NaNoWriMo: Haters Gonna Hate, Writers Gonna Write

1 Dec

by Savannah J. Foley


This was the first year I seriously attempted (and won!) NaNoWriMo. I half-assed it last year, but didn’t really understand the commitment involved and had never had a daily word goal before, so the project fell by the wayside.

This year was different. I had a 50k deadline which lined up rather neatly with NaNo’s finishing requirements, and as I’d spent the last two weeks of October slacking off because confronting my rewrite was (dare I admit it,?) scary, I figured this was the perfect thing to kick me into gear and make me finish.

What was so appealing about NaNoWriMo? Was it the sense of community (if you look to your right you can see both my and our readers’ word count stats!)? The beautiful tracking charts (I love charts!)? The pep talks and stories of inspiration and success the website was kind enough to email to me about twice a week?

(Honestly what really made me commit and stay on top of it was a note sent to me via the NaNo website from a fan who told me that watching my word count climb would inspire her to stay on top of hers. Plus my name and word count were here on the LTWF website, posted for the world to see. How could I slack with that kind of pressure going on?!)

I’ll tell you what wasn’t so appealing: the criticism about NaNoWriMo from published authors and literary agents, despite NaNo receiving support from some other, rather notable authors. Sarah J. Maas did a great, inspiring article mid-way through the month encouraging those who might be disheartened by public criticism of their endeavors, and I guess what I’ve taken away most from this experience is how right she is. There is no reason to discourage people from writing, ever.

However, I did have a few interesting experiences with fellow NaNoWriMoers this month, so I thought I’d share my perspective on why NaNoWriMo received such vitriol from veteran writers, and what we can do about it:

Meet Ups

I found meet ups to be very productive, and I went to as many as I could. We met at cafes, restaurants, and even pulled an all-nighter at IHOP (during which I added 13k to my ms!).Heck, I’m writing this article from a Denny’s as we speak. BUT, being at the meet ups showed me something about my fellow NaNoWriMoers that made me understand why some bloggers lashed out at them.

Every other NaNoWriMo writer in my area that I met was, to put it simply, a huge, flailing noob.

They had vague, unrealistic ideas about publication and the steps involved, wrote bland plotlines they thought were original, and in one notable case, wrote an entire 50k before the plot “even started.” Another writer had pounded out 150k (on three different abandoned novels) by the 15 day point. The worst part was that we supposedly met up to write, but people would talk for half an hour before getting started, or not get started at all (meanwhile, I was concentrating on getting in my word count because I had a deadline, damnit!) I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I didn’t talk about literary agents and publication steps unless specifically asked about my background, but it was hard not to offer advice and guidance.

In another case, about 10 of us met up at a Barnes & Noble, and a girl a table over asked us what we were all doing. Someone responded and told her we were part of National Novel Writing Month – we were all going to write novels in a month.

“Oh,” she said with a fair amount of snob, “I’ve already written a novel. I’m trying to get it published, but my parents are being lazy about it.”

Did I mention she looked about 18?

Horrified Curious, I asked her what she meant by that. She spouted off some vague paranoia about needing to mail her ms to herself before sending it to publishers so no one could steal her idea, and when I asked her if she was querying she said, “what’s that?”


This girl really made me understand why others might feel frustration towards NaNoWriMoers. Though she wasn’t participating in NaNoWriMo per se, I found her ignorant arrogance present in a lot of the other writers I spent time with.

I tried to figure out why this combination of arrogance/ignorance bothered me so. Why did it ignite a deep frustration within me, a desire to correct everyone around me and show them that this isn’t a piece of cake, that being a successful writer is a lifestyle, not a one-month commitment? It takes dedication and education and love. I enjoy it, but it’s damned hard sometimes.

And then I realized. That girl in Barnes and Noble, so convinced she was superior to the rest of us… was once me. I used to think I was the only teenage writer in the world. I used to tell anyone who would listen that I was writing a novel and I was going to try and get it published when I was done (having never heard of a literary agent or any of the steps involved to actually get published). I have been a huge, flailing, floundering noob, writing bad prose and thinking it was brilliant, convinced I was going to be a best-selling author, and generally probably annoying the crap out of anyone who had even the slightest more experience than me.

Seeing that girl made me remember that. She made me feel embarrassed for myself.

I read a quote once that has affected me ever since, and I think it applies in this situation: “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing,” or, as it has commonly become known, “A wise man knows that he knows nothing.”

What this means is that as your knowledge of a subject increases, you also become aware of how much you do not know. You acquire humility. I have certainly become far more humble since learning more about the industry. I began to develop an accurate sense of being able to measure myself against others, and found myself to be lacking. As I learned, I learned that I had a long way to go.

But those who have not learned do not have this humility. Therefore, sometimes we lash out at them, because we are actually lashing out at our former selves.

Having realized this truth, I was better able to tolerate my fellow NaNoWriMoers. I was able to realize that they’re not a threat to me; at the end of the month they will have 50k towards an unpublishable novel, and might not approach writing again for another year, while I will have my rewrite done and move towards editing in December, planning to go back out on submissions in January. Because I’m a writer for life, not for a month.

NaNoWriMo is not saturating the market with stuff that is in competition with me. All it’s doing is giving these people a dream, a recreational activity, a chance to meet up and eat and talk about geeky stuff and accomplish a daily goal. And honestly, what’s so wrong with that?

Moving Forward

At the Barnes & Noble, I relayed the conversation I’d had with that misguided girl to Sarah, who asked me, “Well, did you help her?”

I hadn’t. I’d been too shocked, too disgusted with my former self. Besides, the conversation was over. It would be weird if I started it again, right?

“Maybe you were put next to her for a reason.”

Sarah’s words made me think. I knew she was right. So I did what the informed can only do when confronted with the uninformed. I gently gave her an opportunity to inform herself.

At the end of the meetup, I passed her a notecard with the website for agentquery (and LTWF of course!). I said, “If you want to get published, you’ll probably need a literary agent. This will get you started.”

Whether she looks it up and takes the steps to join the writing community is her choice, but at least I gave her an opportunity.

I finished my 50k on November 18th, and I seriously doubt I could have done it without NaNoWriMo’s help in making me realize my potential. I learned that I could commit to a word count goal of 2k a day. I learned that I actually enjoyed writing in restaurants and cafes (previously I thought I found the noise and conversation distracting, but it turns out I have the ability to tune all that out, who knew?!). Most of all, I re-affirmed something that I hold very dear to my heart: whenever we can, we must kindly and wisely show young writers that there is a whole world and community out there waiting for them. Waiting to teach them, inspire them, help them, and support them.

Because they don’t know. Honestly, they have no idea. So whenever you can, for the sake of the young writer that you once were, be a role model, a mentor, a guide. And that’s all I have to say about that 🙂


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.


55 Responses to “NaNoWriMo: Haters Gonna Hate, Writers Gonna Write”

  1. Julie Eshbaugh December 1, 2010 at 12:41 AM #

    Great post, Savannah! I loved this line: “Because I’m a writer for life, not for a month.” 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 10:36 AM #

      That’s a concept I’ve really been exploring the meaning of personally lately… I realized that being a writer means ALWAYS being on the clock, because every moment is a chance to work, whether it’s being inspired or just thinking about your characters. But the thought doesn’t scare me, it’s exciting! I love working!

  2. Kit Dunsmore December 1, 2010 at 12:47 AM #

    First, congrats on hitting your NaNo goal! Second, thanks for writing a positive article about the NaNo experience. You’ve given me a new insight into where all the hate has been coming from. I’m a serious writer and I love NaNoWriMo, and I don’t think that’s a problem. I love seeing people excited about books and writing, even if they do it badly or only one month out of the year. Your suggestion to be kind to our past selves by passing on what we’ve learned to those following in our footsteps is brilliant. I know I still have tons to learn, but I do my best to encourage those I meet who have an interest in writing to do the things that have worked for me. We all deserve a chance to live our dream.

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 10:37 AM #

      Thank you! I’m glad I was able to give you a lift 🙂

  3. Amy Rose Davis December 1, 2010 at 1:49 AM #

    Good for you, Savannah! Congratulations! I did NaNo last year and wrote over 100K. I think I was purging… 🙂 There was some really good stuff in there, though, and out of the first half of that was born my novel “Ravenmarked.” I’ve been working on it now for a year and am about to release it as an indie e-book.

    Don’t listen to the haters. NaNo is one great tool/process among many. There’s no one way or one method to writing. There’s not even one way that works for an individual writer every time. If NaNo works, then I say do it!


    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 10:38 AM #

      Congrats on your novel! Where are you releasing it?

      • Amy Rose Davis December 1, 2010 at 10:47 AM #

        I’m going to put it in the Kindle store and probably go through Smashwords for all the other e-bookstores… I have a completely separate novella almost ready to go that I’m going to use as a guinea pig first while an artist does the cover and map for the novel and my editors polish my prose. Hopefully my novel will be ready to go live by Feb. 1.

        Thanks for asking! 🙂


  4. Jennifer December 1, 2010 at 2:39 AM #

    I have so much love for this post.

  5. Diyana Wan December 1, 2010 at 4:40 AM #


    This article hit all the right marks, so I’m all: HELLS YEAHHHHH in my office (much to my colleagues’ confusion…)

    I’m SO thrilled you won NaNo because of what a certain lurking fan *ahem* said to you 🙂 I’m sure she never thought she had that kind of influence over you.

    Which brings me to my next point: You never know how much your actions can influence another person. I’m glad you reached out to that girl. The publishing industry is so murky and rife with urban myths that I can’t blame most people’s ignorance about it. I mean, I was a noob until I started reading aspiring author blogs and followed agent blogs. Only then did I realise, boy, this industry is HARD!

    And finally, to echo Julie, I LOVE that line about being a writer for life. I haven’t won NaNo– and I’m only halfway down that 50k mark. But you know what? Here’s the surprising thing: NaNo taught me that I want to be a writer for life. So…my real deadline is end-Dec.

    Wish me luck!!!

    Also, good luck with revisions!! I’m looking forward to seeing your book on the shelves 🙂

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 10:42 AM #

      I was so thrilled when I got your note that I showed my boyfriend, and then I was like, ‘oh crap. Now I actually have to do it!’ So I’m really glad you wrote to me, because that was what I thought of every day… not only do I have to get these words in for me personally, but I’m also a role model. I would have died of embarassment if my word count line didn’t creep along steadily with everyone else’s here on the LTWF page.

      I’m so glad that NaNo was able to teach you something about yourself! Congrats on being a writer for life!!!

  6. Meagan Spooner December 1, 2010 at 5:02 AM #

    “But those who have not learned do not have this humility. Therefore, sometimes we lash out at them, because we are actually lashing out at our former selves.”

    I think this was my favorite part of this post. It really rang true to me, because TOTALLY we have all been there. All of us were that uninformed once. These days for me it feels like it was so long ago, but really, it wasn’t. I love that you turned around and gave her a way to start educating herself. 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 11:26 AM #

      It was kind of an ‘aha!’ moment when I figured that out. I’m a big believer that we dislike external things because they reflect something we dislike about ourselves.

  7. Lindsay December 1, 2010 at 5:33 AM #

    Congrats on the big win! This was my first year of trying too. Didn’t think I’d make it until I was in the last hours and only a few thousand away!

    I have to agree with your sentiments towards ignorant people really being us in the past. I cringe when I meet writers filled with unrealistic expectations and almost snobbish self confidence because they remind me of me. Two years ago I thought I’d be a best seller by now. HA! It is so hard to accept that I was that gullible and I hate to see others go through it too.

    I’ve never taken that step to pass them something as simple as a piece of advice. In the past I’ve thought that they needed to learn it on their own, the way that I did. Now I’ll think twice about how helpful it would have been to me. Who knows maybe you did help that girl reach her dreams because you grounded her feet.

    Great Post!

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 11:29 AM #

      Yay, congrats on winning! Learning on your own is valuable (isn’t the only true education self-education?) but googling ‘how to get published’ just brings up a lot of confusing and exasperating spam links. That’s why I pointed her to agentquery and LTWF specifically… it’s so hard to find good writing blogs just by googling! I was trying to find picture book blogs last month and it was a total pain to locate something decent.

  8. authorguy December 1, 2010 at 7:04 AM #

    I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo, being fully well aware that I don’t write that fast. I edit as I go, which slows down the writing but speeds up the editing. Is it snobbish to console myself with the thought that most of the words I put down won’t need to be edited out?

    Marc Vun Kannon

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 11:30 AM #

      I don’t think that’s snobbish at all… I believe that when I go slower and edit I write better, but I needed to really get a move on so I chose to do 2,000 mediocre words a day instead of 500 awesome ones. Now I’m going to spend a month going back and fixing it all though 🙂

  9. sdennard December 1, 2010 at 7:28 AM #

    Wow… Just wow.

    This is an amazing post, Savannah. I got chills and maybe even a tear in my eye.

    You’re sharing such a powerful message, and it’s so true: “We must kindly and wisely show young writers that there is a whole world and community out there waiting for them.” YES, YES, YES.

    I definitely hate it when “noobs” arrogantly and ignorantly flaunt their novels, and you’re RIGHT that it’s just a self-loathing. That was me in high school — no one was gonna tell me how to do it. And I didn’t need to learn a damn thing…

    ::cringe:: That old me would have pissed off a lot of writers… But now I know better, and now I get to pass my knowledge on.

    THANKS for this wonderful post.

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 11:31 AM #

      Yes! It’s the belief that they(we) already know all we need to know that is the worst part. How can you ask for help when you don’t even realize that you need help?

      And thank you for all your kind words ❤

  10. Rowenna December 1, 2010 at 9:58 AM #

    Great post! “There is no reason to discourage people from writing, ever.” Awesome point. Even those ignorant/arrogant noobs–it’s awesome that they’re writing, and I hope the girl took the opportunity to educate herself now (and if she didn’t, she’ll get an education later). I don’t know that I’ll ever be a NaNoer–not sure that it’s the best way for me to write. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing thing for plenty of people.

    I think I remember reading that the founders of NaNo weren’t encouraging people to aim for publication, per se (not that they were discouraging it) but that the point was that so many people say they want to write a novel and never do–it gives people a chance to check that off their bucket list. It’s kind of sad that so many of the people you met, Sav, were gunning for publication already instead of savoring the writing part of creating a novel.

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 11:32 AM #

      You’re exactly right (write, lol)… the original purpose of NaNo was just… can we actually do this? And while there have been sucess stories, the purpose remains not to write a best seller, but just to write a novel, period. For fun.

  11. Sarah Nicolas December 1, 2010 at 11:00 AM #

    Yes! This is just so spot-on. Some of my NaNoWriMo experiences have been so much like what you say here. 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 11:33 AM #

      I’m so glad… I was worried when I was writing this that everyone but me had met awesome and talented writers at their meet ups and I was the only one feeling this way, lol!

  12. CompletelyNovel December 1, 2010 at 11:52 AM #

    Fantastic article – I think it’s really important that people bear in mind that NaNoWriMo offers people a great opportunity to achieve something they otherwise might not, but it’s also important to inject a bit of reality when people get carried away and think that getting published is going to be inevitable!

  13. Caitlin December 1, 2010 at 12:19 PM #

    This post is fantastic. Congrats on winning NaNo!

    And yep, when I was 13 and wrote my first “novel” I did the whole “mail it to yourself” thing… I’ve learned so much since then, and I’m really grateful to the people who have taught me. I hope I get the chance to pass it forward!

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 12:38 PM #

      I gotta be honest; I mailed it to myself, too! I still have it! One of these days (after I sign a contract, ahem) I’m going to open it up and re-read all my terrible prose 🙂

  14. Taryn December 1, 2010 at 1:09 PM #

    Oh, how I love NaNo posts. It’s so interesting to see what people get out of the month, and the best part is the difference. I do NaNo for the community and, I can’t lie, the spiffy graphs. It’s interesting to get the view of someone on the road to publication b/c I venture deadlines will be in your future.

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 2:33 PM #

      I know, right?! I LOVE the graphs! I had a very beautiful and complicated system for my own progress but seeing that bar climb on the website was SO inspiring.

  15. Ellen December 1, 2010 at 1:35 PM #

    This was an excellent post! I probably looked like a bobble-head nodding in agreement the whole time. 🙂

    But the part where you said that we were all once those young writers totally rang true to me. I used to be one of those people who thought the publishing industry was an easy thing to deal with, and that getting an original manuscript published as a noob was a task that could be completed without much prior knowledge of how everything worked.

    *snorts* So obviously not the case. I just wanted to say that I thought you hit the note straight on the head with your comments about NaNo. The truth is that it’s a fun pursuit for everyone, writers for life or no. It just so happens to be that the writers for life have a very different outlook than everyone else does.

    And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. 🙂

    • Savannah J. Foley December 1, 2010 at 2:35 PM #

      Aww, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I remember being younger and convinced that everyone would want to publish my book, yet at the same time really intimidated by the process… I got a lot of bad advice from people who didn’t know what they were talking about (mail your ms to yourself so no one steals it, you have to buy big, expensive books to research the market, etc.). It wasn’t until I really joined LTWF that I started to get a feel for how everything worked.

  16. Vanessa Di Gregorio December 1, 2010 at 2:34 PM #

    Sav, this was such a brilliant post. That snobby girl at Barnes and Noble? That was definitely me when I was in highschool. This post rings true in so many ways, and it honestly gave me goosebumps.

    Quite possibly one of my fave posts ever!

  17. Angela December 1, 2010 at 3:15 PM #

    I don`t understand this whole mailing your ms to yourself thing. O.O

    I`m so glad for LTWF. I no longer feel like a flailing noob.

    • savannahjfoley December 1, 2010 at 3:38 PM #

      Mailing your ms is a phenomenon that results from bad information… somewhere along the line someone tells you that if you don’t copyright your work publishers will steal it from you and make a ton of money off it.

      This type of reasoning reflects not only a ridiculous paranoia (seriously publishers don’t have time to be stealing manuscripts) but also an ignorance for the way copyright laws actually work (once you write something it’s automatically copyrighted. You don’t have to get a license or anything).

  18. Juli December 1, 2010 at 8:59 PM #

    I teach/I write/I read.
    The teacher…pushed 26 wannabe 6th-8th grade student “volunteer” writers through the ywp.nanowrimo this year. What a fabulous experience!
    The writer…met her own goal of 50K while learning from a great community of writers.
    And the reader…is still reading through some of the students’ drafts because, well, they want to be published. 🙂
    Although one of the reasons I write is the same as yours, to share a story with readers, I think you might be missing the point of why so many different people join Nanowrimo–(and why I encouraged young people to join up)–To give them an “excuse” to write instead of 1. playing video games, 2. finishing homework, 3. practicing piano and a countless hundreds of other things that seem to be put before their love of writing.
    Even some parents announced at the beginning of Nov., “Did you know I write too?” What does that say about us? We want to share, we want to write, but at the same time, we’re continually being told that writing is “reserved” for only those seeking to be “published”.
    If one of my students, my friends, or family members has a manuscript accepted by an agent or other, I’m thrilled for them. But I’m also incredibly thrilled for those who have simply taken pen to paper for the sake of writing.

    • savannahjfoley December 1, 2010 at 10:07 PM #

      I think it’s so awesome that you had your class do the young people’s version of NaNoWriMo!

      I hadn’t considered that people might use NaNo as an excuse to write and not be criticized, and I think that goes back to my point… they feel ostracized because veteran writers are telling them they /shouldn’t/ write. But no one can get better unless they practice.

      And I did come at it from a ‘desire to be published’ angle because I think that’s what bothers people in the industry most: not those who are content to tinker but those who write 50k of crap and then scream to the world about how brilliant they are, and spam every agent they can find.

  19. Olga December 1, 2010 at 11:11 PM #

    Savannah – I wanted to let you know that this post made me want to tell you that I need coffee. Besides that, it made me think of when you took the time to read an oldoldold story of mine on fictionpress and advised me to scrap it. It made me think of the WIP I have open now and I’m smiling. Because I didn’t scrap it. I’m starting over. I was too in love with it to let it go, but I think…now…I’m a little more ready to give my characters the story they deserve. I’m keeping the names. And the snark. Adding a plot. And then editing. 😀 Thank you for that. ❤

    • savannahjfoley December 1, 2010 at 11:19 PM #

      Awww! I’m so glad you were able to find a way to save a story you love! And I hope I was very kind when I told you to scrap it 🙂

      • Olga December 1, 2010 at 11:20 PM #

        Haha!! You were polite. And also very right – it sucked moldy ponchos. YAY starting over! Coffeecoffeecoffee.

  20. Michael Grant December 2, 2010 at 12:32 AM #

    I’ve authored/co-authored 150 books as Michael Grant, K.A. Applegate and a bunch of other pseudonyms.

    In authorship terms I’m the veteran sergeant with a bunch of stripes on his arm, scars on his body and medals on his chest. The wanna-be is, by contrast, a raw recruit.

    So, in that spirit, here are 10 reasons a published writer my not be all that anxious to support you, the aspiring author:

    1) It’s very likely you’ll be out of the business soon, so why bother?

    2) We’ve done it, you haven’t. You get the respect when you get there, not before you get there.

    3) An awful lot of aspiring writers want us to show them magic short-cuts. First, there are none, and second, screw you for asking pal, because it’s supposed to be hard. We didn’t trick or finesse our way into this gig, we worked for it.

    4) Many of us know writers who are more talented than you who have failed, washed-out, quit. Now you want their job.

    5) You want a mentor to walk you through all the tough parts? Um. . . no. Learning about the business is part of your job. Why am I doing your job for you? It’s not a lecture course, it’s hands-on.

    6) How I write is not how you write. So most of what I tell you will be of no use.

    7) And you won’t listen anyway because the odds are you think you’re smarter/more talented than I am.

    8) You don’t really want my help understanding the business or the job, you want to suck my precious time away by asking me to read your manuscript or listen to your idea.

    9) Your idea is very likely to be “boy meets girl” and then, when I write a book that also involves “boy meets girl,” you’ll claim I stole your idea.

    10) There are only so many feet of shelf space in Barnes and Noble. I should help you take some of that away from me, why?

    That said, I really like NaNoWriMo. Why? Because it requires you to actually write. That doesn’t mean you’re a veteran, but it means you’re not just a raw recruit. You made it through basic training. You’ve earned a measure of respect.

    • savannahjfoley December 2, 2010 at 12:42 AM #

      Hello Michael, it’s nice to run into you again 🙂 I read an interview you gave an Animorphs fan community over on livejournal several years ago and have heard your name mentioned several times since then in connection with the Animorphs (which, just for the record, though I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, was the reason I started writing in the first place.)

      I agree with your points on why veteran writers might not want to help new writers, and completely understand the frustration veterans feel with noobs, but does that mean veterans shouldn’t help noob writers at all? Maybe it’s just because (in terms of keeping with the military metaphor) I’m just a private to your sergeant, but I feel as if veteran writers have somewhat of a duty to at least point raw recruits in the right direction. Otherwise a lot of great writers will never get the guidance they need to become those great writers. (Reading their manuscripts is, of course, totally out of the question, however.)

      And ultimately our efforts are for the benefits of our readers, right? I don’t want to push anyone out of the market who might write a book that inspires a new reader to keep reading… that reader becomes part of the market and might buy my books one day.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. As a person who worked on the catalyst for my own writing career, it’s really made my day that you took the time to read something I wrote. 🙂

      • Michael Grant December 2, 2010 at 1:01 AM #

        Well, to be serious for a moment (unusual for me) a lot of those ten points have to do with the weary feeling that we’re wasting our time. And some are actually for the good of the aspiring writer. Shifting from military to parental metaphor, there are things you tell your kids, things you show your kids, and things you let you kids figure out for themselves.

        A lot of what you get is stuff people should be able to figure out on their own. I mean, we didn’t even have a single internet when we (Katherine and I) started, let alone the internets plural. If you can’t figure out that you’re going to need an agent when you start submitting you’re not trying very hard.

        That said, when I do school visits my favorite type are the ones with young wanna-be writers. Sometimes their questions aren’t about how to get published, or who they should suck up to to get published, or any of that. Sometimes they ask about how to flesh out a character, or work your way through a plot, or actually live the life. I like answering those questions, because I’ll have an answer unique to me that you can’t find just by Googling.

        No problem at all talking to people who are serious and determined and willing to work. Big problem with people who think I have a free week to critique their ms or who want to hear how they can magically avoid all the work I had to do.

        • savannahjfoley December 2, 2010 at 1:22 AM #

          Talking to young, wannabe writers is one of my favorite things, out of love or my younger self who wanted it so badly but didn’t know where to start. Clearly we’re on the same side, so here are just my thoughts about your comment:

          The first time I ever realized that it was probably better to keep my mouth shut than try to help someone in terms of writing was in high school. I was as serious as was possible for a 16-year-old about being a writer, and when I made friends who also claimed to be writers, I got very excited and eagerly asked to see their work.

          And was promptly heartbroken.

          The pattern repeated itself across three different high schools. I spent a lot of time editing what was basically anime fan fiction, hoping that my friends would pick up on what they were doing wrong and become great writers. Never happened.

          But ultimately these people weren’t ‘real’ writers, if I can presume as much to be able to say that. I’ve met a couple of kids since then who seem to be enthusiastic about writing, and I’ve always tried to give them a head’s up about stuff that was unknown to me at the time: You’ll have to work a lot more than you think, you will need a day job, and you will need a literary agent.

          I agree with your parental metaphor whole-heartedly. While I did grow up with the privilege of the internet, both it and I were so young at the time that it never occurred to me to take to google and really figure the process out. Someone had told me once that I’d need to buy a big, expensive edition of Publisher’s Marketplace to figure out where to start submitting, but I knew nothing about formatting or how to select a publisher, or even that I’d need a literary agent before that step.

          As an administrative member of this blog, I can attest that sometimes we receive pleas from young writers asking us to review their work, or read their self-published book. Every now and then I would review something and offer comments, but rarely have such endeavors been successful (ironically, someone I did this for who took my advice and grew as a writer actually posted on this article, too).

          However, as a group we agreed that when we saw misguided writers we would do something to help them. We wouldn’t read their ms or become their CPs, but we would point them towards websites or articles that could help. In keeping with the parental metaphor, we let them figure it out on their own.

          In one notable case, I bluntly told a teenage gentleman why his requests for an interview and review were inappropriate, and enlightened him to the fact that there were other young writers out there (he, like many, thought he was the only one), and gave him some links so he could go out and meet them.

          I guess it comes down to this: If we don’t tell the noob, they won’t know. And those people who request you to read their spellcheck-yourself-before-you-wreck-yourself manuscripts will persist in their noob-like and inappropriate behavior until we educate them further.

          It’s disheartening, because the tide of new noobs is endless. But, like the story of the man throwing starfish back into the ocean before they suffocate, we can’t help them all, but it makes a difference to this one. And this one.

          • Michael Grant December 2, 2010 at 1:28 AM #

            Savannah, I just sent you a Facebook note. I like your blog.

  21. Caitlin December 2, 2010 at 1:13 AM #

    I think when I meet people who are obvious n00bs more than annoyed I am often worried for them/their future. That’s one of the reasons I love this blog, last time I found out it was a friend’s secret desire to be a published author I was able to say “Hey, I follow this great blog about the whole publishing process, I’ll facebook you the link and when you’re getting ready to start that process you can check it out.”

    Maybe it’s only because I’ve been reading since the beginning (which is crazy and feels like it was so long ago, even if it wasn’t) but I feel like this blog is one of the most accessible and easy to start with. Also you provide great links for people to dig deeper when they’re ready.

    • savannahjfoley December 2, 2010 at 1:23 AM #

      Thank you, Caitlin! I can’t believe it’s only been a year either; the blog feels so different from last November (in a good way!) I think it’s great that you feel confidently about us enough to give out links to other people. That has been our constant goal of this blog: to be an interactive, approachable resource for people who want to learn more.

  22. Rena Luna December 2, 2010 at 4:27 AM #

    Regarding the “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing” quote, I found out some years ago a good article by Dunning and Kruger titled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”

    In this paper, on of the authors’ conclusions is that most of us see ourselves as above the average, a good thing it seems, and that to be able to understand what we can’t do first we need to have enough skills in that area. In other words, we need to become experts to know that we are still beginners.

    I found the paper really interesting.

    • Savannah J. Foley December 2, 2010 at 10:14 AM #

      Thank you so much for the link! I will definitely be reading that today.

  23. numberwhun December 2, 2010 at 2:14 PM #

    Let me start by saying that this post is one of the more inspirational bloggings I have read in a while. I am not saying that it made me jump out of my skin wanting to write, write, write (that happens anyway), but it is definitely a return point for motivation.

    I have to completely agree with your point regarding NaNoWriMo not ‘saturating the market with bad material’. I have seen too many comments by WriMo haters stating that exact thing. NaNoWriMo is there to help motivate people and give them a goal to work for. Its incentive like that that keeps people writing and on track.

    Being a self-professed geek who loves helping people with their issues and problems, I loved the bit about helping the newer writers to the craft. Also being one of those newer writers, it makes me smile to know that there are people such as yourself willing to assist us ‘noob’s as you so eloquently put it, it getting to the goal which we aspire to.

    Over all, thank you so much for this post. I, for one, will certainly be revisiting it now and again.

  24. milhouse2011 October 4, 2011 at 6:28 PM #

    I’m relatively new to NaNoWriMo so I’m not familiar with the overall concept. I appreciate the theory of NaNoWriMo and why some writers may not like it. However, I believe that if NaNoWriMo was to liven things up by offering prizes it may have some more credibility among writers as opposed to people writing for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and giggles.


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