A (Belated) NaNo Pep Talk

16 Nov

FYI: I posted this on my personal blog last week, but I figured it’s worth repeating, given the number of anti-NaNo articles that have flooded the internet lately, and given the number of LTWF readers that are participating in NaNo!




Sarah J. Maas



Okay, some of you might know that I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, and I’m not technically participating this year, but I AM in the midst of writing a top-secret new WIP. So while I don’t have a NaNo account, I’m totally mooching off the energy and enthusiasm that’s running rampant right now.

Last week on our LTWF Twitter account, we got a request to address all of the NaNo naysayers, which made me pause for a second—do all of the anti-NaNo posts actually discourage the NaNo participants that much?

Well, that kinda pisses me off. And by kinda, I mean a lot. Because in today’s world, I don’t see how anyone could discourage somebodyfrom turning off the tv and writing—especially when there are a few cases of NaNo books getting published. Don’t believe me? Go check out my friend, Courtney Moulton. Her phenomenally awesome debut novel, ANGELFIRE, was a NaNo book.

Maybe NaNo is a different kind of novel writing—and maybe the speed of it can sometimes detract from the quality of the writing. And maybe people who like to say things like “my craft” and use fancy literary terms when referencing their writing find NaNo to be a cheap way to write a book. But you know what? Everyone writes differently. It’s what makes this community so awesome.

There are the people who like to savor each word, who take a week to write a 500-word chapter, who like to think of writing as this long, thoughtful process. Yeah, it’s a beautiful art/craft, and a wonderful tradition going back thousands of years. But just because some people take nine months to write their first draft doesn’t mean that their method is the ONLY method, or the right method, or the true method.

Then there are the people who write in a frenzy—five, eight, ten thousand words in a day. Every day. Until it’s finished, or you break from the insanity of writing-writing-writing until you drop. And sometimes what we pound out is equivalent to vomit, but sometimes that frenzy and momentum gets us so into the scene that what we write kicks ass.

Obviously, I am a part of the frenzy group. When I write a book, it’s pretty much like NaNo. I don’t set daily or monthly word count goals, but I literally just write until I think my brain is going to explode, or I’m going to pass out at my desk. While writing the first draft, I don’t have any interest in contemplating the deep themes and pretty words in each and every sentence.

I write the first draft for the plot and the characters—I write because this story’s been building up inside me for so long that once I start that first chapter, I have to hand over any hope of having a life for the next month or so.

Maybe that’s not real novel writing to some people—but you know what? It’s real writing to me. That’s how I write books. And that’s why I love writing. Because Ilive for that frenzied feeling, for the thrill of characters and worlds springing up at the touch of my fingers on the keyboard, for eighteen hour days that go by in the blink of an eye. For the days when I write 12k words and it’s 3 AM and I can STILL keep going, but I have to make myself stop, because I have to be up in a few hours.

So, I just want to say, for the record, that NaNo rocks. Don’t listen to the haters. Enjoy the frenzy. Enjoy the sensation of having so many people writing around you.

Actually, one of the best things about NaNo so far is the fact that many of my friends are also writing. We’ve had a Write Nights, where a few of us chill on gchat, write our WIPs for 30 minutes, then check in to share what we’ve written. If you’re having trouble getting motivated for NaNo, or just plain stalling in the middle of your ms, get some friends to do a Write Night with you. In the few hours that we had Write Night last week, I wrote 4,400 words (for a grand total that day of 8,500 words). The pressure of being expected to produce something in 30 minutes was a fantastic motivator, and the positive energy was ridiculously awesome.

And you know what? This WIP of mine? It kinda sucks right now. I’m about 1/5 through it, and I already know that I’m going to have to rewrite the first 5 or 6 chapters. But that’s for later, and even if I took all week to write one chapter, it’d still be just as rough. No matter how fast or slow I write, I always need the first 5 or so chapters to sort out the voice, pace, and the world.

Right now, what’s more important to me is creating the skeleton of the story and riding the wave of energy and motivation until I write the last sentence of the ms. THEN I can go back and focus on prettifying sentences. Once I can see the ms in its entirety, THEN it’s time to slow down and focus on revising. But that’s just me. And it’s not the right or the wrong way–it’s just my way. I’m not gonna tell you you’re doing it wrong if you do it differently.

Don’t worry if you think what you’re writing now is lousy because you wrote it fast, or whatever the naysayers claim. It’s probably lousy because it’s a first draft, and EVERYONE, no matter if they’re an aspiring or published author, no matter if they write fast or slow, writes first drafts that need heavy amounts of revision. You’re in good company.

So, here’s to you, NaNo participants. Here’s to your novels, whether they wind up in a drawer or published. Here’s to those lousy first drafts. Here’s to writing, whether it be fast or slow.

Stop listening to the haters, to the naysayers, and just WRITE.



Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella that will be published by Bloomsbury in late 2011. Sarah resides with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.



25 Responses to “A (Belated) NaNo Pep Talk”

  1. Ashley November 16, 2010 at 3:14 AM #


    Yes, I know what you mean about NaNo. I’m one of those people to lazy participate; writing for me requires weeks, months of time and concentration. I have in fact tried to write at least everyday, but I’m sure I won’t be able to finish my novel by the end of November :).

    Oh well, we all have different paces!

    • Sarah J. Maas November 16, 2010 at 4:39 PM #

      Yeah, that’s what pisses me off about the anti-NaNo stuff…it assumes that there is only ONE way to write a novel, and that people who do otherwise aren’t real writers or some bullcrap. Everyone writes differently–and that’s what makes it such a kick-ass industry!

      • Ashley November 17, 2010 at 11:21 PM #

        If there were only one way to write novels, I would have given up a long time ago. Sure is a kick ass industry, must be why I like it so much! 😉

  2. Susan November 16, 2010 at 4:35 AM #

    YEEES! Sarah, rock on. I ❤ NaNo.

    You and I have identical writing styles, and NaNo is the perfect setting to nurture the "frenzy". I too will cut a good chunk of my WIP, but that's just how I write. I have to get my ideas and scenes and characters on the page, then I go back and prettify it. 🙂

    Thanks for your post and your NaNo cheerleading. Go Team NaNo!

    • Sarah J. Maas November 16, 2010 at 4:40 PM #

      ❤ ❤

      We STILL need to do a Write Day/Night/Write Fort sometime!

      Also, I'm starting SH today and SO freaking excited…..<3 ❤ ❤

  3. Lindsay November 16, 2010 at 4:55 AM #

    Great blog Sarah. I agree that there are too many NaNoWriMo haters out there.

    My first novel was written NaNoWriMo style where I busted out 90,000 words in a month and it sucked. But writing it that way was what got me to finally finish something. After a few revisions it turned into something that I’m now proud of. My style has since changed I love writing a bit, editing a bit and going back and forth. Each person has their own pace.

    I mentioned on my blog two weeks ago that I love NaNoWriMo for the community aspect that comes out of it. Everyone tries to help others. I heard one story where a woman was behind so a friend started making dinners for her family so that their mom could catch up on her writing. This is what NanoWriMo is to me. Writers getting together and pushing each other to work hard.

    The problem with NaNoWriMo is that it is only as helpful or harmful as you allow it to be. To some it is wonderful. Good luck to all of the writers this month!

    • Sarah J. Maas November 16, 2010 at 4:41 PM #

      Thanks, Lindsay!

      And that is WONDERFUL advice!!!

  4. Laura November 16, 2010 at 5:07 AM #

    I’m not doing NaNo this year, but I still appreciated this awesome motivation advice! Thanks Sarah 🙂

  5. Jennifer November 16, 2010 at 8:19 AM #

    It never crossed my mind that people could be anti-NaNoWriMo until I read your blog last week. I haven’t really looked into NaNo books that were published, but I literally cheered when I read that Carrie Ryan’s “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” started as one.

    • Sarah J. Maas November 16, 2010 at 4:45 PM #

      It’s been AWESOME to learn how many published books actually started as NaNo books. My friend, Gretchen McNeil, told me last night that her debut novel, POSSESS, was partially a NaNo book! So awesome!

  6. Julie Eshbaugh November 16, 2010 at 11:15 AM #

    Great post Sarah!!! I think writers need vision to persevere through this month of writing, and this post has provided lots of encouragement to keep that vision alive. 🙂

  7. Kit Dunsmore November 16, 2010 at 12:08 PM #

    I am a NaNo fan, and I’ve been finding all the negative blogs about NaNo depressing. It’s nice to see someone else is getting fed up and writing about the positive aspects of NaNoWriMo. Thanks for your great post.

    • Sarah J. Maas November 16, 2010 at 4:45 PM #

      🙂 You’re quite welcome! Thanks so much for reading!

  8. gabriellan November 16, 2010 at 4:40 PM #

    It really makes me sad that there’s somebody out there so jaded that they could hate on NaNoWriMo. I LOVE NaNo! I’m a frenzy-style writer, too. And I hadn’t been writing much this season because of school, but I managed to find those few extra minutes to write every day and it’s been awesome. Not to mention all the awesome NaNo people I’ve met. Awesome post 😀

    • Sarah J. Maas November 16, 2010 at 4:47 PM #

      Thank you so much!!! Best of luck with your writing!

  9. Cassie November 16, 2010 at 4:46 PM #

    This was such a great post. I’ve been sick lately so the plus-side of staying in my room all day is the fact that I can write for however long I want without “life” interfering lol.

    But anyway, this is the first I’ve heard of anti-NaNos. Of all the things you can be against…WRITING?! What?! Honestly, this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. How dare these people try and discourage writers (at any stage) from their obvious passion! What’s the big deal?

    I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo before, so I don’t know what the “prize” is at the end…or if there even is a “prize” other than satisfaction and pride (both of which I would have in abundance if I ever finished a 50K novel). Maybe what I’m saying is totally wrong, and if that’s the case, just humor me I guess. Or correct me.

    Either way, it seems to me that these “Scrooges” are almost threatened at the fact that there are other writers out there *GASP*. Why else would they be shooting down NaNoWriMo? I actually just read 2 blogs written in 06 & 09. The blogger complained about the encouragements that NaNo gives its writers, and it confused me. The guy hates NaNo because he feels that people are doing it for the sake of doing it, not because they want to challenge themselves. Which is utterly ridiculous. I haven’t participated in NaNo because writing 50K in a month is the scariest thing in the world to me. I think anyone who completes 50K in a month deserves a gold medal and some serious recognition. But maybe that’s just me. I mean, to give you some perspective, I have a WIP saved on my hard drive right now that I’ve been working on for FOUR YEARS. Word count, you ask? 26,785 >< (But don't worry…my editing mode is in hyperdrive for that bad boy)

    Anyway, for this guy to rant and rave about the "elementary school teacher"-esque encouragement that NaNo gives its writers…it's just absurd. And furthermore, he says he doesn't sit well with NaNo because it encourages ANYONE to write. Again, absurdity. So what if some teacher tells her 3&4-yr old students to write novels? Obviously, they aren't going to be beautiful works of fiction. It's the fact that the kids get to do something other than sit on their butts in front of their Xboxes and get to exercise their creativity. Hell, a 4th grade project that involved creating our own mythological legend-type story is what turned me on to writing in the first place! Now I still have that poorly-written, spelling error-filled thing that little 9 year old me wrote. And I love it to death. Cring-worthy imperfections and all.

    I could rant and rave all day about this guy, honestly. But those were my two biggest qualms with what he had to say. I mean, I see his point – there are people out there who are smug and think anything they write is worthy of the #1 NY Times best-seller spot. And yeah, they kinda suck. But that doesn't mean that EVERYONE should be barred from writing. Who cares if some little kid wants to write a book? More power to 'em, you bah-humbug!

  10. M. Howalt November 17, 2010 at 6:54 AM #

    Well said! I applaud you taking the time to write this. And good luck with your novel!

  11. Olga November 21, 2010 at 11:27 AM #

    My first draft sucks. And it sucks in a way that I don’t know how to fix. So I’m staring a new story. On Day 21. *sigh* I’m a dork, but yeah. WOOO writing!!


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