There’s a dream of being an author that goes something like this:
After long coffee-fueled hours toiling alone at a shadowed desk lit by a single bulb the writer emerges triumphant, a 50,000 word manuscript clutched in hand! Bumping into the agent waiting eagerly outside the door, the sheaf of papers is exchanged for a check, the first of many, which fund the worldly travels to come as the adoring fans demand their right to shower accolades and devotion upon their beloved source of Great Literature.
At least, that’s how I pictured it. I actually had an agent, for a time, and I remember when I got the call that she had accepted my manuscript: I was, at the time, working as a secret shopper for Sunoco, which meant standing outside a gas station in a blistering Pittsburgh summer pretending to hand out stickers to customers while really observing the station attendants. It was not the most rewarding of jobs, and as I took the call and she said “I’d like to represent you,” I felt that it had all been worth it; I’d paid my dues; this was it, I was an author with an agent and the world would be mine.
That’s Not How It Works.
Sorry to burst your bubble. It sometimes works that way (E.L. James, Richard Morgan) but if you’re in the writing business to make money…well, you might want to pick something easier, like coal mining, or more lucrative, like aerial dance. In my case, my agent held my manuscript for a year or two, it didn’t sell, and while I found better jobs than Secret Sunoco Shopper, World-Famous Author still is not in my job description.
That’s not to say that things don’t change when you finish NaNoWriMo. They do – permanently. When you’ve written a book, you suddenly take on an entirely new identity: the identity of the author.
Authors are powerful; as Stephen King has said, they have mastered the art of telepathy: transmitting the thoughts and images from their heads and putting them into yours. More than that, though, they have conquered time itself; I can read the thoughts that Marcus Aurelius was having as he huddled in the cold on the banks of the Danube, I can know what Anais Nin felt as she lay next to Henry Miller, I can understand the complex motivations of a young artistic man growing up in a military household in the South.
And that’s just reality. When it comes to fiction, the images authors inspire are limitless and ageless. J.K. Rowling could have just told her son fun little stories to put him to bed; it was when she wrote them down, however, that she shared one of the most capable and inspiring heroes of literature with millions of people. (I’m talking, of course, about Hermione Grainger).
More than that, when you have completed National Novel Writing Month, when you have that 50,000 word manuscript, it doesn’t matter that it’s crap. You have crossed the Rubicon, my friend, the blank page holds no fear for you any more. You know how to sit down and write, you have made it through the blocks and the self-doubt and the distractions and you’ve made those letters dance.
That’s what changes when you finish your book this month. You know you can do it because you have done it, and once you cross that threshold it is something that no one can ever take from you.
I’ve been there. I’ve done NaNoWriMo, twice. It remains one of the most rewarding and fulfilling battles I’ve ever fought, and it changed me forever.
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