Wannabe novelists should do NaNoWriMo

Last week I met three people who told me they were novelists, yet when I asked about their novels, I started hearing all these qualifying statements: “Well, I only have twenty pages…” Or “I haven’t written it yet, but I plan on writing it once I’m done with [enter excuse here].”

Call me crazy, but I don’t really think you get to call yourself a novelist unless written a novel.  Twenty pages of glistening prose is a fine start, but it does not make you a novelist…it makes you someone who has written twenty pages. Congratulations.

I think that anyone who has written a complete first draft of a novel deserves a pat on the back because so few people make it that far. However, if you ask anyone in the publishing industry, the term “novelist” only belongs to someone who has had a novel PUBLISHED. By those standards, I am not a novelist yet either, even though I’ve got one novel stowed away in my desk and I’m working on a second.

Whenever I hear people waxing poetic about how they are going to write a book “someday,” the first thing that pops into my mind is that if they haven’t already written a novel by now, they probably aren’t going to.

I realize this response is a bit harsh. After all, who am I to judge? There have been so many times when people have judged me, or told me something was impossible when what they really meant was that something was impossible for them.

Perhaps when people tell me they’re going to write a novel they’re actually trying on an identity—asking for affirmation, or encouragement, or maybe even for permission. I don’t want to crush someone’s budding dream. I believe that writing a novel is a worthwhile activity, even if it never gets published.

That being said, I think every person who thinks they want to write a novel should try NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month, which takes place between November 1 and November 30. How will you know if you actually want to be novelists unless you write one?

The funny thing about writing a novel is that often people discover that they don’t enjoy writing as much as they thought they would. I know a guy who thought he wanted to be a writer, until he actually wrote and finished a novel. He discovered that writing sucks, it’s hard work, and definitely isn’t as fun as reading. He said the whole experience was worthwhile, though, because it gave him a much greater appreciation for what novelists do. He has since moved onto other hobbies.

I guess when I hear people talk about wanting to write a novel, I want to tell them they should do whatever it takes to finish that first draft–outline, freewrite, do NaNoWriMo, buy a fancy notebook and fill up every page, create a writing date with someone, write a page a day for a year…do whatever it takes.

You’ll never know if it’s actually something you want to do unless you try.

About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
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