Hey hey hey!
It’s National Novel Writing Month! That wonderful, special time of year where we remember all the good the internet used to do, circa 2013, the communities it helped create, and put aside time every day to work on our craft as builders of narrative and constructors of really, really awkward first chapters. (More on that in a minute.)
National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo if you really want to give your Shift key a workout in the space of 8 letters), as a book writing event, is not meant to help you get published, it’s meant to help you start taking the first steps on the thousand-step path to getting published. That is, if that’s something you wish to do.
You are writing 50,000 words after all. There must be something inside of you that yearns to break into the world of professionally paid writing.
So, you sign up (at nanowrimo.org), create your book title, add a profile picture, set up your writing playlist, talk with your online friends about it, think about how wonderful it is you’re committing yourself to 30 days of uninhibited writing, and then…
The book you had all ready to go in your mind doesn’t want to appear. It’s strange, as if it never existed at all. You can think of the exciting ending, all the emotional beats ready to be tied up. You can imagine the middle, where it might sag a bit and all the tricks you’ll throw at it to make sure you, and the reader, are as engaged as possible.
But that beginning?
It just won’t arrive.
I know this because it happened to me yesterday. And yet…
How did I do that? How did I start writing my book yesterday even when I sat down and nothing came to me?
This book, by the way, is codenamed Project: TREES and it’s a complete rewrite of a book I did for NaNoWriMo back in 2015. Meaning, this is a book I’ve already written!
But when it came time to finally begin, even though I already know the story, even though I know where it’s going, and even though, again, I ALREADY WROTE IT, I sat there doing nothing for a long time.
The words couldn’t come. I was blocked, backed up, and everything inside of me was screaming, “Why can’t you just start the book?!”
The thing about openings, though, is they’re never what you want them to be. Matt Fraction (Adventureman, Sex Criminals) probably gave the best piece of advice on the matter I’ve ever read (I can’t seem to find the dang quote anywhere, so you’ll have to trust me on this? Please?). It went something along the line of:
“You’re first issue is going to suck. You’re second issue should probably be your first issue.” – Robert Acosta, trying to remember if Matt Fraction actually did say something like this, so don’t actually quote him on it
Now, he was talking about comic books here. When planning out multiple issue storylines, you tend to want to over explain in the first issue. Set everything up. Make sure your readers know exactly where everyone is supposed to be and what their motivations are for the oncoming adventure.
You don’t have to do this.
When it comes time to actually start writing the thing, after all the notebook plotting or index card wall mapping or whatever way you plan out a story, look at your second issue.
That should probably be where your story begins.
The exciting stuff is happening. Your characters are already alert, active, interacting with the conflict around them, and the reader is immediately drawn in. Suddenly, all that boring exposition and setup in the first issue is nowhere to be seen and the characters are just being themselves.
The second issue is your first issue and the first issue is trash.
This is the same for books. If you can’t get started writing, if you’re having trouble getting your first chapter for NaNoWriMo going, just know: It’s probably going to suck and that’s a million percent okay.
Is my first chapter of Project: TREES the best opening lines ever? No. Am I going to keep it when it comes time for 2nd draft edits? Most likely not. But I’m writing, and you know the best thing?
I like my 2nd chapter even more.
My wife had the day off yesterday and wanted to spend the entire day hanging with our boys. This freed up my time to finish up Project: DEED, the Featured Image at the top, another NaNoWriMo tale I tried in 2017. If you notice the dates, you’ll see I didn’t win that year. It took me 3 years to finally muster up the courage to get back to it and finish the darn thing.
If I can win this year’s NaNo, then that means I’ll have written three books in one year.
And wouldn’t that be something…?
Get to writing, people. The world needs you.
Thanks for reading,