Pep Talk from Rachael Herron

Dear Writer,

I’m so pleased you asked how you should prepare for NaNoWriMo, because number one, man, you’re on the ball, and number two, do I have the right answers for you. Ready for them? Read on, my friends.

It’s October. November yawns before you like a drowsy man on a fifteen-hour flight. This is what you should totally do with this last remaining free time: squeeze every moment out of this month that you can. Plan away. Write yourself detailed notes. Come up with names and eye colors. Even better, come up with plot! Do you like dragons and sword fights? Plan a beastly smackdown! Put on some music and move the coffee table—practice tangoing with the fictional woman of your dreams, and make notes of how many steps it takes before she swoons. Figure out the beginning, the middle, and the end of your masterpiece, nailing down the turning points and the black moment.

Oh, and while you’re doing that: get your supplies together! Walk up and down the paper aisles. Touch everything. Feel every different weight of paper, and try all the pens. If the clerk gives you a dirty look while you’re test-driving the Sharpies, sign a Post-it with a flourish and pass it over, promising him great wealth someday if he keeps the signature safe. And then buy some of those Post-its, all sizes, all colors! There will not be enough Post-its come November, so stock up now.

Soon you’ll be feeling completely ready, in control of your plot and of your writing destiny. And it’s a great feeling, to know exactly how November will play out under your pen.

At least, I assume this is what people do to prepare. I wouldn’t know. It’s sure as heck not what I did.

I’d heard about NaNoWriMo, sure. And I’d thought, I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy. But NaNo-fever is highly contagious, and the more I considered the idea, the more indignant I became. I could do that. I could totally do that. What? You’re telling me it’s not a good idea? I’m TOTALLY going to do it, then.

This is how I found myself on the night of October 31st, 2006: sitting in my office chair, staring into space. Hmmm. I was (suddenly and without warning) going to start writing a novel the next day. I’d started novels before, of course. But this was different. This was going to be fast. And bad! But who cared about quality, because by Jove, I was going to finish this! I’d never finished a novel before, no matter how hard I’d tried, but this was going to be different.

So I asked myself: what do I love? I couldn’t devote a month of insanity to something I merely liked. I was smart enough—thank god—in that moment to understand that passion would carry me through if nothing else would. And I knew I loved two things: romance and knitting. Okay then. It would be about a knitter. So who could I pit against a crazed knitter in a race for love? A hot sheep rancher. Okay. That would do.

That’s literally all I had on the morning on November 1st. A knitter, a hot sheep rancher, an idea that alpacas were cool and I should write about them, and a stack of pink index cards which I thought might come in handy (but never did—it turns out I’m more of a Post-it girl).

I wrote 1668 words that day. And jeebus, what a rush! I’d always gone into writing with a plan, with a map in my hand, so to get behind the wheel and just drive was exhilarating. And it was completely terrifying. I didn’t get over my offroad terror during those thirty days, I have to admit. Every day I white-knuckled it, and on November 30th, I wrote my 50,006th word. The words The and End were two of those. After a few months of lying in dark rooms recovering, I picked it back up and gave it a real ending. That book became my first published novel (How to Knit a Love Song). This year I release the second and third novels in the series, and my memoir just came out from Chronicle Books (A Life in Stitches). And just this month, going through my second draft of novel number four, I slashed forty thousand words from the final product, because I’ve learned that my ideal method really is white-knuckling it all the way to the end and then cutting the awful words later, letting the good ones shine through.

I would never have known any of this if I’d started with a plan. To start with a good intention is, my friends, enough. Although enjoy the stationery aisle. For sure. A good pen is a thing of joy and a Post-it is (almost) forever.

Hoping the ink in your favorite pen never runs dry,

Rachael

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