I adore NaNoWriMo, so it was a quick and easy “Yes, please!” when Benjamin Thomas asked if I’d be interested in contributing a Nano-related guest post. Even though I only participated once and didn’t make it past day three—I was trying to squeeze writing fiction around writing for a newspaper, and that was just too much writing—I love all the writing enthusiasm, the motivation it sparks (in others), and the work it inspires people to create.
However, I do disagree with a certain ray-of-sunshine, up-and-at-‘em mass email I received from NaNoWriMo.org, whose subject line declared with sincerity, “The world needs your novel.”
I hate to say this, but it’s very likely the world does not, in fact, need your (or my) novel.
Even if it does, it may not know it now, and it may never know it.
But that’s okay! Thousands of writers have written novels the world has no idea it needs or doesn’t need at all, and they’ve gone on to write another and another without knowing for certain whether the world cares a whit about what they’re writing.
Why do they write them, and why should you?
Because regardless of the obstacles that create insecurity and uncertainty, writing is fun. Or rewarding. Or cathartic. Or an invigorating challenge. Take your pick. When most people start writing as children or pre-teens or teens, they’re not doing it because they think the world needs their insight or their brand of entertainment, or because they think they’re going to make a million from people lining up to buy their debut literary novel about a quirky, lonely island bird; they’re doing it because they enjoy it. It’s only later that fantasies of publication, acceptance, praise, respect, and/or money (ha—money) creep in to strangle creative freedom and scare writers out of being bold. Or, alternatively, tempt them into being “so crazy bold I’ll knock everyone’s socks off with all my ‘writery’ writing!” The activity of writing, the pains taken to put word after word after word in order to create a vivid scene, moment, or full story, begins as one kind of fun or another. Holding tight to that early, untainted passion while working on a first draft can significantly improve the experience.
When I started writing The Age of the Child, which is my third and latest novel, I had to remind myself almost every other day (just as I had to with my second novel), “Don’t think about what might appeal to an agent or an editor. Don’t think about what people say publishers want. Don’t think about what makes a ‘blockbuster.’ And for the love of all that is holy, don’t think about trends. Just think about the characters and the world they live in and the story they’re going to tell, the story you want to tell. That’s IT.”
The only pressure when working on any first draft should be to write the story as honestly as it can be written. With that in mind, I offer these five tips that have stood out from the avalanche of writer advice I’ve come across in the last twenty-five years:
Kristen Tsetsi has been an adjunct English professor, an instructor of expository- , play-, and screenwriting, a town news reporter/feature writer/columnist for a daily newspaper, a Women’s eNews correspondent, and editor of the literary journal American Fiction (New Rivers Press). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
The Age of the Child is her latest (also independently released) novel. Called “an intriguing look at a future that feels frighteningly possible” (Journal Inquirer) and “an exciting drama that illuminates the hypocrisies of our time without flinching” (Alan Davis, author of So Bravely Vegetative), The Age of the Child was the focus of an episode of WNPR’s “The Colin McEnroe Show” and, according to reviewer J. S. Crail, promises to “rile up your book clubs.”