On Writing 1: The Stupid Guide to NaNoWriMo


A few minutes ago, I made my commitment to complete my first novel.

I made a big geographic move in May, and in the process gave up my money-making career so my wife could pursue her dream job. She’s killing it, so no problems there. In that time I have started this blog, increased my presence on social media (some… a lot of folks say Twitter is a dying format, but it seems to work for me), completed one satirical short story, and rewritten the introduction to my novel about 6 times.

It’s time to move forward. It’s not like I don’t have hopes of turning my pseudo-philosophical essays into a print collection, but the novel– for people who write, it’s the dream, the goal. It’s how you know you are Getting Shit Done. And since we live in a world that is filled with Shit, Shit that needs to Get Done… well, best get to it.

The name of my novel is Comatose: The Life and Crimes of the Coma Kid. It’s a darkly comic YA novel about a teenager who, despite his best efforts to do good, becomes the world’s greatest supervillain after he kills Superman– who is a godlike lady named The Imperatrix who comes from an alternate timeline where the Roman Empire was eternal, but you get the picture. It’s a solid concept, and sometimes it’s a lot of fun to write. But, amazingly, it isn’t perfect, either in conception or in execution, and this irks me. So I start again.

So, not only am I making my commitment to its completion, I am also writing myself this guide, so that I can finish my work and feel good about it.

  1. Don’t Worry About Finishing It

The alleged goal in National Novel Writing Month is to write a 50,000 word novel. That’s a 200 page book. So, is finishing the book in the designated time frame the most important thing? If I do not reach this arbitrary goal, or reach a different arbitrary goal, have I failed?

Of course not. This is not about failure or allowing for the possibility of failure. This is about building good habits, about creating something new and strange, about learning new skills and not undermining myself. If I move forward on my novel every day then I succeed.

2. Lower Your Standards

One of the great challenges in writing is finding out that your ideas, so beautiful inside your head, turn into sludge on the screen– the written equivalent of lukewarm oatmeal. It happens to me almost every time I write.

This means I have taste.

If every time I wrote a sentence I looked at it and said “Perfect!” then I would have no business writing. I am not a literary Mozart, my words need a lot of help. A lot of drafts.

Do them tomorrow. Today you are going for distance, going for speed. You are going to write a story, and you’ll judge it and change it and break it later. That’s not November’s job or November’s problem.

Most writer’s use about 10% of their first draft in their finished novel (and about 10% too many apostrophes). Sure, I’m better than most writers, but I’m not going to prove it in my first novel’s first draft.

3. Prepare for Failure

I don’t mean set yourself up for failure. Never that. I mean don’t let the setbacks stop you. There will be days when you write nothing, or you simply hate everything you wrote. You will get sick, your daughter will get sick, Netflix will release a new show that you need to binge. You will get bored, and you will get angry at yourself, both for your terrible writing and for your terrible lack of writing. Please know this, though: unless you’re playing punk rock, self loathing will not help you. It is masturbation; it wastes time and gets nothing done.

4. I Should Be Writing

Is there a new show on TV? That’s cool, I should be writing. Is there a Pokémon that needs catching? Well, yes, obviously– but I should be writing. Is everything hard for me, and when I feel that way does it feel like it will last forever? Definitely– but wallow later. It’s time to write.

I’m a diabetic who writes and whose wife is supporting him (as I supported her through years of PhDing). So my daily checklist is as follows:

1) Love my wife, daughter, friends and family. Make sure they know I love them. Do the Nice Things for them and also get the wuggle child to school.

2) Work out once a day. Walk if you can’t do anything else. Eat well. Do kung fu and Tai Ch’i, do some pull-ups, squat-thrusts, lip-ups if you can figure out what those are.

3) Read, of course.

4) Write. Writewritewritewritewrite.

This message brought to you by the Center for Admitting We Are All Stupid. Now shut up and write.

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