November brings with it many things. Dropping temperatures. Shorter days. Longer nights. Turning back the clocks one hour. But for many writers, November heralds the arrival of something else: NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a month-long event that challenges people to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Writers from all over the world and all walks of life participate. Some projects written during NaNoWriMo have gone on to be published. Others have given aspiring authors the confidence boost to finish their first novel.
The official site of the challenge, nanonwrimo.org, offers many resources. Sponsors give discounts to participants and winners who successfully meet the 50,000-word goal. The website hosts forums where participants can brainstorm and seek advice, and an associated Twitter account runs sprints to help writers reach their daily word count.
The site also features pep talks from writers. Every year brings a new batch of advice to inspire, commiserate, and sometimes give that much-needed kick in the butt. While pep talks haven't always been a part of NaNoWriMo's annual event—which first launched in 1999—the site now houses a sizable archive of author pep talks. Here is a selection of inspiring NaNoWriMo pep talks from your favorite authors to keep you going during the rest of November.
"The blank page is yours. Cast aside worries over art and criticism. Imagine a land without rules. Imagine that nobody has ever told you that you cannot or should not do this thing. Those people were wrong. Forget those voices." - Chuck Wendig
While the beginning of a new project is filled with possibility, it also means facing the dreaded blank page. Rather than letting worries about what might happen paralyze you, Chuck Wendig says sometimes it's just best to writing something. Anything.
"You have to accept that your story will change as you write it. Something that’s perfect and awesome in your mind will often be stupid when you write it down. This is not a failure on your part, and it doesn’t mean you suck. It means you’re a writer, and you have begun phase one of making your story better. The moment you try to put things into words is when you find all the problems. That’s natural and normal, and every writer faces it." - Andy Weir
One of the first challenges new writers encounter is the fact that there exists a gap between the story in your mind and the story that emerges on paper (or on your laptop screen).
It can be intimidating, but as The Martian author Andy Weir reminds us, it happens to everyone—even the most experienced writer.
"Even if you’re an outliner, leave room for the unexpected things to sneak in. Surprises are half the fun, the spontaneous road trips through tangents and subplots. They might end up being more important than you think. And if they’re not, you can always edit them out after November. No one has to know so for now, for this glorious November, you can do whatever you please. It’s your world to create and explore and even destroy if you want." - Erin Morgenstern
The outliner versus pantser debate is eternal. While preparation can help in completing a novel, maintaining room for whimsy and surprise can result in strokes of brilliance. At the very least, it can keep you from getting bored.
"Try writing on your lunch hour. Try getting up a few hours early each day. Try turning off the television or World of Warcraft and spending that time on your novel. Experiment. The goal is to show yourself that you can make room for writing in your life." - Brandon Sanderson
Writing 1,667 words every day may seem like a daunting task, but Sanderson's pep talk points out that writing time doesn't just fall into our laps. We must make time. And if you plan to become a full-time writer, it's helpful to figure out how to do that now.
After all, you still have a life to live. You can't put it on hold indefinitely just to write.
"Perhaps you might want to try setting a new goal a day. Go over what must happen in each day’s pages to move you along until tomorrow. If you have no clue what must happen, leave yourself open to the unexpected. The telephone might ring! Someone might pound on the door! A sinkhole might open in the backyard!" - Charlaine Harris
There's nothing like starting a new project. That first flush of inspiration. The shininess of a new idea. And there's nothing like reaching the end of a project. Typing THE END delivers that ultimate sense of satisfaction.
The middle, though? That is where novels die ,and NaNoWriMo participants drop out. It can be a hard slog. It's here that finding motivation and novelty to keep going is most important.
"No one can tell if the writing was fun or if it was hard. Trust me. I know it seems like writing that pours out of your brain in a passionate flood should be better than writing that comes slowly and miserably, but the only person who will ever know the difference is you. - Holly Black
The reality is that like any work, not every writing day is easy. Some days are difficult. The words come slowly, and inspiration eludes you. That's all right. Get the words down anyway. You might surprise yourself.
"While I think it’s important and useful for writers to learn about publishing and how the book business works, try to forget about all that when you’re actually writing. Worry about agents and publishers and marketing when you actually have a finished novel, if you want to try and get it published. But also remember that being published is not a necessary validation or a path everyone wants to take with their work. Writing—and finishing—a novel is a great thing in itself, whether or not the book is published or becomes widely-read or not." - Garth Nix
We can get caught up in the result and what comes next, but we need to remember that for writing, the joy comes from doing the work. After all, not all NaNoWriMo participants seek publication. Many write fanfiction. Let's not lose sight of the fun while racing toward 50,000 words.
"This is what makes you a writer. Yes, this. The sick feeling in your stomach, the weariness you feel, the utter conviction that you are the Worst and your novel is the Worst and everything is awful. This is how writers feel sometimes. (This is how everyone feels sometimes.) But writers do not let this feeling overwhelm them." - N.K. Jemisin
Everyone feels doubt sometimes. Including writers. Maybe especially writers. If a multi-award-winning author like N.K. Jemisin feels that way sometimes, take heart. Your novel is probably not as awful as you think it is.
"Position yourself to succeed by doing the other things in your life that rejuvenate you. Some form of exercise, for example, in combination with eating chocolate, or taking time off to watch part of a TV show. You can create little islands of time away from your novel that will help preserve your balance. Exhaustion will affect both your writing’s quality and your productivity toward the end of the month." - Jeff VanderMeer
While it may be tempting to chain yourself to your laptop to work on your NaNoWriMo project, this plan of action doesn't encourage good mental health. Writing also means making time for self-care. Now, more than ever, that's very important.
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"Writing begins with forgiveness. Let go of the shame about how long it’s been since you last wrote, the clenching fear that you’re not a good enough writer, the doubts over whether or not you can get it done. Sure, the nagging demons will come creeping back, but set them aside anyway, and then set them aside again when they do. Concoct a hot beverage, play a beautiful song, look inward, and then begin." - Daniel José Older
It can be easy to let guilt creep in. You missed a day or two of writing. Oh no, now you're behind and will never catch up. You should just drop out now!
But while NaNoWriMo puts forth a goal of reaching 50,000 words in a month, that's not really the point. The point is to write words over time. Even if you don't reach 50,000 words, you might reach 30,000 words. 25,000. 5,000. That's still more than what you started with on November 1, isn't it?
"Writing the draft is an act of faith. It’s faith in the story, and faith in yourself, and that’s scary. But once you have something, you can make it better. The only thing you can’t fix is a blank page." - V.E. Schwab
If nothing else, remember that you can always fix your novel later. Like V.E. Schwab says, just finish it first.
Featured photo: hannah grace / Unsplash