NaNo Pep Talk

On Sunday, I was invited to give a pep talk/Q&A to the Lansing NaNoWriMo group. They had a great turnout at their event, and I had a lot of fun chatting with folks. (I hope it was fun and useful for them, too!)

I’ve been doing my own novel push in October, trying to finish this draft of Codex Born by the end of the month. I’ve failed, thanks to a number of reasons I won’t get into now. With that said, I’ve gotten significantly more writing done than I would have without this push, so I’m calling that a victory anyway. And while I won’t be officially doing NaNo in November, in part because I’ve got a Toastmaster gig in Iowa and a week-long New York trip, I’m still going to keep pushing myself to finish this draft.

To everyone who will be doing NaNo, good luck! Here are some of the tidbits from my talk, in the hope that they’ll be useful.

Nobody is born knowing how to write. We’ve created the myth of the Instant Writer, the person who sits down at their laptop and magically produces brilliant, award-winning prose. But writing is just like anything else. It takes practice. Don’t expect perfection the first time through, and don’t beat yourself up if you stumble along the way.

There’s no one right way to write a book. There’s a lot of advice out there. Try different things. Experiment. Figure out what works for you. Anyone who preaches the Gospel of the True Right Way to write (or sell) a book? Smile and back away as quickly as possible. All those readers out there don’t care how you wrote the book. They just care if the end result is worth reading.

What do you want? There’s no right answer here, but it’s important to know if you’re hoping to be professionally published, if you want to self-publish your stuff, or if you’re just writing for you. Maybe your goal is to write that 50,000 word Spock/Doctor Who fanfic piece. Go for it! But it can help a lot to know your goals going in.

Give yourself permission to write crap. This may be the single most important lesson I’ve learned. It got me through the worst bout of Writer’s Block I ever had. I basically imagined a sign over my monitor that said in big neon letters, “IT’S OKAY TO WRITE CRAP!” Now this doesn’t mean it’s okay to publish crap, and I suspect my editor would have some issues if I started turning in incoherent drivel. But don’t demand perfection in a first draft. Allowing myself to get messy, to scribble outside the lines and stumble through my mistakes, this also allowed me to finish the draft, to explore the story and figure out what the book was about. You’ll have plenty of time to edit and rewrite.

Do edit and rewrite. Once you finish your book, the impulse to immediately start submitting it, or to put it up on Amazon, can be very strong. All I’ll say here is that if I had published my first drafts, I would have had to change my name to distance myself from the shame. Everyone’s different, but most of the writers I know (myself very much included) don’t get everything right the first time through.

Watch out for scams. There are a lot of scammers out there, and they know it’s NaNoWriMo. Be careful. As a general rule, “Money flows toward the writer” should protect you from a lot of them. Also, if you’re not sure if something’s a scam, look at how they make their money. Does this publisher have a website geared toward selling books to readers, or are they more interested in selling services to writers? You want to work with agents and publishers who stay in business by selling books to readers, because they have the most incentive to sell your books. Writer Beware and the Writer Beware Blog have been great resources for me to learn about and avoid most writing traps.

Finally, good luck, and have fun! (And to Annette and all of the Lansing NaNo crew, thanks for the sweet hat and other goodies! ;-) )