Pep Talks from Chris Baty (2008)

Dear National Novel Writing Month Author,

Hi there! NaNoWriMo Program Director Chris Baty here. Before we get rolling, I wanted to give you a quick guide to our upcoming five weeks of literary domination.

Here’s the plan:

Today: Make a tax-deductible donation to help us pay for National Novel Writing Month. So far, we’ve received donations from 3.4% of our participants, putting us 6.6% away from our goal. Chip in! Even $10 makes a big difference, and pays huge dividends in halos and noveling karma. We’re a nonprofit, and we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars readying this swashbuckling adventure for 110,000 adults and 15,000 kids and teens around the world. We need your support!

Tomorrow: Make sure you’ve set your time zone correctly (it’s under User Settings). Some word-count features appear and disappear at midnight on November 1 and November 30, so dialing those in now will save you stress later. Join a local region, and find out when and where the first novel-writing get-togethers (called “write-ins”) for your city or town will be held. Tune in to WrimoRadio, NaNoWriMo’s podcast, and learn how you can be on the November 3 episode.

October 31: Get the first pep talk email. You’ll receive about three of these a week—one from me and two from our panel of esteemed celebrity pep talkers—throughout November. Note: If you donate $50 or more today, you will receive six years of pep talks from me in a beautiful 80-page PDF, constituting about as much week-by-week NaNoWriMo advice and encouragement as any human being can handle without falling over.

November 1: At midnight, local time, start writing your book. You need to log 1667 words per day to stay on par. The site will be very slow for the first few days of the event, but with patience you can update your soaring word count in the box at the top of our site or on the “Edit Novel Info” page of your profile. Watch your stats graph fill. Send a link to your author profile to your friends so they can follow your progress. Revel in the majesty of your unfolding story. It’s November 1! You are an unstoppable novel-writing machine!

November 2: Stop writing. Wonder if you should start over. Keep going. Feel better.

November 3: The first November episode of WrimoRadio goes up on the site, beaming out overcaffeinated messages of hope from Wrimos worldwide. We’ll be podcasting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from here until December.

November 8: As the first full week of writing comes to a close, you will be at 11,666 words. This is more fiction than most people write in their lifetimes, and you did it in a week. Go, you! This is also Municipal Liaison Appreciation Day, a raucous international holiday that celebrates NaNoWriMo’s volunteer chapter-heads (the folks who organized the write-in you went to last week). Chocolate, flowers, and gifts of expensive electronics are appreciated.

November 13: Nothing really happens on November 13.

November 15: After the second week of writing, you will be at 25,000 words. This is the approximate length of such legendary works of fiction as Animal Farm, Death in Venice, and Gossip Girl: I Like it Like That. You’re halfway to winning! Attend a Midway Party in your town, or come to San Francisco, where the Night of Writing Dangerously Write-a-thon will set records for group noveling and candy consumption.

November 16: The second half of NaNoWriMo dawns. Writerly confidence builds. Your book comes to life, and characters start doing interesting, unexpected things. Nice. Weird.

November 22: After the third full week of writing, you stand at 35,000 words, the NaNoWriMo milestone universally recognized as The Place Where Everything Gets Much, Much Easier.

November 25: Novel validation and winning begins, and Word-Count Progress Bars turn from blue to green (over 50K) to purple (over 50k and a verified winner!). Check our FAQs for details on uploading your manuscript and winning. For the first time ever, a very limited number of 2008 Winner t-shirts will appear in the store. These will make you smile.

November 27: American Wrimos celebrate the true meaning of Thanksgiving by gathering together with friends and family, wolfing down a huge meal as quickly as possible, and then ditching those friends and family to hide in the bathroom with a laptop.

November 30: By midnight, local time, we will all be the proud owners of 50,000-word novels that we could barely imagine on October 31. Plan to attend your local NaNoWriMo Thank God It’s Over Party, where grins will abound, champagne will flow, fives will be highed, and wrists will be iced.

You did it. We all did it.

December 1: Sleep will fall heavily across NaNoLand, as 125,000 writers close the book on one crazy, oversized dream, and go off in search of the next.

We begin very soon, brave writer! I can’t wait to get started!


Dear Writer,

Howdy! NaNo Program Director Chris Baty here. Welcome to the 10th NaNoWriMo! It’s great to have you on board.

I’ll be sending you one of these emails each week from here until the end of the event. Between my emails, you’ll also get two encouraging missives from our panel of celebrity author pep talkers. This week, you’ll be hearing from Jonathan Stroud and Philip Pullman.

Okay. Enough chit-chat. It’s time to talk geodes.

Geodes, for the geologically disinclined, look like normal rocks on the outside. But when you cut them open, they’re filled with all sorts of wonders—bubbly layers of agate, sparkly crystals, elves.

As a kid, I was obsessed with geodes. The highlight of my year was a visit to Dick’s Rock Shop in Fountain, Colorado. The owner of the store, Richard Stearns, had a crate of dirty, unremarkable, tennis-ball-sized rocks in his Geode Bin. You’d spend an hour hunting through them until you’d picked out the perfect dirty, unremarkable rock.

Richard would then fire up his slab saw and cut the thing in half for you. The machine screamed and spit water to cool the blade, and it was messy and slow. Most of the time, Richard would lose a finger in the process.

That’s how I remember it anyway. The details are a little fuzzy after so many years.

When he was done, Richard would present you with both halves of your geode. They’d be wet, and sometimes you’d gaze down into a glittering concavity of purple or green. Other times, you’d cry because you’d stupidly picked one of the geodes where the all the crystals were caked with a calcified layer of elf spit.

As we head into NaNoWriMo, I’m reminded of the feeling I got standing in Dick’s Rock Shop, watching as that year’s mystery stone revealed whatever magic it possessed. After nine NaNoWriMo novels—most of which have trended more towards elf spit than gemstones—I still get an excited stomach-flutter at the start of November. I can’t help but feel giddy as I ponder questions like: Will this be the best novel I’ve ever written? And, secretly: Will this be the best novel ever written in the history of humankind?

Because it really could be.

Then the writing starts, and by the second sentence, two new questions have occurred to me. Namely: What am I doing? And: Could this be the worst novel ever written in the history of humankind?

And you know what? It really could be. But that’s fine. Trust me on this. Don’t waste your time measuring the success of your NaNo novel by the sparkle of your prose or the rock-solid genius of your plot. The books we write in November won’t start out like the novels we buy in bookstores. Because the novels we buy in bookstores didn’t start out like bookstore-novels either.

Nope. They started out as way-less beautiful, way-more exciting things called first drafts. These are the dinged-up cousins to final drafts, and they’re packed with crazy energy and laughable tangents and embarrassing instances where a main character’s name shifts six times over the course of a single chapter.

Creating this reckless, romantic, and potential-filled beast is the first step in writing a great book. It’s also a fantastic workout for your imagination, and monkey-barrels of fun. There’s a catch, though. Getting through a first draft will require you leave perfectionism and self-criticism at the door. Fear not: We’ll keep them both safe and return them to you in December.

But in November, you are beyond criticism. Because you are doing something that few people in the world have the guts to try—you’re packing a huge creative challenge into an already-hectic life. You’re juggling work and home; family and friends. With all of that going on, you’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo. Where you’ve spent the last few weeks hunting through the bin of possible novel ideas, trying to pick out the perfect one. Maybe you’ve got yours already. Or maybe you feel like you’re not quite ready.

You’re ready.

It’s November 1, writer.

What say we fire up the ol’ slab saw and find out what’s in there?


Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

I am writing with excellent news.

The high-speed noveling deities have seen fit to bless us with five whole weekends in November. This hasn’t happened since 2003, and the fact that we have three more weekends ahead of us pretty much guarantees that each and every one of us will coast to an easy NaNoWriMo victory. But even in cakewalk years like 2008 (ahem), it’s sometimes nice to have short-term goals. So here’s my idea: What if we all plan on getting at least 15,000 words by this Monday before we go to bed? That’s slightly behind pace, but if we can pull it off, we’ll levitate up into an important new stage of the noveling journey.

That stage is called Plot.

Week One of NaNoWriMo tends to be all about characters. Our imaginations have been leaving a lot of them on our doorsteps lately, and it’s pretty much all we can do to bring them in, give them names, and teach them the rudiments of steering their battle-yaks. Then our doorbell rings, and we’re rushing off to welcome another group of newcomers to the party.

Because of this, the first week of November is largely a matter of crowd control. I love this part of NaNo, because it’s hard to mess it up. This phase also contains one of the greatest moments of novel-writing—that point when characters first unstick themselves from the page and begin interacting with the world around them, revealing aspects of their lives and personalities we hadn’t known were there.

This is a sweet moment in the noveling adventure, but now it’s time to move on. Getting through the next week of NaNoWriMo will require we set our stories in motion by sending some winds of change howling through our characters’ lives. The sooner we do this, the better. If you’re stuck for story-launching ideas, consider borrowing from the menu of time-tested plot devices: deaths, firings, loves-at-first-sight, siege ladders quietly appearing against ramparts, disappearances, robberies, accidental wealth, plagues, road trips, illnesses, kidnappings, a shortage of gummi bears when there had appeared to be many gummi bears, mysterious letters, shocking discoveries, betrayal, and wiener dogs.

Any of these things will likely alter your characters’ lives forever, which is tough for them but a boon for your book. Still, getting up the nerve to foist these game-changing events onto people you just met is a little daunting. It’s easy to worry that you’ll blow your potential-filled opening with a lame plot that takes your novel in the wrong direction.

Happily, there are no wrong directions in NaNoWriMo. The only bad plot move you can make in the next week is lingering too long at your story’s crossroads, vacillating over the right path. Be bold. Plunge in.

And while you’re sprinting through the second stage of your novel, know that some winds of change will likely be blowing through your own life as well. Week Two tends to be when the novelty of NaNoWriMo wears off, and the difficulties of making so many tough decisions in such a short time period add up. Enthusiasm dwindles, fatigue rises, and we begin squinting at our manuscripts, thinking, “This derivative pile of crap is my literary statement to the world?”

Everything gets better soon, trust me. You remember that jolt you felt when your characters first spoke up? Keep writing, and it will happen again. But this time, it will be your whole book rising off the page, pulsing with electricity and life. Today’s tangents will become tomorrow’s arcs, and unforeseen connections will tie up your loose ends in a way that will make you want to slap your head and holler at your accidental brilliance.

So turn off spell-check. Leave those ungainly sentences on the page, and let your punctuation be imperfect. And whatever you do, don’t read your previous day’s entire output. The next seven days are all about moving forward. Let’s focus on hitting our daily word-count goals, and, before we know it, Week Two will be behind us, and the wonders of Week Three will begin.

See you on Monday at 15K!


Dear NaNoWriMo Participant,

In the last two weeks, we’ve traversed dark caverns, swung through treacherous ravines, and felt the cool breezes of hope blowing across our tired, keyboard-indented brows. And now we’ve arrived at Week Three. The beginning of the end. The moment when our struggle tips towards victory.

There are four things to keep in mind about Week Three:

1) Word-count-wise, the 20,000s are where the dread beasties of Week Two will make their final lunge for your kneecaps. Kick them off, and use all of your sprinting skills and word-count-bolstering tricks you’ve learned in the last two weeks to get to 30K. If you need to have your characters sing “American Pie” in its entirety or recite some of their favorite passages from telephone books, so be it. Also, if you are writing alone, stop that. Affiliate with your local NaNoWriMo region through your My NaNoWriMo page, and then start going to write-ins. If you don’t have a local NaNoWriMo group, sign in and join a Word War or three on the forums.

2) At 25K, we party. Yes, 25K falls squarely in the middle of the arid 20,000s, where vultures pick clean the bones of dawdling novelists. It may seem like a bad choice for a party location, but when you hit the halfway point of NaNoWriMo, celebration is a must. Our tech team of Russ and Sam had been working night and day on modifying your author profile to release a shower of confetti, doves, and 10,000-Euro notes when you cross the magic midway. Their work was almost completed when they were called away to fix a graph-line on someone’s word-count widget.

We’ll get the money and doves in place for next year. In the meantime, we’ll just put together our own celebrations. Think about taking yourself and your favorite cheerleader out for dinner. Splurge on a babysitter and spend a Saturday getting a massage, or buy yourself that gadget you’ve always wanted (and yes, cars count as gadgets). You’ve outwritten most of your fellow participants and you’re still going strong. Raise a glass to yourself at 25K, hero. You deserve it.

3) Know the end is near. If you are falling behind, and are thinking you might bow out and work on your novel when you’re less busy, think again. You still have plenty of time to do this. With 115,000 people tackling the same crazy challenge at the exact same time, we’ve temporarily bent the laws of motivational physics. There’s a special noveling window open now that will makes passage through your story easier now than it will be at any other time of year. Sadly, the window closes on December 1. If you’re absolutely, positively sure you can’t make it to 50K, reset your goal to 25K, and write towards it with everything you’ve got. Your adventure is not over. Your story awaits.

For those of you who are on track with your word counts, Week Three is when you should start thinking about how you’re going to get a complete arc written by December 1. If the end of your book still feels light years away, think about abbreviating scenes, omitting chapters, and jumping ahead to the middle-end and end-end of your story. It’s much, much easier to go back in December and flesh out the connecting bits you skipped than it is to write an entire ending.

4) Short-term goals make all of this goal-reaching and arc-building less daunting. In the last email we went after 15K by Monday the 10th. This time, let’s do 30K by the time we go to bed on Wednesday the 19th. At that point, we’ll be out of the beastie-filled 20s, and into a great new place. It’s called the homestretch, and I think you’re going to love it.

You can do it, writer!


Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

Between my apartment and the Office of Letters and Light, there is a monster of a hill. I bike to work, and I always take a long route that steers me safely around the behemoth. I do this because I have the calf muscles of a goldfish, and because I’ve developed an aversion to feeling like I’m going to die first thing in the morning.

But yesterday, I summoned all my courage and headed up the mountain. My word count was—and still is—stuck in the low 30,000s, and I wanted to ride the hill to remind myself what the 40,000s in NaNoWriMo felt like. After struggling through an ordeal in which my lungs felt like twin meat-logs roasting on gyro spits, and my heart beat so fast that I feared it was going to try and make an emergency exit through my nose, I reached the top.

A day later, I’m still buzzing, and feeling more alive than I have in months. With biking, as with most forms of exercise, the best part truly comes when the ride is through. The ascent can feel miserable, but once you’ve made it to the top, you get that enduring glow of having pitted yourself against something bigger than yourself and triumphed.

If you’ve already crossed NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word line, you know that feeling of triumph intimately. As for the rest of us…In just one week, the sun will be setting on this year’s NaNoWriMo. As the light of the contest starts to dim in the final days, we will likely still be out on that hill, still struggling towards 50K.

This is good. Very good. Because, as humans, we come into our own in these do-or-die moments. Deadlines mint miracles every time. Want proof? Think of all the papers we’ve written at 2 AM. All the projects that have been nowhere-near presentable that we’ve salvaged at the zero hour. Having a life as busy as yours means you have to leave some big undertakings till the very last minute; it’s just how things get done.

But now NaNoWriMo’s last minute has arrived. The world needs your book. It’s time to make your move.

Happily, the summit of NaNoWriMo may be closer than you realize. The threshold for winning is 50K, but the climb towards it changes markedly at 35,000 words. This is the point when you’ve written enough of your novel that the course tilts downhill again, and you begin sailing towards the finish line.

Gravity is a wonderful thing. But even something as strong as gravity needs your help. When you finish reading this email, write 250 words. When you have a spare moment at work or school, write 250 words. While your morning coffee is brewing….you get the idea. No session is too short, and every page you write gets you one step closer to a literary achievement that will be a source of pride for years to come.

National Novel Writing Month Winner, 2008.

That’s you.

That’s totally you. Just one more climb and you’re there.

Have an adventuresome final week, writer. I’ll see you in the winner’s circle.

30,019 words

Wow. We had a feeling this year’s NaNo was going to be big. We just didn’t realize it would be this big.

NaNoWriMo 2008 not only marked our largest turnout ever, we also had the highest percentage of winners we’ve seen since the year 2000, when I knew almost all 140 participants personally. Please drop by our blog and help us puzzle out the whys of this year’s winning ways (or celebrate it with a Winner’s shirt from our store!). Whatever magical forces were afoot this year, we collectively managed to write 1.6 billion words, demolishing last year’s count by nearly 500,000,000 words.

With so much fiction produced, you might mistake National Novel Writing Month for a novel writing event. But we actually have a sneaky secondary mission that extends beyond books…and into your career.

(If you’re still in school, please print this email out, seal it in an envelope, and read it on your first day at work.)

Okay. Jobs. Having a job is one of the greatest, trickiest things you can do as an adult. Employment brings perks like challenges and growth and (sometimes) money. But the longer you work at a job, the easier it is to confuse what you are doing with what you can do.

This is true whether you’re a dental hygienist, a stay-at-home parent, or Sirkka-Liisa Anttila, the Forestry Minister of Finland. Because careers tend to be all about specialization. Human beings, on the other hand, contain multitudes. Each of us has a wealth of talents spread broadly over domains both marketable and deliciously impractical. The tricky part is that we tend to develop the former at the expense of the latter. Passions become hobbies. Hobbies become something we swear we’ll get back to when we have more time. Or when the kids are grown. Or when the stock market recovers.

Which means we leave unexplored many of those paths that ultimately make us feel most alive—the moments of creating, building, playing, and doing that lead to extraordinary and unexpected things.

Like writing a book.

Or, more loosely, postponing the must-dos of the real world to spend 30 days exploring an attractive, improbable dream.

Giving ourselves that time is so important. Because the world can wait. It’s what the world does best, in fact. It was hanging out for 4.5 billion years before we arrived, and it’ll be waiting around for another few billion after we’re gone.

Our dreams, however, have much shorter shelf-lives.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running NaNoWriMo, it’s this: Whatever you think you are, you are more than that. You possess a fearsome array of skills and abilities, and the most satisfying of these may be completely unknown to you now. Your curiosity is a dependable guide; follow it. Put yourself in unfamiliar places. Kindle passions. Savor the raw joy of making things, and then remake the best of those things until they take someone’s breath away. Wrestle bears.

Actually, skip the bear-wrestling.

But do keep trying big things, okay? Sometimes we can wait so long for a clear sign that it’s time to begin, that the opportunity sails right past us.

Life is so short. Adventures beckon. Let’s get packed and head out on a new one today.

I think it’s time.


Dear NaNoWriMo author,

We have many exciting NaNoWriMo wrap-up items to share!

In my last email, I encouraged all of us to find an exciting new adventure to undertake in 2009. To help with that, I’m happy to announce the launch of the Office of Letters and Light’s third-annual Year of Big, Fun, Scary Adventures challenge. You can read all the details in the Big, Fun, Scary Adventure forum on the NaNo site. The quick overview: We each pick an adventure, declare it to the world, check in with our progress throughout the year, ultimately pull it off, and then get a winner’s certificate. It’s like NaNoWriMo, but open to other forms of madness, and you have a year to do it. What will you tackle in 2009? Let us know in the BFS forum! (And if you took part in BFS in 2008 and reached your goal, there’s a certificate waiting for you.)

A huge hug to our donors, Write-a-thon attendees, Wrimos who got sponsored by friends and families, GoodSearchers, musical maestros who recorded albums for us, and everyone who sent heaps of encouragement, love, and boxes of wildly addictive Tim Tams (Australia: you are luckier than you know to have access to these life-saving biscuits). These are tough economic times for everyone, and we can’t tell you how much we appreciate you donating your precious cash and time to NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program. Big ups as well to our fantastic corporate sponsors, CreateSpace, Writer’s Digest, MobaMingle, AlphaSmart,, and

The Office of Letters and Light will be closed for the holidays, which means our Shipper Captain Bradford will be off eating ham and drinking nog starting at 3 pm (Pacific) Friday the 19th until Tuesday, January 6. You can still place orders during that time, but only items ordered before 3 PM (Pacific) on Friday the 19th will be shipped out in 2008. Also, if you write to us over that period, you probably won’t hear back until January 6. This is not because we don’t love you. It’s because we are asleep.

This year’s three great NaNoWriMo tees (the brown 10th Anniversary tee, the super-limited-edition 2008 Winner’s shirt, and the YWP “I Eat Novels For Breakfast” tee) are all on the verge of selling out, and we won’t be printing any more. If you’d like one of this year’s shirts for you or a friend, grab it now! To everyone who has bought one: Thanks for supporting our programs through your fashion excellence.

These next two weeks are also your last chance to get NaNo 2008 donor thank-you gifts (including six years of pep talks from yours truly). Any good souls who donate fom January 1 onward will be halo’d and receive a completely different set of to-be-determined donor goodies when the NaNoWriMo and Young Writers Program sites relaunch on October 1, 2009.

Speaking of donations (and this is my final harassment of 2008, I promise): If you are one of the 113,000 NaNoWriMo participants who had a great time this year, but haven’t quite made it to the Donation Station yet, please stop by and toss something in the kitty! We have a long list of event improvements we’d love to make for 2009. With your help, we will!

If you won NaNoWriMo this year, CreateSpace has something special for you. You can find out more on the I Wrote A Novel, Now What? page. Just be sure to sign in to the site before going to the page so you can see your magic code. The offer expires June 1, 2009. And when you get your free proof copy, drop us a line and let us know how you like it! We’d love to know if this is the kind of thing we should do again.

We have a post-event survey we’re going to be sending out to the NaNo world at large in early January about this year’s event. It’s the greatest survey ever, with lots of personal and probing questions. Keep your eyeballs peeled for it!

That’s it from us in 2008! Thanks again for being such a great part of this history-making NaNoWriMo. We’ll see you around the NaNo site, and over at Script Frenzy!

Wishing you a nap-filled and chocolate-dipped holiday season,


Read more author pep talks.