30 Days to Being a Real Writer

You’re a Hack

The other day my friend introduced me to her friend.

“Cheri is a writer too.”

I cringed inside.

The mean girl in my head screamed, “Fake!”

No wait. I am a writer!

I have proof.

Deep Dark Secrets

For years I’ve kept my desire to be a writer in the closet — like it was a bad nose-picking habit.

I dabbled in writing, volunteering for the homeschool newsletter, writing long letters to the grandparents. I even sold a few freelance pieces.

Still, I had never said out loud, “I’m a writer.”

That seems so audacious. So arrogant.

So vulnerable.

New Beginnings

Last year my youngest child went to college.

I needed a big project to ease the transition from 24 years of homeschooling to the beginnings of an empty nest.

Enter National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo, as it’s called for short, is a grass-roots movement to encourage people to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Crazy right?

Before NaNoWriMo, the longest piece I had written was about 1500 words.

Not even close to the 50k words I would need to string together, every word revolving around a cohesive plot line and engaging characters.

Did I mention fiction writing was not on my radar?

I wanted to be a non-fiction writer. Period.

I was not one of those girls that spin out 50 page fantasy stories during math class. The last time I believed in my story telling ability was about the second grade.

Why Fiction, Why NaNoWriMo?

To be honest, because it was there.

If I knew about a National How-To Book Writing Month, I would have joined that.

And that would have been a shame.

Attempting to write a novel has many benefits.

Fiction writing is unique in how the words flow.

Fiction writing requires research, of course.

In my novel I need to know details about zoning laws and food handling regulations. At times I forget if the living room is on the right side of the house or the left.

But, I don’t need to have all that straight to keep writing.

It also helps to have at least a sketchy idea for a plot line. However, in the rough draft of a novel, meandering is valuable, even encouraged.

I just kept asking myself, “And then what happened?” and my fingers flew.

Fiction writing welcomes tangents.

There are times when you will get stuck.

On those days I just picked out a character and wrote their backstory.

Granted, that material will not make it into the finished book. But, I’m not just writing a book, I’m creating a world.

Knowing everything about my characters informs the story and adds depth to their personalities.

Fiction writing makes you aware.

I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands of novels in my life without being cognizant of the structure of the story.

I have never noticed how authors reintroduce characters in a series.

Or, how great dialogue flows.

Point of view is white noise to readers.

When I’m reading either a novel is good or not; a page turner or a dust catcher.

After stumbling through the writing of my own novel I began to notice these structural elements.

Then I started to dissect my favorite books. Many of the paperbacks in my house are now filled with notations and markings.

This has enhanced my enjoyment of a good book, the way a dancer appreciates a perfect pirouette or a photographer admires beautiful composition.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.

Will I do it again?

Yes, every year, for as long as possible.


Cranking out words is half the battle.

NaNoWriMo reminds writers that they are capable of putting words on paper. Lots of words, in a short period of time.

I now know I can show up every day, sit in a chair, and produce 1000–2000 words in about an hour. All before the world rolls over in bed.

One month a year, I’m going in for a word cranking tune-up to remind me that I can do it.

Perfection is overrated.

The quality of the writing is a moot point.

It doesn’t matter if the story is going well. It doesn’t matter if the writing is any good. It doesn’t matter if it will ever see the light of day.

Keep writing anyway.

You can’t edit a blank page, as professional writers are fond of saying.

Never, ever go back and read yesterday’s work.

I’m serious. No matter what.

The day I paged back to do a quick fact-check is the day I almost quit.

Terrible doesn’t begin to describe it. An honest to goodness panic attack ensued.

The same rule applies when writing blog posts. Just write it.

In grade school my cousin used to erase her work so much, she would rub right through the paper.

This is what happens when you go over and over your work one sentence at a time.

Just throw up on the page. Then clean it up.

Community and big dreams go together.

There is no chance I would have decided to write a novel in a month on my own.

Marathoners join running groups. Craftspeople meet in guilds. Bloggers have social media.

Fiction writers need NaNoWriMo.

The goofy charts, word count tallies and badges work like a charm. Don’t think you’re above all that!

Writers can connect with other NaNo’s. Most regions have a private Facebook group. The writers in my city meet at coffee houses and libraries in the area to have write-ins.

The moderator encourages us to enter our word counts and keep pushing forward.

On days my motivation wanes I can tap into a spirit of competition or altruistic accountability to the group, whichever emotion works better.

November is Around the Corner.

If you want to call yourself a real writer, you only have to do one thing.


I encourage you to sign up for National Novel Writing Month and see what you are capable of.

More than you imagine.

Cheri Bywater blogs about the art and science of family life on A Living Laboratory at www.cheribywater.com