Pep Talk from Gayle Brandeis (2011)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself.
(I am large. I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

Dear Writer,

As you enter National Novel Writing Month this November, be prepared to feel a little crazy. Scattered, overwhelmed, strange voices ricocheting through your skull. At the same time, be prepared to feel the most sane you’ve ever felt in your life. The inner calm that only comes from giving yourself fully to what you were meant to do in this world.

The writing life is a study in such contradictions, a constant dance between bravado and doubt, fear and exhilaration. During NaNoWriMo, try to keep yourself open to all of it—throw your arms over your head as you ride the loop de loops of emotion, keep your brain flexible for all the necessary mental acrobatics—but see if you can find that still, small voice inside of yourself that will keep you grounded through the adventure, keep you and your story moving forward.

Here are some contradictions I’ve discovered on my own writing path:

–You need to be both brave and vulnerable—which, it turns out, are not such contradictory traits after all. You need courage to go to the tender places inside yourself. It’s all about honesty, really. If you want to be honest on the page, if you want your writing to touch readers’ hearts, you need to have the guts to put your own heart there, naked and thrumming.

–You need to be both loving and brutal toward your characters. Imbue them with compassion, nurture them into three-dimensional beings, but don’t protect them—you’ll need to make them squirm, make them ache, put them in positions they can barely endure.

–You need to develop a thin skin but keep an open heart. You may find resistance or even down right rejection from family members or friends (and later, agents and publishers) as you journey down this novel-writing path, but you can’t let that seep into your innermost heart or it will freeze the creative juice that flows there. Only you know your deepest dreams and desires—don’t let the naysayers touch those. If you let yourself get jaded and cynical, you won’t be able to access the brave, vulnerable place that the best writing springs from.

Most importantly, you need to give yourself permission to both flail and soar. Don’t judge yourself as you write. Just keep moving forward, one word after another, into the great unknown of the story, the great unknown of yourself.

The poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

That field is the place where novels are born. Run around it with abandon. You are large inside. You contain multitudes. Let every ounce of your expansive, complicated self pour onto the page this November.


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