I want to start by saying how proud I am of all of you who are attempting NaNoWriMo. I’ve done NaNo before, and I know how hard it is to plan and write an entire story in one month. I remember the struggle, and I still remember the lessons that I learned during the process. Because I know that many of you might be hitting the wall, I’d like to share some inspiration that might help you soldier through.
The thing that frustrated me the most when I started drafting was how blah the writing was. It was hard enough to get the words down, and once I did, I was completely underwhelmed by them. Then I stumbled across this quote by Shannon Hale that’s been making the rounds:
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.
Yes. Yes! By all that is holy, YES! This is what we do. We shovel words onto paper, as fast as we can, knowing—even expecting—them to be fairly crappy. Don’t worry about correct word choice, proper grammar, or flair. Just get the words down. That’s what you’re aiming for this month.
And that ties in to my second mantra, stolen from Dean Wesley Smith:
Dare to be bad
I’m a little weird in that drafting is the most difficult part of the process for me. Every day when I sit down to write, it takes forever to get going. For me—and for a lot of writers, I’ve learned—it all comes down to fear. Fear of starting in the wrong place, of wasting time, of going through all this effort and the story not being any good—all of this stymies the writing. It wasn’t until I read Dean’s advice that I freed myself up to write badly. I realized that the only writers who do get it right the first time around are the ones who’ve been doing it for years and have written roughly a gajillion words. I’m not there yet. But I will be, if I keep writing. And so will you. So when you’re struggling through that first draft and you’re afraid that it totally sucks, don’t worry. Dare to be bad, and just finish the story. You’ll have plenty of time to pretty it up later. That’s what the revision process is for.
And that leads to a favorite quote—this one from Kristen Lamb—that we all need to remember from time to time:
When I started my NaNo, I aimed for the standard goal of 50,000 words. It became clear very quickly that I wasn’t going to make it. Wasn’t even going to come close. I had to revise my goal, and I ended up with 30,000 words— barely a third of my novel. At first I was disappointed that I had achieved so little. But then I realized, No. I had planned and outlined an entire novel. Wrote the first third of it with a preschooler underfoot. Wrote 30,000 words that I wouldn’t have had under my belt if I hadn’t tried. Mastered some new techniques that are getting me closer to being able to write those solid first drafts. I had to redefine my notions of success and failure to appreciate all that I’d accomplished in just thirty days.
And that’s my hope for each of you: Get the words down on paper. Don’t worry about the quality. And realize that what you’re doing is A-MAZING. This month is about more than just finishing a book. It’s also about the writing, whether that’s 5000 words or 50,000. With every word you write, you learn. As you learn, you improve. And as you improve, the process gets easier.
You’re doing great! Keep up the good work!
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.