What It Takes to Win National Novel Writing Month

Transcript of pep talk originally given by CCWA Board member Erin Bartels at Go Green! Go Write! in the Press Box at Michigan State University’s Spartan Stadium, November 7, 2015.

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Who watched the MSU/UofM game this year?

Who turned it off early because they thought it was over?

Who watched all the way to the end? (The bitter end, if you’re a U of M fan.)

National Novel Writing Month is like a football game; it’s like that football game. Four quarters—four weeks. Each one is important, each one matters, because this game isn’t a sure thing. The stakes are high and every inch of the field, every word on the page is going to be something you have to work for.

Because you have lots of opponents out there working to keep you where you are, working to make sure you fail. Your schedule. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Your pets. Your phone. Your exhaustion. Your doubts. Your inner critic. Your critical tenth grade English teacher who got all up in your head and you can’t dislodge her for anything.

They’re all there, working against you. Even if they don’t mean to be. Your friends and family? You like them. They like you. They may even support your writing. But they also need your time. Your attention. Your ability to cook meals and find shoes.

But you also have a team rooting for you. Look around you right now. We’re all in this game together. We all want you to succeed. We understand your struggles, because we have them to. And we’re all working through them.

There are lessons we can learn from the MSU/UofM game of 2015. One of them is this: sometimes you’re Blake O’Neill and sometimes you’re Jalen Watts-Jackson.

So what happens when you’re Blake O’Neill? When you fumble—big time? Did any of you watch the first interview with O’Neill after the game? Did he cry? Did he whine? Did he blame others or blame his circumstances? Did he quit playing football?

No, he was a class act all around. He owned the error (in a sexy Australian accent, no less), he stayed positive, and he certainly learned from his experience. He didn’t quit just because something went wrong.

This month, you will stumble. You will miss days of writing. You will have days when everything you write SUCKS. You will have days when you imagine your future readers are just like those UofM fanatics who were cursing Blake O’Neill out or threatening him on Twitter. Or maybe YOU will be that person, cursing yourself.

When you have a day like that, think of Blake O’Neill, in all his calm, cool, collected Australian glory and get on with it. Write the next scene. Play the next day.

During this month you will also have moments like Jalen Watts-Jackson. You’ll be running along, chugging along, running the play and suddenly, out of nowhere, a ball will land in your freaking hands. That ball is your epiphany, your plot twist, your sudden insight into your character—something you weren’t planning on. And you will have the chance to run it all the way to the goal.

Jalen Watts-Jackson gave everything he had in that moment, sacrificing his body for the winning touchdown. He didn’t look at the clock running down and say to himself, “Why bother? There’s no way I can reach that end zone in time.” No, he gave it everything he had regardless of the clock.

So when you get down to the wire and you think it’s impossible to win, you had better keep writing to the very last second.

Because you don’t win National Novel Writing Month by quitting.

You win it by fighting for every inch, every word, the entire month.

And now, the clock it ticking. Timeout is over. Go win this game!

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