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Why everyone should write a novel

Have you ever said to yourself "That should be a novel"? Or "Someday when I get time I'm going to write a great story"?Or "It must be so much fun to write books like this one I just read"? Or even "I wonder how anyone even writes something like this?"

If you enjoy reading, I think it's a safe bet you've said these things. After all, the basic skill set, writing, is something we learned in primary school It doesn't require any special resources, paper and pencil are enough. It shouldn't be that hard. And the great thing is: it isn't! It does require time, but that can be spread out over any duration, fitting itself into the gaps in life (though it is much easier if you can dedicate even a few multi-hour sessions to your writing once in a while). Mostly what it requires is the dedication to get it done. and that comes mostly from believing you can do it. I believe you can do it, and so should you.

Every year in November I participate in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. Every year hundreds of thousands of people all over the world (it's much bigger than "National" now!) commit to trying to produce 50,000 words of new fiction in the thirty days of November. That's the size of a short novel (Uncommon Counsel is about 80,000 words for comparison). Literally billions of words are written that month and logged at the website www.NaNoWriMo.org. Not everyone makes the goal, of course, but even those who don't still have many more words than they started with. I've done it for eight years, and made the goal every year except the one when we moved into a new house on November 1 (I wrote 30,000 words that month).

That's not to say that these are all great novels. They aren't. That's not the point. Charles Barkley didn't start out shooting 70% from the free throw line. Wynton Marsalis didn't start out playing in Carnegie Hall. Van Gogh didn't produce a masterpiece the first time he lifted a paint brush. Everything takes practice, and writing is no exception. NaNoWriMo is a great way to get in a lot of practice. The first few attempts are going to be crap, and that's ok. Keep writing. It gets better, and surprisingly quickly.

Uncommon Counsel--which I hope you've enjoyed if you're reading this--started out as my 2017 NaNoWriMo novel. I started planning it (you can do all the planning you want before November, just no actual writing of the novel itself) in the summer of 2017, I wrote most of it in November, about 62,000 words, and then finished the first draft in the first week of December. It was my eighth time cranking out words in November, and the first one I felt might be worth doing something more with. I spent the next five months editing it. All while holding down a full-time job, playing in a brass ensemble, maintaining some semblance of a social life and doing all the other things that are part of living. I fit it in. Granted, November gets a little crazy. To get to the goal I need to spend at least ten hours a week writing, and fifteen is better. But the rest of the year, it's mostly what I can fit into my schedule. I try to keep one evening a week free to work on my writing, usually Tuesdays. I'll put in three or four hours typically, writing or editing in a local coffee shop or the public library. Some weeks I find a few other moments to write. Some weeks I don't write at all.

All of this is to say that it's nothing magical. It doesn't require that you quit your job and go live in a shack on a deserted island. It doesn't even mean you can't go out on the weekends. It just needs you to believe in yourself. To know that you have a great story inside you--probably more than one--that is begging to be set free. I believe in you. You can do this. You should share your story with the world. So do it. Right now. Go sign up at www.NaNoWriMo.org. It will only take a minute. And then start planning. Start writing. And when you write crap, know that that's as it should be. If you struggle to put 200 words down in an hour, that's normal, too. Just keep writing. It will get better. It will get easier. You can do this!