Besides being the Month with Thanksgiving in it, the Month When the Weather Gets Extremely Terrible, and Movember, November is also, of course, National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo. The rules are easy: Write a book in a month. (Or as the website has it: “Write a book in a month!”)
I did not plan to be writing a book during NaNoWriMo. I am only writing a book during NaNoWriMo because it’s the month after October and the month before December. It’s entirely possible I will still be writing a book during next NaNoWriMo (though Jesus Christ I hope not.) But I am very glad I am.
NaNoWriMo is geared, I’d say, toward first-time novelists: Everybody who’s thought, “I could do that, too, if I had any idea where to start.” I didn’t realize how valuable it would be for a second-time novelist like me. What I have learned is this: Your first book is like your first high school love: Most of it’s amazing, and then it can get extremely horrible, extremely fast. Your second book—my second book—is slightly more complicated, because you’re not only negotiating my relationship with this new book: You’re also negotiating all the baggage from that first one, too, and if it was a bruiser ….
My first book was a bruiser. Not the writing: That was awesome. Not the editing: That was even better. The parts that came after the writing and the editing: I mean, fuck me, but they were terrible. Six years later, I’m not even sure I have the words for how mortifying parts of it was.
There was the appearance at a bookstore in Arlington populated by me and two members of the staff. There was a reading in Arkansas with me, my best friend, and the bookstore owner. At this point, you’re like: I am so sorry I wasted your time by thinking I could write a book. I spent the entire time wanting to write hand-written apologies to book-store owners explaining how one day I was going to be a successful writer and I would be loyal to them and have my readings, attended by more than my best friend, at their stores.
It’s embarrassing. It was embarrassing to see critical reviews on Amazon. And don’t get me started on Goodreads. LOL: I’m literally fighting queasiness as I do this, but here are some excerpts:
I heard lots of chatter about this one, so I was expecting something better. It might be a tad smarter than your typical chick lit, but quite frankly, I found the main character really annoying.
Despite the title of this book, Betsy is not a smart girl.
As this smart girl continues to make ridiculous decisions, the plot becoming a bit muddy and slow and then you want to finish because you think it will get better. It doesn’t. Save yourself.
The main character (I can’t even remember her name and that is saying something) is so negative and annoying I’m surprised anyone can be friends with her.
OK…I didn’t get through the whole thing. Why? Because it was like reading a 14 year old girl’s diary.
Spoiler! I’m the main character! So not only did I feel like the dumbest dumb ass on the planet for writing this book in general: People I didn’t know were saying I was negative and annoying and OMFG they were seeing directly into my soul!
The big problem—for me, the biggest—is that you feel alone. I felt alone, in my public mortification. At the time, it felt like all the Internet critics had seen right through me. Now, six years later, that conclusion sounds ridiculous. To everyone else who recognizes this response and isn’t, you know, six years into dealing with it: It’s okay, and it’s illusory. It’s imaginary. Maybe I’m only talking to a few people—the ones like me, who would let Internet strangers get in the way of their ideas. What a terrible thing, for that to happen. It’s not even that they’re wrong, necessarily: They just don’t matter.
What’s sad about this to me is that it creates an environment where the people who are the most productive in the creative sphere are the ones who are best able to shut out the haters. But Kanye West and Kim Kardashian can’t be expected to make everything.
I think things are changing. I think we are moving out of the cesspool of the Internet as we know it and hopefully into something slightly more civilized. We have the appointment of Isaac Fitzgerald to the Buzzfeed books editor post and he’s promised no negativity. It’s a return, on this bananas-humungous venue, of the idea that guided book reviewing for decades: The best thing to say about a bad book is nothing. Thank God for that.
And we have NaNoWriMo. Like I said, I didn’t plan to be writing this book in November, and unless I somehow produce about 4,000 words a day between now and Thanksgiving, I’ll be writing it in December, too. But it’s been a surprise and a pleasure to see stuff like this Jane Smiley quote on Twitter:
Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.
And there’s one more thing. I’ve fundamentally changed the signs I pick up on. In the past, I’ve instinctively looked for the most negative response—because I felt like it had the most wisdom. This may be the stupidest thing I have ever thought. Now, I find myself picking up on all the positive signs. Not necessarily the positive reviews: I think a creative person needs to dismiss them both, positive and negative, unless they come from a small group of people who love you and care about your work and have sound things to say about it. I’m talking about the signs, like the image above—it’s a screenshot of a little movie about the awesome Of a Kind. (Er, the less literal signs, too.) It reminds me: We can choose to live, emotionally, in the Internet darkness. Or we can choose to surround ourselves with NaNoWriMo and Buzzfeed Books and clever posters about ignoring those who mean you no good. I always knew there was a choice; I just thought they were equally valid. Ha! How negative and annoying is that? If nothing else, I’m open to the possibility that the Goodread critics for my new book will say they found the main character “absurdly positive and annoying.” I can live with it.