The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

NaNoWriMo Tip #12: Remember Why You Write

There's an excellent article, "The Pressure of Young Promise," in the current issue of Poets & Writers by Laura Maylene Walter, who in her early twenties won Washington College's Sophie Kerr Prize for her novel manuscript Developing Olivia. The award came with a big honking cash prize and matching expectations...and as Walter tried to publish her award-winning novel manuscript (and then a second) over the next few years, to no avail, she began feeling the pressure to "prove that I deserved to win that prize." Of course the more pressure she felt, the more difficult the work became, the more frequent the rejections, and the more conflicted she began to feel about the whole thing.

Then Walter had a bit of a revelation:
So what if I never published another word, or won another prize, or was mentioned in another newspaper article? When I first began writing I didn't do it for the praise and attention. I wrote for the writing itself--for the times it was just me, at a desk, putting one word down after another.

And so I wrote. I wrote for practice. I wrote for fun. I wrote to discover, to explore, to play. I wrote because I was never more content than when I was sitting quietly at my writing desk, churning out pages. I put the pressure of publication, of the Sophie Kerr Prize, behind me. I'd already faced my fears of never living up to that hype, and so I wrote as if I had lost everything. I just wrote.

The result of focusing on the work for its own sake was a third novel manuscript that Walter says she believes in "more than my first two novels put together," and a collection of short fiction, Living Arrangements, which won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction and will be published next year.

It's very, very easy for writers to lose sight of why they write, to focus on such things as publication or the marketplace or making the right contacts or building a career and to become immobilized by the accompanying stress, fear, guilt, and other muse-killing emotions--all self-imposed--rather than remembering the joy of the work.

Walter's essay is a good reminder of what we should be focusing on, and why. (The piece isn't online at the P&W website, or else I'd link to it...but that's all the more reason to go visit your local bookseller and pick up a copy.)

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