I missed Nanowrimo. I missed it because I’m a perfectionist and I don’t believe a novel can be written in a month’s time. And my novel was not That Kind of Novel.
So instead throughout the month of November I took the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years and I continued to tinker with it. And I tinkered. And I tinkered.
And then I wrote over 100 freelance marketing articles and blog posts in a six-month span. I joined every Meetup group I found remotely relevant. I read many books. I volunteered to produce a major (and awesome) event in town.
And I only sort of wrote my book – the one I’d come to Austin to write. The sole reason I decided to take an eight-month hiatus from working. I chipped at it. I tried out 30 different first drafts of the first chapter. I got closer. I found some sort of general direction. But when there were other things to write, when I could launch ten more projects that came with instant gratification, well, that’s what I did.
I just needed time, I said, even though when I hear other people use that same excuse, I assume they’re not a Real Writer because Real Writers just do it.
And yet, as the event I helped produce came to a close, as my freelance projects collectively took a vacation right along with the students I work with, I could feel the terror closing in. I could think only of how terrible my book was. How stupid, how pointless, how directionless.
And then I re-watched Jason Roberts speak at TEDxAustin – a guy who gets things done, no excuses. With his organization, Build a Better Block, he paints crosswalks where he wants to see crosswalks, plants trees where he wants to plant trees, and changes entire communities in a weekend.
His secret? He blackmails himself. He dreams up a big idea, immediately gives it a launch date and makes it publicly known. No backing out.
Now, I don’t think good writing is necessarily produced quickly. But three years isn’t quickly, and it’s time for my first draft to be done. So when I watched this video, it became clear what I had to do: find something more petrifying than writing a book that was less than perfect. Blackmail myself.
So I’ve given myself a deadline. By March 29th (yes, the deadline has passed, but the blackmail bash won’t be until April 19th) I have to be done with the first draft of my book. If I’m not, I have to … shave my head. Which I really don’t want to do, because:
- I’ve just launched a new business. What will prospective clients think?
- I’m looking for corporate writing positions. What will bosses think?
- There are people I love who have expressed fear of women with bald heads. Especially when they’re pale. And mine’s really pale.
- I don’t want to go Britney on the world.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, for one, going public is a crucial part of the blackmailing. But perhaps more importantly, I’m wondering if you’ll be my partners in blackmail. Is there a project, writing-related or otherwise, that you’ve been pushing off due to either laziness or deep, soul-wrenching fear?
Make a commitment to get it done by April 19th – either the whole thing, or a big, accomplishable chunk. Pick a consequence that’s terrifying to you, whether it’s shaving your head or something altogether more creative. Let the world know about your project and blackmail in the comments below.
Join me on April 19th, 7-9 p.m. at WriteByNight Headquarters for the big reveal (and the launch of an exciting new tool for writers looking for accountability in their creative projects, courtesy of WriteByNight). Will we reveal a table of razors and shaving cream? Or will there be bound manuscripts as far as the eye can see?
Only time (and a lot of sweat and tears) will tell. So get blackmailing!
Oh, and RSVP here.
Leah Kaminsky is a short story and freelance writer originally from Ithaca, NY. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington in 2009. She has placed three times in Glimmer Train top 25 lists and was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices, 2008. Her work has appeared on the Rumpus, Pindeldyboz, The Yellow Ham and her mother’s fridge right next to that picture of bath time circa 1987. She is a big fan and producer of short-shorts and comics, which she posts semi-regularly on her website, leahkaminsky.