A New Start

Eric Cecchi •


4 min read

Exactly three years ago, in a fit of stupidity insanity RAAAAGE unprecedented genius, I embarked on a month-long creative quest to write a novel. Like most fits of unprecedented genius, it was a colossal failure. Through that November, I drafted 20,000 words of mediocre fiction about characters I didn't know or care about. I'm not trying to make excuses for what happened next, but I have something I need to confess. I've never told anyone this before. In frustration over the futility of my endeavor, I killed a man.

Now, before you go notify the authorities, please note that it will be impossible to press charges. As far as I know, bad writing is not a criminal offense in America (perhaps a crime against humanity, though). And it's not illegal to forge the fictional death of one of my characters. He was pathetic anyway. I'm sure you wouldn't have minded if you read the story.

I was foolish to succumb to my frustrations. My efforts were not futile, and the quest was not a complete failure. Yes, I failed to achieve my goal of writings 50,000 words of a novel. Yes, I failed to plan the direction of my novel beyond the first couple chapters. Yes, I failed in many ways. But my biggest failure, prior to penning the tragic demise of Allen, was failing to recognize my success.

Invigorated by the prospect of writing after several years of college classes that required me to write zero research papers, I quickly churned out a handful of writings for my grad school classes. It was work—different work than I was used to—but it was rewarding. I even enjoyed writing some of them. And the feedback I got back was, well, extraordinarily positive. It is common for homo sapiens to respond with elation to the praise of their work.

Elated, I decided to explore new possibilities with my writing. I blogged a bit, but it wasn't enough. I had a craving to build something bigger. That's when I stumbled across the (still) little-known celebration of prose that is National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a NaNoWriMo.

The only goal and only real rule of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. So I spent the two weeks leading into November researching locations, writing backstories, and plotting a rough timeline. That wasn't even close to being enough work to know my characters and story. I started strong on November 1, but I quickly faltered. By the end of the first week, I had already missed a couple of days of writing and repeatedly came up short of the growing daily allotment of words required to hit the 50,000 mark in time. I was getting frustrated.

I had forgotten what NaNoWriMo was supposed to be about. It's not about writing your first novel. It's not about creating a masterpiece. It's not even about writing good fiction. It's about writing. That's it.

My success three years ago was that I got into a habit of writing. The habit didn't even develop in November—it was actually formed in the prior months. And those months were marked by the greatest personal growth I had seen in years. Moreover, they were marked by happiness.

In case you don't know this about me, I'm kind of obsessed with learning. I immensely enjoy the pursuit of knowledge. Researching for writing obviously revolves around gaining world-knowledge, so I really like it. Then the act of writing gifts me with a tremendous amount of self-knowledge, which is cool. And sharing my writing brings me a slathering of others-knowledge—that's pretty alright, too.

There are probably a few other reasons I enjoy writing—Orwell would argue that I have at least four more motives—but the pursuit of knowledge is a strong drive in me. And when I can do it, I find happiness. There are a lot of other driving forces in me, and a lot of things, actions, and people that make me happy. But since I can only pursue a few happiness providers, I have to choose them carefully. I need another marker, besides happiness, to choose what I do with my time and talent, and I know what it is. It's another driving force in me, perhaps even stronger than the pursuit of happiness, and it's been a huge factor in my decision-making for a long time. It's also the main reason I'm brandishing my ink-laden sword once again and participating in a second round of the madness that is NaNoWriMo.

I'll tell you about it tomorrow.