If I’m eight years late on the rest of my life, there’s one thing that I’m well ahead of: Writing books that go nowhere*. Sure, it might make a great pick-up line when talking to chicks in bars†, but there are other reasons I do it.
When I was a kid, I thought everyone had to have one of a dozen jobs—things like teacher, fireman, president, lawyer, doctor. When you’re that age, everyone tells you that you can be anything you want to be, but they neglect to tell you everything that you can possibly be.
In fourth or fifth grade, however, I found out that people get paid to write books. And it blew my mind. Getting paid…to write books. The idea was insanity! I always had books, I always read books, but I had never thought about the person behind the name on the cover. To me, it was nobody—or rather, somebody who was just as fictional as the characters within the books.
So I started writing my own stories—short stories or children’s book-length stories that no one besides my parents and teachers would ever read. Most of these are long gone; more victims of my poor organizing skills and worse memory. I don’t mind, really, because they would probably just make me cringe anyway, but there’s something in that whole “dust in the wind” thing, I suppose.
Freshmen year of high school I was on a compound bus‡ which catered to both high schools and middle schools. I met a kid who was going into sixth grade and—me thinking I was the cooler high school kid—introduced myself to him after finding out he had gone to the same elementary school that I had years earlier. Beyond that, we had even had the same fifth grade teacher. I mentioned how I enjoyed her class as he sat thinking to himself for a second.
Then he said, “Wait. Is your last name something like…like…Williams or Willis or something?”
“Wilson,” I replied.
“Yeah! Garrett Wilson! Our teacher used to talk about you.”
This was clearly a mistake, as I was a very average student with an average face and below average personality. The dumbstruck look on my face must have said aloud what I was only thinking inside, because the kid followed up with a sentence that would stick to me like honey: “She said you were an excellent writer.”
Cue big head.
In middle school I had decided I wanted to be a professional writer (something I would come to regret later) and stopped looking for any other career path immediately. This extra complement from a teacher I had had four years before didn’t help that.
My senior year of high school I wrote my first novel. It was a horribly sentimental high fantasy story some eighty-seven thousand words§ long. I printed out a single copy which I keep in my files drawer. There may only be one or two digital copies—both of which are probably corrupted through old versions of word processors. The plot is weak, there are too many coincidences, and parts of it are simply unclear. But it gave me the bug.
Things were becoming reaffirmed in my head: Writing was fun! Writing books was fun! And I wanted to write more.
I had heard the year before of National Novel Writing Month—a month in which you challenge yourself to write a book in thirty days—but hadn’t really looked into it. That year, however, I found the idea wonderful (particularly after a bad breakup when I was quite angsty). So I set about signing up and preparing.
That was the year 2005. After my first National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo to those of us who like to be most nerdy about it) I felt I must continue! Beyond getting a single novel done in a single month, there was a community of people that I got to see and talk to. These people were also writing books! They also wanted to be professional writers! Thus, year after year, I would participate in NaNoWriMo.
Eight years so far, and my ninth is coming up (meaning next year I get a free sandwichǁ). That’s eight books right there—not counting the few I’ve written in between NaNoWriMo’s. Every September I start to get excited and begin coming up with various ideas until one seems better than the others. Then, when November first rolls around, I get to start working on it.
It’s a great program that I always try to drag my friends into—never once successfully. But I’m successful. I’m successful every year! And while I may now know better than to pursue the lonely life of Professional Novelist, I still like writing a book in a month.
And I still love being able to say, “Yeah, I’ve written eleven or twelve books.” Even if it’s never once helped me pick up chicks in bars.