A little known fact about me that not even all my friends know is that I wrote my first book in 2004 at the age of seventeen. It’s not that they don’t know I write books, or that I even started relatively early, it’s more that—for the most part—they think my first book was written in 2005.
They think this because that was the first year I did National Novel Writing Month—called NaNoWriMo by most participants. From that year until this one (which is less than three days away, I might add) I’ve done NaNoWriMo every November.
This year, however, marks my tenth turn; a feat that earns me a free sandwich*. And though the pressure should be on to finish this year, I’m feeling pretty confident. This is probably due to the fact that, out of the nine previous NaNo’s, I’ve accomplished them all.
When I was a kid, and all the way up until my early twenties, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a novelist. I liked writing stories; people seemed to enjoy reading my stories; it was a win-win situation!
But no one ever told me how life-draining trying to become a novelist actually is. Beyond having to pour your own money out for copies, postage, and shipping packages you also have to dedicate a lot of time to it. One of my greatest regrets is allowing the girl I was dating at the time make me feel bad for spending more time on my novels than with her and not finishing the story of two books—two books that had potential.
The time spent on writing the novel is thin in comparison to the time you’ll spend trying to get someone—anyone—at a publishing company or literary agency to read even a chapter of it. I can’t quite blame them; the massive number of Americans trying to become the next great novelist is heart breaking for those of us in those numbers.
Which brings on the rejection. I’m glad of my rejections, they’ve taught me some valuable lessons for life, but it still takes a toll on you. After a while you start to think, Maybe it is me. I’ve never been the kind of guy who can’t take a hint, either, so I eventually just gave up.
I didn’t give up on writing, however—because even if other people don’t want to read my books, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy writing them. I have a thousand stories all swimming around in my head—far more than I’ll ever be able to get out on paper, even if I wrote a novel every month of every year. It’s a hobby. It’s a release. It’s an accomplishment.
It most certainly is an accomplishment. I may not be very good at much in my life, but I know I can hit that word count every November. And when I do, and I push away from my desk and stretch out my arms over my head, I feel that I’ve done something great.
If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month this year, listen to my words—these important words for all writers; the words not many would be willing to admit to; the words that still more won’t take completely to heart†:
Don’t write your book thinking you’ll ever get published. Instead, write your book because it’s something you want to do. Write because you enjoy it. Write because you have the drive to do so. But most importantly, write for yourself; because you might be the only person who ever reads it, which means you’d be the only person to enjoy it.
Nothing in this world will last. In the end, everything will be lost and nothing will be left‡. Whether or not your book appears on the New York Times bestsellers list won’t matter when the sun explodes; but whether or not you’re able to sit back, stretch out your arms, and feel real pride in yourself certainly matters right now.
**If this post seems kind of familiar, but not really, it’s because I wrote a piece last year for my ninth NaNoWriMo. You can read it here.**