It only takes a spark.

I remember a song we sang at church when I was a kid. It started out with “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” Even though the song doesn’t mention writing in the slightest, I think the message is applicable. It only takes a spark.

Last night, I sat on a panel for the kick-off of National Novel Writing Month in Lawrence, KS. The audience was larger than I expected, thanks in part to a 6th grade teacher assigning her class to write a novel for the month. The other writers and I sat up front and spoke about our methods, our histories, and our novels.

It was a great time, ending with my first word sprint of the year. I came out of the meeting more inspired than I thought, empowered by a young generation of writers who seemed eager and excited about the work ahead. After all, it only takes a spark.

My son sat at the table with me. At five years-old, he decided to write with us. He can’t spell or read anything other than letters, but he was happy to tell you his story, obviously influenced by TV shows he watches, and the stories being written around him. He scribbled indecipherable lines in a notebook. He gave it to me to read. I pretended I could. Then, he told me his story, the first he has ever made up with the intention of putting it down on paper. But, it only takes a spark.

That is writing. That is NaNoWriMo distilled to its smallest essence. It is the eraser taken to all of the excuses you have always made for why you didn’t write a book. It is a reason for the madness, and the permission you need to let that spark smolder.

My writing is like building a fire. Sometimes I start with a flame, sometimes it is barely a spark. Some days, it feels like I doused a Bic lighter with kerosene, other days I sit and rub two sticks together just hoping something catches. The goal, however, is to let it burn as hot and horrifying as I can manage.

Writing is a bonfire, a signal of celebration to the rest of the world. You build it as hot and high as you can, praying that you can still keep it under control. You walk the line between not being seen and falling into flames. On that edge between control and chaos is where your best writing lives.

If you have waited for a moment to start your own fire, NaNoWriMo is the time. The biggest fires, ones so hot they can be seen from space, began with a single spark. If you ever wanted to be a writer, come and take your place around the pyre. Be your own Prometheus. After all, it only takes a spark.

Go to to join in the fun.