Sunday, November 4, 2007

Teacher Writer

by Angela Knight

When I grow up, I want to be an author. I want to be a published author. I want to go on book signing tours, and complain about horrible hotels with toilets that don’t flush, water main breaks, and then no hot water for the next two days, culminating with twenty hungry minutes of seeming invisible at the restaurant where the bride’s family is waited on as if they were royalty. Oh, sorry. That was my recent experience at a hotel in Pittsburgh. But if your characters end up staying in a hotel and you need a few plot devices to move your story along, then feel free to use mine.

If you’ve ever dreamed of someday writing a novel and having your name on the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, please keep reading.

Insert list of excuses here about why you haven’t yet tried to write a novel:

1. no character ideas

2. no plot ideas

3. not sure which genre to use



(You may use additional sheets of paper, if necessary.)

Insert list of excuses here about why you don’t have the time to write a novel:

1. job

2. family

3. house/apartment responsibilities

4. other hobbies

5. social commitments

(You may use additional sheets of paper, if necessary.)

You have only thirty days to write 50,000 words. You have ideas and resources, inspiration and commiseration at your fingertips.

“But I don’t have any good ideas.”

So use the bad ideas. During National Novel Writing Month, you don’t have to be a great author. You don’t even have to be very good. There are no bonus points for quality, and no penalties for not finishing your novel. It’s all in your head and your heart. It’s up to you. You don’t have to create characters—you can adopt them! You don’t have to have a plot—you can adopt one! Now, what is your excuse?

“I’m a teacher. I grade papers every night.”

I’ve long since given up the delusion that I would grade papers at home. All I did was carry them back to work, untouched, the next day. So, I finally saved myself the time and trouble of packing and unpacking them. In the time I saved, I could have typed 200 words! I recommend assigning a really big project that is more work for them than you… and you can grade it in December. Or—here’s a really crazy idea—get your students involved in the Young Writers Program so that you can all spend November enjoying the same joys and sufferings in the realm of the author.

“I have kids and pets and high-maintenance spouse/roommate(s)”

Sure, I also don’t have any kids at home (or anywhere else, for that matter). My foster cats are fairly low maintenance. And my fiancĂ©, who already does all of the cooking, was terrific at saying, “No, I’ll do the dishes tonight. You have a novel to write.” He didn’t understand entirely, but he was supportive in his own way. He even promised me ice cream when I finished my second novel. So, I went upstairs, wrote the ending, went over 50,000 words, went back downstairs to interrupt his television watching, and said, “Okay! Let’s go!”

“Where are we going?”

“Out for ice cream!”

“You finished?”

We went to Red Robin and shared a Mountain High Mudd Pie, the knowledge and satisfaction that I had completed my second novel, and the promise that I would start doing the dishes again.

Some people promise themselves a present or treat of some kind for finishing their novel, but that’s up to you. There is usually a message board thread or two that asks people what their rewards are going to be. Adults have created sticker-reward charts at every five- or ten-thousand words, added a bead to a bracelet, or promised themselves a trip to the bookstore. My first Nano-buddy promised herself an iPod if she finished her 2005 novel. She bought it in mid-November to help her finish, but she did guilt herself into writing over 50k that year—to help earn her prepaid reward.

“What if the novel isn’t any good?”

It doesn’t have to be good. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it is all about quantity, not quality. The first year I tried to write a novel, I spent a lot of time reading the “Tips and Tricks for Reaching 50,000” thread on the forum. One author said something like, “I’ve just written two thousand words describing a farm. There is no farm in my novel. My characters do not live on or near a farm. They don’t plan to visit a farm. Does this count towards my 50k?” The overwhelming response to this person was that yes, absolutely. Another person posted a message to share that whenever he/she got stuck, the main character woke up and something completely different happened, as if the previous events were all just a dream.

Oh, the novel is still complete crap, but it’s much less crappy than my 2005 novel, and even that was a huge improvement over my 2004 attempt, which was only 32,000 words of complete drivel. My book tour is still a long way off, but now the dream has more realistic potential, now that I’m doing something to work towards it.

After I publish my book and sit in bookstores across the world, signing my novel for the fans who loved my book, I also can’t wait to meet the fans who are really anti-fans, who showed up to ridicule me and tell me that they couldn’t believe that I got a publishing contract for such drivel and that they could do a much better job, if only they had the time. No time? Try November. It’s a great month to write a novel.