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2002 pep talks
See the Pep Talk article for other past pep talks.
So it begins
Sent October 31, 2002
At midnight tonight the train departs. Fifty thousand words. Thirty days. With 10,000 friends writing alongside you.
It's going to be an unforgettable ride, and I'm glad to have you with us.
When you sit down at the keyboard and begin writing tomorrow, there are three things I'd like you to keep in mind.
1) Take this very seriously.
You've signed up. Now see it through. Set regular writing goals, and stick to them. Your brain may be telling you it's time to turn off the computer and go to bed. But the human brain, if left to its own devices, would spend its entire adult life napping in front of the television. Ignore your brain. Toughen up. Keep your butt in that chair until you've bagged the day's quota. In November, bed is something you have to earn.
2) Do not take any of this very seriously.
Writing a novel in a month is utterly ridiculous, an undertaking for fools and those who don't know any better. Thankfully, we belong to the latter camp, which makes us dangerously powerful writers. Liberated from the constraints of constructing a pretty and proper novel, we are free to run, naked and whooping, through the valleys of our imaginations.
In November, your story will achieve an at-times frightening force and velocity. Go with it. Write wildly, joyfully, in huge and bounding strokes. Was that last page the worst thing you've ever written? Maybe. Does it matter? Nope. All words are good words in NaNoWriMo. Follow tangents. Change directions at will. Stay loose. Make messes. Laugh at it all. You are doing something weird and wonderful here, and none of it will go on your permanent record.
3) Know that you have done all of this before.
A novel is just a story that's been bound. If there's one thing humans excel at, it's telling stories. Our narrative voices have been honed through years of conversation, letters, and gossipy emails. We know how to string audiences along, slowly deploying just enough of the juicy bits to keep them hanging. The ability to braid together life experiences in a compelling way is part of our birthright.
Throughout November, you'll find yourself drawing on strengths and abilities you didn't realize you possessed. There will be excruciatingly difficult days, sure. But the skills and tools to get you through the hard times are already within you. You've been writing a novel your whole life. November is just the time when you finally get it down on paper.
So enough of my blathering; I've kept you long enough. Be good to yourself in November, and be good to each other. Encourage. Cajole. Support. And, in a month, we will gather again to celebrate our wild creations.
Now get going. I think you have a novel to write.
National Novel Writing Month
The Elephant and Abe
Sent November 11, 2002
For this week's NaNo pep talk, I give you Julie Smith. Julie is the author of 16 mystery novels, including "New Orleans Mourning," winner of the 1991 Edgar Allen Poe Award for best novel.
Julie is an otherwise sane and compassionate woman who subjects herself to the rigors of novel writing for a living. I asked Julie to offer her thoughts on NaNoWriMo, and give us some advice on getting through the rest of the month with our limbs and sanity intact.
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, get ready for Aunt Julie's Rules and Regs for the One-Month Novel.
1) Eat the elephant one bite at a time. You aren't writing 50,000 words -- you're writing somewhere between six and seven pages a day. The beauty of this system is, it's flexible. Say you write nine pages today. Tomorrow you only have to write five. Practically a vacation.
2) Don't worry that the speed will affect the quality. That way lies failure. In fact, forget quality.
I mean it, just forget it. Quality is not what NaNoWriMo is about -- quality comes in December, when you sit down with your manuscript and hone it. (Did you catch that magic phrase, "your manuscript"?) That's what this is about -- the difference between nothing and something. What you want by the end of the month is a whole pile of hard-copy pages -- that's right, print 'em out, so you can see what you've wrought -- personally written by none other than you. They won't be perfect, but they won't be gibberish either.
3) Okay, here are the two best bits of writing advice anyone ever gave me, in descending order. I got them both when I was a reporter.
The first bit came the week I was assigned to the court beat in San Francisco. What you do is run around all day getting stories, and then at the end of the day, you go back to the press room to write them. Frequently, they're so complicated they make your stomach hurt. One day when I had seven stories, and about half an hour to write them all, I whined to Eleanor Hayes, the salty old reporter from the Oakland Tribune, "Oh, woe! Oh misery!" (or words to that effect) "However am I going to do all this?"
Eleanor didn't even stop typing. She just bit out a few words and flung them over her shoulder: "Put one word after another, Julie."
I would have thought she was just being amusing -- or maybe cruel -- but I was desperate. I took it because it was all I had, repeating it like a mantra, as I proceeded to write those seven stories, one word at a time. That's exactly how you're going to do 50,000.
The other -- and world's best -- piece of advice came from an unlikely source -- maybe the least pleasant person I ever met in my life, my then-City Editor, Abe Mellinkoff. A sexist and a martinet. Horrible man. When it got near deadline and you'd still have a million calls to make before you were ready even to begin to write, Abe would holler, "Where's that liquor store shooting?" Whereupon you'd mumble something lame, and Abe would shout, "Godammit, Smith, DON'T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN!" And you'd have to. It was that or be fired.
See, the thing was, Abe was counting on later editions. Whatever you set down on paper (remember that stuff?) was merely that -- not stone. You could make those phone calls and clean that baby up for the home edition. You were just getting something out for the first.
That's what you're doing now. By spring, when you've had time to monkey around a little bit with a finished manuscript (Lord, what a beautiful phrase!) -- you could have something like the next "War and Peace," maybe. Or at least something publishable. But if you fiddle-faddle all your life trying to choose between "white" and "pale," you are doomed -- Doomed! I promise you this! -- to a life without publication.
So listen to Aunt Julie, ya hear? Write like the wind:
DON'T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN!
PUT ONE WORD AFTER ANOTHER!
MUNCH THAT ELEPHANT!
The Sound of 30,000 Words
Sent November 18, 2002
Well, you did it. You survived Week Two. Your word count is up, your stress levels are down (slightly), and your pulled-from-the-butt series of character interactions have miraculously gelled into something approaching a plot.
And guess what? It just gets better from here. Cross the 25,000-word divide and you'll feel a small surge of energy. Cross the 30,000-word mark, and you shift into overdrive.
At 30,000, the air clears. And you start to notice the Sound. It's still far away, sure. Indistinct. Almost something your feel rather than hear. But that buzz grows louder with every word you type. It's the sound of the crowds at the finish line. They're restless and roaring, and every last one of them is waiting for you to round that bend and make your appearance.
If you -- like most of us -- fell behind in Week Two, now is the time to focus all your energies on getting caught up. Put in the hours. Write every night. Thirty thousand words is the start of the domino fall, the beginning of the endgame.
Wherever you are right now, get to 30,000 this week. And then keep rolling on towards 40,000. The task is daunting, I know. But we can do it. In one week's time, we'll be on pace and unstoppable.
And in two week's time, we will be begin the real work of NaNoWriMo: Boring friends and family with the glorious story of our come-from-behind victory.
Ah, I can hardly wait.
Good luck to everyone this week. The champagne is on its way.
The Home Stretch
Sent November 25, 2002
Ok. Week Four. The home stretch. Your poor body is saturated with an artery-bursting cocktail of angst and adrenaline. The crowds I talked about in the last email are now clearly audible, their cheers bolstered by the hundreds of Wrimos who have already crossed the finish line and have turned to welcome you into the ranks of the Winners.
Week Four is about you tucking into your book, taking a final, deep plunge into the vast and curious world you've created this November. Ignore the urge to be protective of your novel. Ignore the fear that you're going to write the "wrong" ending, thereby messing up everything you've built so far.
You won't mess this up. Write recklessly and fearlessly. Keep up that momentum. Trust your instincts. Know that the words you are writing are the right words. Know that you are brave. And foolish. And absolutely, absolutely golden.
Six more days. You can do this.
You can so do this.
The Last Word
Sent December 1, 2002
Well, that's about all she wrote. It's been a month of stress and jubilation, panic and triumph. And now, somehow, it's over. With the absurd toils of November behind us, we can slip back into the halcyon lives we lead before getting wrapped up in NaNoWriMo.
Ah, if only it were so easy. Whether you wrote 5000 or 50,000 words this month, you are now afflicted with something that will make NaNoWriMo look like a walk in a very safe and well-lit park.
That thing is called a rough draft. Think of it as a computer virus. That talks.
Maybe you've heard it already. A cute and innocent voice from deep within your hard drive. "Hey you!" it chirps. "Fix me! Just correct my misspellings, and then you can print me out and you'll be done!"
And so you spend a day or two reading through the thing, fixing the misspellings and doing a few grammar nips and tucks. And you print it out on the office laser jet and you're done. Right?
No, no, no. For soon, that voice will return. "Hey! My beginning has nothing to do with the rest of me!" it will say. "Fix that and then you'll be done!"
You ignore it for a while. You're a busy person. You have a lot of shopping to take care of this December. But eventually you give in. At which point you discover to your horror that, at various desperate junctures in November, you padded your book with fifteen superfluous dream sequences and a half dozen minor characters that are introduced with great fanfare and then never heard from again.
So you start fixing those problems as well. And the next thing you know, you have gotten hopelessly entangled in that great and terrifying thing called "rewriting." The good news: If you spend enough time rewriting, you will likely end up with a publishable novel. The bad news: Rewriting takes forever. Much longer than a month. Probably longer than a year.
Make no mistake: Revising, despite its seemingly eternal duration, is where your book actually gets written. What you've created in November is a large, knotty wooden stump. Not entirely ugly, but far too unwieldy to really take anywhere. It's in the editing process that the thing gets whittled into the diabolical instrument that will eventually leave literary agents clutching their hearts in fear and wonder.
Many NaNo novelists choose not to revise. Depending on how you feel about your rough draft, this can be a very sound decision. I feel that I learn something from every piece of fiction I write. The undeniable lesson I've learned from two of my four NaNo masterworks is that I have the power to produce irredeemably bad novels.
Which is great. For me, much of NaNo's joy is in the process. I love putting my brain on a long leash, and seeing where it takes me. Sometimes the brain and I travel to jewel-bedecked realms where the rivers run with coffee and the record stores are open 24 hours a day. And sometimes we stay in my cluttered apartment and argue over whose turn it is to do the dishes.
Every foray, though, produces something that wasn't there before. Which makes everything worthwhile in the long run.
Which brings me around to my final topic, the concept of "winning" NaNoWriMo. Most of you did not win NaNoWriMo this year. And you may be feeling like a big loser because of it.
If so, please stop.
If you wrote 100 or 1000 or 10,000 words this month, you should be proud. Amidst all the turmoil of daily life, you finally made time for your art. It's an incredibly hard thing to do, and the rewards that come from it are too big to be measured on a word-count progress bar or charted on a Winner's Page.
The victory is in the trying, and we salute all of this year's participants, regardless of final word count, for their dedication and enthusiasm.
And that's about it. This is the last you'll be hearing from NaNoWriMo for awhile. We'll be around through December, though, filling t-shirt orders and writing thank-you notes to our blessed donors. Come January, we'll take a couple months off, and return in spring to begin work on the 2003 event.
Before I go, I want to extend a huge thanks to all of our volunteer staff, particularly the Municipal Liaisons, for doing such a great job this year. And thanks to you, dear participant, for making this such an amazing event to organize.
With high-fives all around,