I’ve wanted to be a writer since age eleven. At the time, the term “writer” was synomymous with “novelist”, because even though I was a fairly intelligent kid, it never occurred to me that a writer could write things besides novels. You know, even though journalists and technical writers and writers of many other stripes existed even pre-Internet.
About a year later, I realized that the only thing I was doing to become a writer was writing down my observations (and okay, my “I heart [some boy]” scribblings) in my paper journals. This needed to be corrected, so I started writing a novel. It was about a seventh grade girl (autobiographical much?) who wanted nothing more than to stay in the same school for one full school year (not so autobiographical–the closest I came to moving as a kid was changing bedrooms) but couldn’t because her dad was out of prison and she and her mother were on the run (definitely not autobiographical, but Adult Me says “Seriously, Past Self?”). Out of excitement for my idea, I chose a blue notebook for this story, scribbled my title in progress on the front cover, and got started.
That novel never got past three chapters, but it taught me one big thing: writing a novel is HARD.
A few years later I discovered, joined, and eventually won NaNoWriMo. After all, writing a novel was what real writers did, and how could I be a writer if I couldn’t write a book? NaNoWriMo helped me write that book, along with many more stories over the years. I’ve done NaNo in high school, college, and as an adult, while unemployed and working a full-time job, while MLing or leading @nanowordsprints or wasting way too much time on the NaNo forums or any combination of the above. I’ve done NaNo with a fully formed idea months in advance, a vague concept that popped up the week before, and even a few ideas that someone else chose thanks to my Night of Writing Dangerously fundraising.
Now NaNoWriMo is less than three weeks away, and I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even a glimmer of an idea, some inspirational spark that turns into a fully fledged idea (or at least something I can make up as I go along).
You know what? This scares the crap out of me.
I’ve gone into November with nothing before. Multiple Novembers, in fact. I remember worrying about my lack of ideas back in 2009, only to get hit by what eventually became the pumpkin novel I’m still trying to figure out. And when I finished that novel midmonth, several people suggested writing a book about someone doing NaNo, which turned into Wrimonia… and started my adventures in writing multiple novels in a month.
Last year I wrote three novels, one for my top Night of Writing Dangerously donor, and two rewrites. That’s not entirely accurate. It was more like one full rewrite and another half-rewrite that I got tired of by the end of the month. This all but eliminates the idea of doing a rewrite this year because working on zero new ideas of my own creation last NaNo was hard. Really hard. I don’t know how all you rewriters for NaNo do it (though I suspect the answer is lots of planning and editing the first draft beforehand).
But this year? I have absolutely nothing. And nothing has really jogged the inspiration engine lately.
“You’re a pantser and you win every year, so what’s the big deal?” you might ask.
Plenty, and not all of it having to do with my ability to find a plot. Ideas are everywhere, ready to be grabbed and written. I haven’t had any good fiction ideas at all since 2013, even in what’s considered the NaNoWriMo off-season. What if I’m out of good ideas? What if I can’t come up with anything by November first? What if this means I’m not excited about writing anymore?
As a worrier, my lack of ideas affects me more than it should. What if I don’t come up with anything? I’ll probably come up with a vague character or concept and run from there, no matter how terrible the concept is. What if I’m flat out of ideas? What if I’m flat out of ideas because I just don’t like writing anymore?
That last one seems silly–after all, I’m sitting in a crowded coffee shop writing this post instead of browsing the NaNo forums or playing silly phone games. I can’t help but let that thought cross my mind occasionally, though. Like right now.
So much of my identity is wrapped up in writing and reading. Almost every online username I’ve ever come up with involves writing or sushi (or both!) in some way. So what happens if I don’t come up with anything? What if I’m not a writer like I’ve been fooling myself into thinking for half my life?