Pep Talk from John Green
Dear NaNoWriMo Author,
Way down deep in the dark archives of my hard drive, I have a folder called Follies, which contains an impressive collection of abandoned stories: There’s the zombie apocalypse novel about corn genetics, the sequel, the one about the Kuwaiti American bowling prodigy, the desert island novel, and many more. These stories have only one thing in common: They’re all about 25,000 words.
Why do I quit halfway in? I get tired. It’s not fun anymore. The story kind of sucks, and it’s hard to sit down every day and spend several hours eating from a giant bowl of suck. And most of all, like the kid who spends hours preparing plastic armies for war, I enjoy setting things up more than I enjoy the battle itself. To finish something is to be disappointed. By definition, abandoned novels are more promising than completed ones.
You have likely reached the moment in this insane endeavor when you need a rock-solid answer to the question of why, precisely, you are trying to write a novel in a month. You have likely realized that your novel is not very good, at least not yet, and that finishing it will be a hell of a lot less fun than starting it was.
So quit. Quit now, or if you’re among the many of us who’ve already quit, stay quit. Look, we are all going to die. The whole species will cease to exist at some point, and there will be no one left to remember that any of us ever did anything: Our creations, all of them, will crumble, and the entire experiment of human consciousness will be filed away, unread, in the Follies folder of the great interstellar hard drive. So why write another word?
Sorry. I reached the halfway point of this pep talk and tumbled, as one does, into inconsolable despair.
Here’s my answer to the very real existential crisis that grips me midway through everything I’ve ever tried to do: I think stories help us fight the nihilistic urges that constantly threaten to consume us.
At this point, you’ve probably realized that it’s nearly impossible to write a good book in a month. I’ve been at this a while and have yet to write a book in less than three years. All of us harbor secret hopes that a magnificent novel will tumble out of the sky and appear on our screens, but almost universally, writing is hard, slow, and totally unglamorous. So why finish what you’ve started? Because in two weeks, when you are done, you will be grateful for the experience. Also, you will have learned a lot about writing and humanness and the inestimable value of tilting at windmills.
Something else about my Follies folder: It contains the final drafts of my novels Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. They are follies, too—finished ones. Whether you’re reading or writing, there is nothing magical about how you get from the middle of a book to the end of one. As Robert Frost put it, “The only way out is through.”
So here’s the pep part of my pep talk: Go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.