As a hobby, I sew. I love making costumes—for Halloween, Renaissance Faires, SFF conventions. Whenever the opportunity arises, I’m guaranteed to hunker myself down with my sewing machine and blitz through a costume or three in the weeks leading up to the event.
For this past weekend, that event was Halloween.
Not two weeks before Halloween, we finally decided what we wanted to dress up as; it was only a matter of purchasing the materials and putting the costumes together. But the week slipped by and I ended up waiting until the final weekend before Halloween to purchase everything, which meant that I had less than a week to make three costumes.
This year, we decided to cosplay as characters from Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld novels, Rincewind, Twoflower, and Death.
(We really wanted to turn the toddler into the Luggage, but we weren’t sure we had time to construct a sapient pearwood chest in time, so we figured that Death would have to do. Yes, we dressed a two-year-old as Death. What of it?)
I won’t get into all the nitty gritty sewing details for this project (this is a writing blog after all, not a sewing blog), but I will say that it was a capital-E Endeavor. I knew it would be, but I was determined to make it work anyway. Over the course of the week, I put 40+ hours into just the Rincewind costume, and another 6 hours into my Twoflower costume. The Death costume might have taken 2 hours total (I was making it for a tiny person after all).
But the thing about sewing is that there is a lot of work that goes into a project that isn’t sewing, a lot of work that you don’t see. Creating a costume requires more than just putting pieces of fabric together and running them through the sewing machine, especially when you try to make something as detailed as a sequined, star-covered wizard’s robe (easily the most intricately detailed costume I’ve ever made). There’s cutting and pinning and measuring and ironing. And when things go wrong, there’s seam ripping and cursing and remeasuring and repinning and returning to the store to get more thread because you ran out at two o’clock in the morning the day your husband was supposed to wear his costume to work.
But through all the stabbed fingertips and cut thumbs and sore muscles after spending a week standing in front of a sewing machine, when my family strolled out in our finished costumes on Halloween, all I could feel was a sense of accomplishment. I had done it. I had sewn three costumes in less than a week, and they are, by far, my best work yet.
(I didn’t actually get a photo of the toddler in costume. Whomp whomp.)
With each sewing project I complete, I get better and better at it. I hone my skills, learn new tricks, get faster at the things I already know, and best of all, I get more ambitious. I want to move on to harder projects, more difficult patterns, more intricate detail work. I’ve mastered the basics. Now it’s time to try something that will push my skills to the next level. That’s the goal I have with every project now.
And that goes beyond just sewing.
(You were wondering how I was going to tie this into writing, weren’t you?)
With every novel I finish, I improve so much as a writer. Even more so when I take that novel to the chopping block and edit until the pages bleed. Every story is a learning experience, just as every new sewing project I take on is an opportunity for me to learn and improve. As time goes on, things that were once difficult for me become easier, or better yet, second-nature, instinctive. But that only comes with finishing. Starting a story or a project and never making it far enough to actually complete the thing does me no favors whatsoever.
Now, with NaNoWriMo launching once again and thousands of writers taking the plunge and attempting to write 50,000 words this month, my best advice for every wannabe novelist and struggling writer is Finish. That. Book. Whether you reach 50,000 words by the end of November, or your story isn’t actually complete when you do reach 50,000 words (50k is on the low end of the word-count spectrum after all), or your book is a wandering, plotless mess by the end of the month—it doesn’t matter. Finish the book. Write until you reach the end. No matter how painful. No matter how long it takes. No matter how much you might hate it and want to quit. Finish it.
(I’m sorry. I had to.)
(Also, do you know how hard it is to find a Mortal Kombat fatality sans blood?)
You’ll learn so much just by finishing a book, and whether it’s your first or your twentieth, whether you’ve finished a novel before or started a dozen but never wrote ‘The End’, seeing a novel through to the end is the single most greatest feeling as a writer. You’ve translated something that only existed in your head onto a page and made it real. And that’s no small feat.
So, dear NaNoWriMos, write your heart out, but make sure that you finish that story, no matter where it takes you or how long it takes to get there, because while NaNoWriMo might light the fire under your seat to get you started, it’s not a novel until it’s done.
And then the real work begins.