NaNoWriMo Pep Talks From Successful Authors

If you’re contemplating the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with abject terror, help and motivation are available right on the NaNoWriMo site. Here are a few excerpts:

As the great Nelson Algren once said, “Any writer who knows what he’s doing isn’t doing very much.” Most really good fiction is compelled into being. It comes from a kind of uncalculated innocence. You need not have your ending in mind before you commence. Indeed, you need not be certain of exactly what’s going to transpire on page 2. If you know the whole story in advance, your novel is probably dead before you begin it. Give it some room to breathe, to change direction, to surprise you. Writing a novel is not so much a project as a journey, a voyage, an adventure. – Tom Robbins


The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist.  – Neil Gaiman


Sigh. You’re a lost soul. So there’s no help for it but to join the lowly company of the other aspect of The Fool. Because the fact is, that Fool is a Dreamer, and it is Dreamers who ultimately make life worthwhile for the unimaginative rest of us. Dreamers consider the wider universe. Dreamers build cathedrals, shape fine sculptures, and yes, generate literature. Dreamers are the artists who provide our rapacious species with some faint evidence of nobility. – Piers Anthony


Can you keep your story going for a week without reading anything over? You’ll find you can. You’ll find that being able to rely on this ability will help you let one word follow the next without fussing as much as you do when you believe it’s the thinking and planning part of your mind that is writing the story. There is another part of the mind which has an ability for stories, for holding all the parts and presenting them bit by bit, but it’s not the same as the planning part of the mind. Nor is it the thing called ‘unconscious’—it is without a doubt quite conscious when we are engaged in the physical activity which allows it to be active. This something is what deep playing contains when we are children and fully engaged by rolling a toy car and all who are inside of it toward the table edge. The word imagination isn’t quite right for it either because it also leaves out the need for moving an object—a toy, a pen or pencil tip—across an area in the physical world. It’s a very old, human thing, using physical activity along with thing ‘thing’ that is neither all the way inside of us nor all the way outside of us. Stories happen in that place between the two. The Image world isn’t anywhere else. A computer can give you a neat looking page, higher word count and delete and copy and past abilities, but they are poor producers of the thing the hand brings about much more easily: Right here, right now, the pane of paper that the paper windows and walls require to give is the inside view, the vista. – Lynda Barry


I know only too well what comes next. The excuses. The rationalization: “So what? So I switched stories. I’ve still got a work-in-progress. It’s just not my original work-in-progress. So I’m a little behind in my word count. I’m still writing, right?”

Sure, it seems innocent enough. But the problem with doing this is that of course the new story always seems better than that old busted up, out-of-control story you’ve been working on for so long. That new story has the aura of dewy freshness to it. It’s calling to you! It’s all, “Yoo-hoo…look at me! I don’t have any plot problems and my characters are way-intriguing and some of them wear leather jackets and oh, yeah, you know that weird transition thing you’ve got going on near chapter four that you can’t figure out? I don’t have that!” – Meg Cabot


In short, quit. Writing a novel is a tiny candle in a dark, swirling world. It brings light and warmth and hope to the lucky few who, against insufferable odds and despite a juggernaut of irritations, find themselves in the right place to hold it. Blow it out, so our eyes will not be drawn to its power. Extinguish it so we can get some sleep. I plan to quit writing novels myself, sometime in the next hundred years. – Lemony Snicket  


You can read all the pep talks, from very many more authors and NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty, here, on the NaNoWriMo site.