NaNoWriMo—50,000 words in one month, 12,500 words per week, 1667 words per day. The quintessential milestone for writers across the globe. A marathon where fingers run the race and bottoms bear the burden. It takes a level of dedication that is difficult to achieve for aspiring writers. Most of us simply don’t have enough time in the day, after work and family, but there is a much more subtle and insidious detriment that plagues aspiring writers—our perspective of a writer’s life.
We hear it all the time: “If you want to be a writer, you have to WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!” It’s easy for us to imagine people like George R. R. Martin, J. K. Rowling, and Brandon Sanderson, perpetually churning our manuscripts, rolling from one 500k word manuscript to another with as much effort as a hawk in flight. Some of us receive David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants, how casually he mentions the many books he intends to finish this year, along with workshops, teaching, blogging, and editing. Every year, NaNoWriMo looms over aspiring authors like Sisyphus’ Hill, while it seems that Farland, et al treat NaNoWriMo as a weekly standard. It’s so easy to forget that those authorial juggernauts were once fledgling writers filled with the same awe and wonder that we give them.
I’ve always loved fabricating stories. My first memories involve a small stream (torrential ocean waves), a couple plastic boats (fearless sea captains, braving the angry ocean), and a puddle with tiny little minnows (great white sharks). My mind has lived in the clouds, embellishing reality from the day I was born, but I discovered my love for storytelling in the 5th grade. It was a tale of a time-traveling woodpecker that took a young boy on an adventure filled with morals and mystery, and my teacher’s praise sparked the flame. I was handed a copy of Where the Red Fern Grows, which I devoured behind watery eyes, and I knew what I wanted most in life—to become an author.
It didn’t take long for me to realize just how difficult it is to write a novel. In one hand I had a book with hundreds of pages filled with beautiful prose and interesting dialogue; in my other hand was a half page of stilted crap that had taken my the better part of a day to write. I didn’t have writer’s block. I knew what I had wanted to write, the imagery had seemed so clear and vivid in my mind, but every attempt to transcribe it was like chasing a dream after awakening. My resolve was compromised my resolve and my confidence shattered. Either, authors took years to write a single novel, or I was like a fish wishing it could fly with the eagles.
The fact of the matter is—Not every month is a NaNoWriMo month. Not even for the established titans of the writing industry. We forget that they are human too. They need time to rest, eat, have fun, play games, spend time with their family, go on vacation, etc. They get bored and struggle with wanting to write just as we all do. “What writers do best is avoid writing” resonates with all writers. That’s why we find our zones—those places where we feel inspired to write. The difference between Sanderson, Farland, King, et al, is the same manner of difference between a professional athlete and an aspiring athlete—the amount of time and dedication one puts into their craft. Upon first grabbing a bat, every baseball player struggles to hit a pitch; upon first grabbing a basketball, every player struggles to make a free throw. What differentiates them is the amount of time and dedication. When other kids were playing video games (me), goofing off (me), adventuring along rivers, forests, hills (me, me, me), the kids that grew up to be professional basketball players were on the court, practicing all day. Not every month is NaNoWriMo for the Michael Jordans, Nolan Ryans, and Nadia Comănecis of the writing industry because they’ve already lived through their NaNoWriMo months. They don’t have to psych themselves up to tackle 50,000 words in a month, any more than Jordan had to psyche himself up for a slam dunk contest.
All professionals start at the bottom of Sisyphus’ Hill. Practice has simply made the boulder easier to push.