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Lisa / November 3, 2015

NaNoWriMo Week 1: The Valley of Despair


Happy NaNoWriMo everybody! November is one of my favorite months precisely because of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. To celebrate, I’ll be writing about my own experiences with NaNo all through November. I’m kicking things off with a reprint of my guest blog post over at Robyn Bachar’s blog from October 1 of this year.

Congratulations! Next month you’re about to embark on one of the most exciting writing challenges around, National Novel Writing Month. If this is your first time, or if you’re an old hand, you’re going to learn things about yourself as a writer that you never knew, and you get to do it in the company of thousands of other writers just like you.

I first did NaNoWriMo in 2001. I was just getting started as a writer. I had written short stories and no novels—but I had an idea. And I loved my idea, so I dove in. Twenty-seven days later, I had 50,000 words on The Host, but I wasn’t finished with the story yet. I finished the first draft that January. No one has ever read it, and believe me when I say, that is a good thing. The Host was terrible science fiction, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I didn’t win NaNoWriMo again until 2013, with the book that went on to become my second book for Intermix, As Lost as I Get, which came out this past August.

I love writing novels and novellas, more than I ever did writing short stories, and I learned that thanks to NaNoWriMo. If there’s one thing I wish someone had told me when I started though, it’s this: no matter how many books you write, you will always reach a point in the book where you despise it.

I mean full-on hate. Continuing it will seem impossible. The characters are flat, the plot is flimsy, you’ve forgotten how to write a freaking sentence, for crying out loud. This book was a terrible idea and you clearly should just cut your losses and move on to something else.

About this time, a new idea that you’ve been mulling over will start to look really tempting. You’ll think, that’s the book I should be writing. That book won’t suck. And if you’re like me, you’ll hare off and start a brand new book.

But sooner rather than later, the new book will also turn terrible. How could you possibly have thought this was a good idea? But that shiny new idea, over there in the corner. That will make a good book. You should write that instead.

And so on. You can see where this is headed: a bunch of novels started, and none of them finished. And if you’re like me, you eventually start to wonder if you don’t have any good ideas to write at all. Or maybe you’re just a terrible writer and should chuck the whole thing and go watch TV.

But here’s the thing I eventually learned, from experience, and from listening to other writers talk about their experiences: hating your book is a step in the process to finishing your book. I started calling it the Valley of Despair. Other people call it the Dreaded Middle. When it happens seems to vary according to writer. Some can pinpoint the exact page. For me, it seems to happen right around 10,000 words.

My theory is, you’ve written all the exciting intro stuff, and then you’re faced with taking all of it and making something happen with it, and that’s where things get hard. The honeymoon is over, and it’s time to start making the marriage work, so to speak.

Every book you have ever read and loved, and some point in the writing process, the writer more than likely hated every word and wanted to quit and write a better idea. Your favorite book! Your favorite author wanted to bang his or her head against the keyboard, because surely that would produce better prose than the crap they were currently banging out.

You’re not a bad writer, and you don’t have bad ideas. When you hit that point in writing your book in November—and you will, I promise—keep going. Even when you hate every word. Go ahead and hate every word, but write them. It’s a first draft, you can fix it later.

Eventually, things will click back into place. Things will start coming easier. Do it enough times, with enough books, and when you hit the Valley of Despair or Dreaded Middle or whatever you want to call it, you can just sigh and grumble and complain and push on.

Don’t stop writing. I promise you, if you push through even when you hate it, you will eventually stop hating it, and you’ll finish your book.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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