It’s day one of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2015, and all over the world writers are clacking away in an initial rush of writing joy. The journey has begun. The climb up the mountain is on. Yes, there will need to be some oxygen intake along the way, but right now everybody’s yodeling.
To me, that’s the great benefit of NaNo. For one month there’s a community of writers engaged in the same pursuit—completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
Of course, it’s not all sweetness and light. Life sometimes intrudes (it tends to do that). But those who keep on producing the words will feel an exhilaration that proves at least one thing: they are not chairs. They are writers full of passion and ideas and fervors and dreams. Some people never get to feel that way about anything.
That’s why you, writer, need to appreciate the gift you’ve been given, the gift of being slightly weird.
Yes, writers are weird. We’re weird because we do things like this: A friend has been in a terrible accident. We rush to the hospital. We enter the room. The friend is hooked up and bandaged. We go to him and take his hand. “I’m here for you,” we say.
At the same time, half our brain is thinking, This would make a pretty good scene. I wonder what they call that machine over there? Maybe I can ask a doctor some research questions before I leave. Maybe—
“What’s that? Oh, yes, yes, I’m here for you!”
And we wouldn’t have it any other way! I mean, who wants to walk through life in the tight shoes of the ordinary? We lie for fun and profit! Remember that great line from A Knight’s Tale, uttered by Chaucer: “Yes, I lied. I’m a writer. I give the truth scope!”
There’s nothing more joyful than giving the truth scope.
Let’s see it in your pages! In my recent book, VOICE: The Secret Power of Great Writing, I include a clip from John Fante’s 1939 novel, Ask the Dust. Here it is, and can’t you just feel what it’s like to want to be a writer?
Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town. A day and another day and the day before, and the library with the big boys in the shelves, old Dreiser, old Mencken, all the boys down there, and I went to see them, Hya Dreiser, Hya Mencken, Hya hya: there’s a place for me, too, and it begins with B, in the B shelf. Arturo Bandini, make way for Arturo Bandini, his slot for his book, and I sat at the table and just looked at the place where my book would be, right there close to Arnold Bennett, not much that Arnold Bennett, but I’d be there to sort of bolster up the B’s, old Arturo Bandini, one of the boys, until some girl came along, some scent of perfume through the fiction room, some click of high heels to break up the monotony of my fame. Gala day, gala dream!
“Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.” (Ray Bradbury, Zen and the Art of Writing)
So whether you’re NaNoing or not (this year I have to transfer my gusto for NaNo to a project with an end-of-November deadline) make this month one where you surrender yourself to the joy of being that strange bird, a writer. You get to create fabulous worlds, unforgettable characters, blistering dialogue, scenes full of tension and conflict. You can write about zombies or lawyers (though some people think there is little difference between them). You can write about great loves and losses, go to Mars or New York.
And if perchance you are in one of those places in your mind, with a glassy stare on your face as your characters begin improvising––or maybe your lips are moving as you make up the dialogue––and someone happens to mention that you’re acting a little weird, simply say, “Thank you!”
Carpe Typem everyone. Have a wild and wonderful November.