Writing a novel is seen by many as a frightful, lonely thing. Writers and publishers constantly push this image of a novel being the product of great, protracted struggle. In the industry, if you write one novel every four years or so you’re average, if you write one every year you’re prolific, and if you write more than two a year you’re a hack.
This general view is held by the reading public too. An author who claims his work has been in progress for years instantly gains our respect, whereas for the upstart who says he finishes an average novel in six months we only have snorts of derision. The sub-text is clear; if you’re writing a lot, you’re probably not writing very well.
Let’s pause on that for just a moment. In just about every other field of human endeavour, it is understood that the more you practice, the better you get. Only in writing have I seen this almost fanatic obsession with slowing down, with taking your time, with deceiving yourself into thinking that you’re producing great work when you’re only procrastinating.
When you’re starting out – and I presume that most of you are – the worst thing that you can do is to slow down. If you wish to become a writer you must write every day, and if you wish to become a fiction writer, you must write fiction every day. Thinking about your novel is not writing. Plotting is not writing. Character mapping is not writing. Only writing is writing. And the more you write, the better you will get. It is that simple, and it is that hard.
Writing a novel is an exercise in creativity, yes, and in originality and in technique, but more than all of that it is an exercise in discipline. Come to your desk every day, write a certain number of words, and one day you will finish. Stephen King once said that amateurs sit around waiting for inspiration while the professionals show up. Day in and day out they show up. You must too.
NanoWriMo is not a magic wand. Too many people I know have signed up for it hoping for a miracle and have dropped out, dejected. It is a great platform for you to meet others, compare notes, discuss stuff, but make no mistake: NanoWriMo will not write your novel for you. NanoWriMo will not drag you to your desk. NanoWriMo will not pat you on the back and say nice things on bad days. You have to do all those things. NanoWriMo will help you, yes, but if you do not have the inner desire, I am afraid that you must first find it before you sign up.
But for those of you who know what’s in store, welcome. No matter what you do over the next one month, promise yourself that you would love it. Love the good days, but love the bad days too. Love the scratching of your pen, the clacking of your keyboard. More than anything, love your story. Fall in love with your world and its people so that when you tell us about them, we cannot help but fall in love with them ourselves. If you look deep within yourself you will know that this love is the main reason you’re doing this. Promise yourself now that you will nurture this love, that you will not let it die in the course of the month.
If you do that, I am sure you will be fine.
Sharath Komarraju is a mystery and fantasy author based in Bangalore, India. His first novel, ‘Murder in Amaravati’, was longlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. Now, as he awaits the release of his third novel, ‘The Winds of Hastinapur’, due out in November 2013, he’s busy thrashing out a manuscript that doesn’t yet know what it wants to become when it grows up.
He spends most of a typical day locked up in a room talking to himself. He blogs about the writing life at http://sharathkomarraju.com/