Pep Talk from Julie Murphy

The only movie I’ve ever walked out on was The Adventures of Pluto Nashand to this day I attribute that decision to peer pressure. It’s not that I love bad movies. (Well, actually I do, in some inexplicable way.) But I have this serious anxiety that I will miss out on one magical moment of storytelling if I leave any book, TV show, or movie unfinished.

To be honest, some of my favorite and most influential storytelling moments have come from absolutely awful pieces of work. And yet, those hours of my life were worth it for that one moment. At least that’s how I justify my entertainment choices to myself. Listen, you’re talking to a lady who uncovered her love for writing via Twilight. One person’s trash is often my treasure.

No one writes a good novel in a month. Tell yourself that today and again on Day 30. The first novel I wrote spilled out from me in three weeks, and because my confidence only exists in extremes, I was sure that this novel was the voice of a generation and would change the landscape of the literary world. Which is why I sent it out—in full!—to one hundred agents. Over the next few months, rejections trickled in until my first attempt was certifiably dead. I had to face the reality that I had skipped some crucial step and that my first novel-writing endeavor was a waste of time. That was a hard pill to swallow. And when I say pill, I mean one of those awful horse-sized vitamins that’s as big as your thumb.

I tried again and this time my attempt coincided with NaNoWriMo. If I couldn’t write a good novel in three weeks, maybe I could do it in four. I experienced all the usual slumps. Ya know, the beginning, the middle, and the end––so, all of it, basically. But! I! Finished! Since dropping my newborn book baby in the inboxes of agents everywhere hadn’t exactly been a good idea, I decided to sit on this for a few weeks before cracking open the file to revisit my masterpiece.

After drowning myself in catnaps and binging all the November TV I’d missed out on, I opened my file and I found that so much of it felt familiar. I recognized bits and themes from my first three-week novel, the thing I was sure had been a waste of time. And yet, here were pieces of it, subconsciously repackaged and more nuanced. I ended up fleshing out my NaNo book and working with critique partners to make the novel in my computer match the novel that existed in my head, and in the end that book became Side Effects May Vary, my first published novel.

I tell you all this, brave novel-writing soul, because whether your thirty-day novel is The Book or just an exercise that you shelve in the dustiest corner of your computer, I promise you there is something to be gained from this experience (besides the feeling that someone is scraping words from your brain with a scalpel). No one writes a good novel in a month. Good novels happen in the days, months, and years after the first draft—but I can promise you moments. Lots of little, magical storytelling moments that will either carry you into revisions or follow you into the next project. And those moments of treasure are worth all the heaps of trash.

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