It’s National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve ever considered yourself to be a “writer” (it always sounds so icky, doesn’t it?) then you may have participated (or, in many cases have at least thought about participating). Sure, maybe you’re not a writer, but have enough free time to think to yourself, “What the hey? I’m up for a literary challenge!” Well, good for you! If you have tried, that’s wonderful. But, let me ask you this: Have you failed? I have. And not only that, but I’m running around boo-hooing about how I’ve failed at NaNoWriMo, and it’s not even half-way through the month. Ridiculous. I was feeling really bummed about this--perhaps you, too, know the feeling--however, sometimes it is in the shadow of your once tangible triumphs that the greatest realizations are made, the kind that pacify your defeatism just enough to allow you to accept your failures, and subsequently yourself.
I, like many of you, am an unwriter. I am not a non-writer, or simply terrible at writing. A non-writer does not write. Not at all--hence the prefix “non-.” Being terrible at writing is obviously code for one who is spectacular at all things mathematical and scientastical. However, being an unwriter indicates, plainly, a lack of writing. The thoughts are there, the stories imagined, but the words remain impacted somewhere in the spine--that great highway between brain and body. Clearly, our brilliance is just frozen. Maybe it’s by fear, maybe it’s by laziness, or maybe it’s because your short-hand, scrawled notes on potential stories are lyrical enough to pass for flash fiction-- and that’s just enough to satisfy.
Regardless of the reason, or whether or not you are comfortable enough to come out as an unwriter, I’d like to humbly offer some advice, from one stunted scribe to another.
Unfortunately, as full of sangfroid as an unwriter can seem, it’s actually an uncool thing to be. It’s akin to being a...well...a poseur. You either is a writer, or you ain’t. And in all likelihood you are, so let’s get to it.
•Buy self-help books for writers. Read them, or thumb through them. You’ll get the gist if you’re also an unreader. But seriously, try to read them, they can offer some good advice. You might find, however that it’s the kind of advice that is very motherly in the sense that you already know what you should be doing. Still, the reminder is at times very necessary (i.e., write every day even if you think it’s garbage, make sure your story is organized, write what you know, and remain consistent in point of view as well as tense).
• Find others like you by Googling the term Nonwriter (I know, you’re not a nonwriter, you’re an unwriter, but the world hasn’t caught on to my subtle semantic delineation yet). This method can lead to a healthy support system for you, and the discovery of some really wonderful advice, as well as optimistic viewpoints, such as The Essential Non-Writer’s Guide to Writing.
•At least think about as many story possibilities as you can, as often as you are able. Eventually all of this brain-simmering will cause something to boil-over and cause a convection of ideas. It may not look to those around you like you’re doing anything, but your brain is a hotbed of frantic plot devising.
•Seek out writing prompts. Writing prompts can be found almost anywhere on the internet. A few good places to start looking are McSweeney’s online, the Random Sentence Generator, LitDrift has lovely daily writing prompts (they also just posted a new article on a fantastic piece of technology called The Brainstormer), and finally here at Paper Darts by participating in the Hot Flashes contest.
•Finally, if all else fails, maybe you’re not really a nonwriter, and you’re just in a slump. Never fear, slumps don’t last forever. Just make sure that at the very least you’re writing down your ideas, and keeping them colorfully organized.
•Actually, one more piece of advice: Always, always, read amazing books. Don’t ever compare yourself to the authors, because the glory of writers is that we are all different, but do absorb what you can, and appreciate how hard they must have worked to move from unwriter to writer.
Courtney Davison is the Editorial Intern for Paper Darts. She loves getting mail, eating snacks and wants to be remembered as (a) part(y) animal.