or artists of other strains comfort themselves or their peers with the phrase ‘You’re your own worst critic.’

Well, I absolutely agree. I agree to the extent that you’re the worst critic you could possibly have. Not because you’re too hard on yourself, but because you make a terrible critic.

It isn’t much better to hate your work than to blindly create something and confidently release it without a second thought to quality. It’s the difference between the girl who spends three hours in the bathroom and still isn’t satisfied with herself and the guy in sweatpants who hasn’t showered in three days and is flirting with every girl he sees in the mall.

So when you create something, whether it be a novel, a song, or even a simple drawing, don’t go to one of the two extremes of either flaunting it to the world or hiding it in the darkest corners of your musty room. Look for people to criticize it. Look for people to truly tell you what is good and what is bad.

Because, shoving it into the world and hiding it away are both actions done out of fear. Fear of hearing what anyone has to say about it. Next time you create something, remember this: It isn’t very good, but it isn’t too bad, either. And then, use others to help you polish the good and toss out the bad.