Pep Talk from Audrey Niffenegger

Dear Novelist,

I am sitting at my desk, staring at my computer screen, contemplating National Novel Writing Month with admiration and horror. Admiration for those of you who threw yourselves into writing your novels with furious devotion and a passionate determination to write 1666.66 words per day, and horror at the thought of doing this myself.

I’m a very slow writer. Slow works for me. I have all the bad habits my fellow writers warn you not to fall into: I procrastinate. I write a bit and wander off to think it over and come back two weeks later. I have no schedule, no regular habits, no fetishes, no daily word quota. I incubate ideas for years and once I start to work on them I can spend more years happily researching esoteric bits and bobs that may not even end up in the novel. I am terribly caffeine dependent. I edit while I write.

Surely you don’t do any of that stuff, or you’d be doomed to slowness and would not excel at this National Novel Writing Month thing. My first novel took me four and a half years to write; the second took seven years, though that was because I fell so in love with the research (I was working as a volunteer tour guide at Highgate Cemetery in London) that I had a hard time stopping so I could finish the book. I once spent fourteen years working on a graphic novel.

Why do I let this happen? Because it’s fun. Now that you have created your fictional people and the world they live in, you have probably discovered that they are terrific company and that they are all living in your brain. Suddenly you have a party in your head (a la that old Talking Heads song) and it is hard to make that party happen any faster than it wants to happen. And when the party is finally over, you will feel bereft and alone. So why not slow down and have the maximum experience?

I once studied painting with Ed Paschke, who invited me and my classmates to visit his studio. He was working on six paintings simultaneously. We asked him why, and he replied that he could finish one painting a week or six paintings in six weeks. He preferred to take longer because more things might happen to him in those six weeks, he might have more ideas about any one of the six paintings. He liked to take it slow.

National Novel Writing Month was a chance to jolt your story onto the page, to use the magic of a deadline to whap out your novel. Now that it is December, I hope you will kick back, have a cup of coffee, reread your 50,000 words, ponder a bit, and then… go for a walk. And on that walk I hope your novel will unclench itself in your brain and let you begin the long, slow, delightful work of rewriting it.

With very best wishes for the health of your novel,

Audrey Niffenegger

Read more author pep talks.