Thursday, November 1, 2012

Make stuff up and write it down :: NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

For unofficial use only.

An Open Memo from the Department of Literary Security

To: All Departments & Interested Parties
RE: National Novel Writing Month

Once again, I have not been asked to write a pep talk for National Novel Writing Month. I'm sure the post office lost my invitation or accidentally re-routed it to the prime minister of Burundi.

Sorry about that, your excellency; I'll get that change of address form sent in at once.

Some of my advisers have told me that since writing something that no one asked you to write is the whole point of National Novel Writing Month, it is possible that the lack of invitation is the invitation.

So as the unappointed cruise director of NaNoWriMo, I (un)officially welcome you to November 1st: Congratulations on your decision to write a novel!  

May God have mercy on your soul. 

Across the world, ink and electrons are flowing as millions of writers begin their month of literary excess.  If you are on-track, as of this writing you should still be in the "first crush" stage of your relationship with that novel. The first blush of love is upon you and you are swept up in the throes of love.  

All is right with the world.

Next week, you will discover that much like any relationship, this new love will require work in order to succeed.  As you discover that you have more words behind you than ahead of you, the daily rituals will make things easier and the work will shift to keeping yourself from getting into a rut, taking the flow of words for granted.  Never assume that the next page will come on its own; strive for it.

Whatever their length, all stories have a natural beginning, middle, and end. The length of your tale may surprise you and the ending may come earlier than you expected. This is the nature of the beast. This is why you must enjoy every step of the journey. Whether you end up with a story the length of Old Man & the Sea*, Great Gatsby**, or Storm of Swords *** is a matter of recognizing the natural conclusion of your tale and taking your hands off the keyboard.  

Whether you end up with a pile of short stories, two middle-length novels, or an epic that makes your hard drive groan from its bulk, you have accomplished something. You can look back with pride on the journey you've undertaken.

Celebrate that.

There is no "Right Way" to write a story of any length, but there four things you are about to learn:  

1. This is about making stuff up and writing it down.  
Try all you like to make it more complicated, it really just boils down to this. Just tell us a story.

2. A period of steady progress, even in small increments, will get you where you are going. 
Even if you write only one page each day for a year, by December you've written a 365 page novel.

3. Writing doesn't make you a novelist, finishing does.
An unfinished novel is worth its weight in paper. 

4. If you're not finished on November 30th, hit the "Extend Deadline" button.
The deadline is imaginary, keep writing until you are done. 50,000 words isn't novel length anyway.

If you are reading this in December, I am sorry you missed it. It was/will be great. There's something to be said for writing while the whole world feels like it's cheering you on, pulling for you to succeed. 

There aren't many times when a writer can say that.

I recommend that everyone try it at the earliest opportunity, but you should remember that there's nothing keeping you from writing your novel in... wait for it... March.  Or taking more than a month to do so.

I know. Astonishing, isn't it?

Good luck and literary wishes from all of us here are the Department of Literary Security.

Regards, etc.
Scott W. Perkins
Secretary of Literary Security
(Presidential appointment and congressional confirmation pending)


*  About 25,000 words
** A little over 50,000 words (your official NaNoWriMo goal).
*** A bit over 400,000 words.  Aspiring George RR Martins might want to edit that down or cut it into a trilogy until they have the kind of following he has to convince a publisher to print it.

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