November 06, 2013 15:44
Hello there everybody,
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I should write here. Though I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for ages, I’ve only done it once before.
But this is supposed to be a pep talk, so I get the impression that I’m supposed to cheer you on. Inspire you. Encourage you keep NaNoWriMo-ing for all you’re worth.
So. You’re awesome. You know that, right? We’re all writers here. We’re awesome by definition.
Consider yourself cheered.
Now, I’m going to encourage you to break the rules.
I’m not talking about the little rules—grammar stuff like avoiding sentence fragments and ending sentences with prepositions. (Though I encourage breaking those rules, too.)
I’m not even talking about the bigger rules that pretty much everyone agrees on, like Write What You Know, Avoid Adverbs, and Don’t Use The Passive Voice. (Though I can take or leave those rules, as well.)
No. I’m going to encourage you to break the rules of NaNoWriMo itself.
I know what you’re supposed to do here. You’re supposed to start from scratch. Start a new novel and blaze a trail, always moving forward. And most importantly, never ever go back and revise.
And these aren’t bad rules. They encourage you to learn the one true rule of writing. The rule which is absolutely inviolate and true:
1. Yay, Verily. You Must Sit Down and Write.
1a. Thou shalt not go see a movie instead. Or watch reality TV. Thou shalt write. No. Stop. You don’t need to clean out the fridge right now. Neither dost thou need to sort the recycling. I’m not even kidding. Go and write.
1b. Thou shalt not just think about writing. Seriously. That is not writing. The worst unpublished novel of all-time is better than the brilliant idea you have in your head. Why? Because the worst novel ever is written down. That means it’s a book, while your idea is just an idle fancy. My dog used to dream about chasing rabbits; she didn’t write a novel about chasing rabbits. There is a difference.
1c. Thou shalt not read, either. I know it’s book-related, but it’s not actually writing. Yes, even if it’s a book about how to write. Yes, even if you’re doing research. You can research later. Sit. Down. Write.
NaNoWriMo’s rules are useful because they force you to attend to that one singular Platonic Truth, as outlined above.
That said, I’m going to encourage you to break those rules.
NaNoWriMo is great at teaching you to blaze a trail, but you can have too much of a good thing. I’ve known people who start from scratch every year because that’s part of the rules, and they’ve ended up with a string of half-finished, 50,000-word novels.
So I say unto you: You don’t have to start entirely from scratch. (But you can’t count previously written words in your word count. Obviously.)
NaNoWriMo says you shouldn’t go back and revise. But honestly, writing is all about revision. So if you realize you need to change something three chapters back, go and do it. Sure it means you aren’t constantly churning out words, but it makes your story better. Writing good stories is why we’re all here, right?
So I say unto you: Revise sometimes.
NaNoWriMo says that you shouldn’t switch between projects. When I did NaNoWriMo a couple years ago, I moved back and forth between my start-from-scratch project and the third book in my trilogy. Why? Because I had a brilliant idea for a scene in Book Three. Something that I was excited to write.
Why would I ignore that impulse? When you’re enthusiastic, the writing comes quick and easy. And do you think my editor cried any tears that I’d broken that particular rule? Do you think my readers were pissed? No. No they weren’t.
So I say unto you: Follow your enthusiasm.
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I lost NaNoWriMo when I did all these things. I only wrote about 35,000 words. I did not get bragging rights, the special icon on my profile, or a cool T-shirt.
But I learned some things, and I improved my craft.
Is there a moral to this story? Not really. I’m just a contrary person by nature, and I like encouraging people to think about all their options.
As a writer, considering your options means thinking about what part of your craft you’re looking to improve. So if you’re the sort of writer who needs practice getting words down (like me), maybe the strict NaNoWriMo ruleset is for you. But then again, maybe not…
Either way, the most important thing is to get in there and do it. Sit. Down. Write.
P.S. If you’re curious about all the particular details of how I lost NaNoWriMo, I wrote a blog post about it here.
November 05, 2013 16:06
Dear Speed Racers of Literature,
As I write this to you, I am myself deep in the midst of a breakneck race toward a novel deadline. I have a very short time in which to commit a large amount of fiction, and I have taken a moment out of the word mines to talk to you about this mad thing we insist on doing.
I discovered NaNoWriMo in its second year and just the notion of it—the challenge, the seeming impossibility—lit a fire under me. I even wrote a little manifesto about it. But it turned out that I couldn’t wait until November to start. And being 22 and thus full of equal parts arrogance, stupidity, and ambition, I decided that 30 days was too easy. I would do it in 10.
And I did. My first novel, The Labyrinth, was written from October 1 to 11, 2002. I didn’t know I couldn’t do it. So I did. That novel became my first published book. It was rereleased in a brand-new edition last year and I am still proud of it. Without NaNoWriMo, the lost 22-year-old poet working as a fortune teller in a little shop next to a Starbucks in Rhode Island, the girl with no particular prospects and even less clue how to write something longer than her (admittedly long-winded) poems, might never have figured out how many novels she had waiting inside her.
I will share with you, my kindred souls, that since that first book, most of my novels have been written at double-quick speed. They come out in about 4 to 12 weeks these days. By which I mean the typing of it. The thinking, the dreaming out loud, the imagining of novels—well, that still takes years. But it is the sweetest work in the world.
The structure that NaNoWriMo taught me 11 years ago still shapes and drives my work habits today—for better or for worse. It helps my number-obsessed, structure-craving mind to bound my infinite space in a nutshell and try to write as though every month were November. (The key word there would be try.)
Yes, this is an experiment. Yes, it is difficult and not meant to be the scaffolding of a career. But the fact is, it can be. A professional, full-time writer quite often writes more than 1,667 words a day for periods longer than a month. Learn how to flex that muscle, and how to build it up so it looks back on the early days of 50,000-words-in-a-month as an easy gig.
To show up to play, puff out your chest like a damn proud toucan, and get shit done.
That is, perhaps, the single most important skill of a working life, no matter what that work may be.
I am here to tell you that you can do this. Not only can you do it, you can keep doing it. Take care of yourself, and this weird, stressful, wrist-aching trip you’re on can—like Red Bull, Daedelus, and garage-level genetic engineering—give you wings.
I’m going to tell you what I tried to say in 2002 to the NaNoWriMo forums, a notion that found little support and much scoffing then, but perhaps will find more friends now that I’ve spent most of the last decade putting my money where my mouth is.
So here it is, cats and kittens: my one and only Personal Rule of Literary Land Speed Record Attempts, According to Catherynne Valente, Circa 2013.
(Like all rules put forth by writers, feel free to ignore it, or not, at your leisure.)
You can be good and fast at the same time.
Though it is important not to put too much pressure on yourself, it is also important to know that quality and speed have absolutely nothing to do with one another. You can write something heart-catchingly brilliant in 30 days. You can do it in 10. There is no reason on this green earth not to try for glory. You’re going to spend these 30 days at the computer anyway. You might as well be mindful while you’re there.
You can come out transformed.
Write something true. Write something frightening. Write something close to the bone. You are on this planet to tell the story of what you saw here. What you heard. What you felt. What you learned. Any effort spent in that pursuit cannot be wasted. Any way that you can tell that story more truly, more vividly, more you-ly, is the right way.
So holler. Tell it loud and tell it bright and tell it slant and tell it bold. Tell it with space whales and silent films or tell it with quiet desperation or tell it with war or tell it with dragons or tell it with tall ships or tell it with divorce in the suburbs or tell it with dancing skeletons and a kraken in the wings.
Tell it fast before you get scared and silence yourself. You’ll never wish you’d held back a little more.
Catherynne M. Valente is the author of over 20 fiction and poetry books, including The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, and the new The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two.