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YWP Pep Talk from Ali Benjamin

photo of Ali Benjamin

Dear Writer,

I’ve always been a first-rate procrastinator—in every way, in all things, including writing. Especially writing.

As a kid, I loved inventing stories. I’d imagine action-packed scenes and dramatic dialogue, meandering plots and climactic moments—all of which I planned to write down…later. After, say, I watched a little more TV. Or brushed the dog. Or lay on my back looking at clouds. Or stared out the window. Or organized my sock drawer.

Okay, that last part’s a lie: I don't think I ever once organized my sock drawer.

Point is, “later" never came. I never wrote those stories down. They stayed in my brain, and then they faded in my brain, and then they disappeared entirely. As I grew into an adult, the stories I didn’t write turned into books I didn’t write, and that’s where it seemed things would remain forever.

Then, a few years back, I read two sentences that changed everything for me. They came from a guy named Steven Pressfield, a screenwriter who also struggled for years to get words down. In his book, the War of Art, Pressfield observed, “it’s not the writing part that's hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write."

What’s hard is sitting down to write.

And just like that, I understood something essential: maybe the trick is to begin. If I just could overcome my resistance—if I could get my butt into a chair and open my computer and start, perhaps all the other aspects of writing would take care of themselves.

Could it really be that simple?

Okay, it’s not entirely that simple. Writing involves oodles of challenges: plotting and character development, tone and theme. It’s reaching for the right words, realizing you grabbed the wrong ones, and reaching again. It's about organizing, editing and revising, and then reorganizing, re-editing and re-revising. But for me, none of those things—not one—is as anywhere near tough as that first, essential act of just putting my butt into the chair and starting.

That’s an act that's never complete, by the way. Each day, a writer must start anew. Since there are 30 days in November; you’re going to have to begin 30 different times. If you’re like me, you’ll resist it every one of those days.

Let’s sit down anyway. Let’s get our butts into our chairs, knowing that as soon as we do, we’ll already have gotten over the worst part. Let’s do it knowing that whatever the prospect of writing might like, having written always feels terrific.

Here's what I know: on the other side of all those beginnings lies your novel, no longer stuck in your head, but finally right there in front of you. On the page, at last.

So let’s do this thing—this wonderful, weird, empowering experience, both solitary and collective, that is NaNoWriMo.

See you on the flip side,


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