Pep Talks from Chris Baty (2009)

Dear Author,

Is it November 1 already? Holy cow.

This is my 11th NaNoWriMo, and I feel as excited today as I did for my first NaNo back in 1999. One of the reasons for my giddiness is that we recently moved the NaNoWriMo and Young Writers Program sites to a cutting-edge, virtual server set-up known as “cloud computing.”

I have no idea what “cloud computing” is. Every time our Tech Manager Dan tries to explain it, I get a little more confused. From what I’ve been able to glean, NaNoWriMo’s websites exist entirely in the imagination of an astronaut in Belarus, and we log into the sites through his forehead.

I just ran this by Dan and he said it wasn’t technically accurate. But wherever our mysterious server cloud is located, it’s been giving us great new insights into our participants. The cloud tells us which web browsers people are using, and how long Wrimos spend on each page of the site. It also has the telepathic, possibly illegal ability to tell us what our participants are thinking at all times.

This is why I’m writing you today.

Last night, the cloud mentioned that you were having some mixed feelings about the month ahead. Is this true? It said you were excited by the challenge, but worried that adding a 50,000-word novel to your to-do list for November may end up doing some bad things to your sanity. It also said that you were concerned that your novel might set new records for suckitude.

I apologize if the cloud was talking about another participant—its non-binary language skills are rudimentary at best. But just in case the cloud was talking about you, I wanted to reach out with a couple quick reassurances before we start writing.

1) Your novel will not be as bad as you fear. In fact, by November 30 you will have amassed tens of thousands of words of very solid prose. You will come up with things that make you laugh so hard you have to wipe off the keyboard afterwards, and passages so moving that you will cry as you write them. Your plot will unexpectedly give birth to fantastic subplots, characters will reveal surprising and juicy things about themselves, and you’ll have some moments during NaNoWriMo that will rank among the most satisfying and happy-making of your life.

You will also, however, write some flagrantly nonsensical chapters, create pages and pages of dialogue that make you cry (in a bad way), and endure a few shameful days where the only thing keeping your word-count afloat is the fact that your protagonist has a habit of reading the dictionary aloud whenever she gets nervous. And she’s always nervous.

This is totally fine. All the books we’ve loved started out in a similarly imperfect form. They’re called rough drafts for a reason. No one gets a novel totally right on the first pass. This is true whether you give yourself a month or a lifetime to write the first draft. There’s an adage in noveling that you can revise a bad first draft into a great book. But you can’t revise a blank page into anything but a blank page. Take this to heart during NaNoWriMo. In November, all words are good words.

2) You deserve some fun. We get so focused on doing the things that pay the bills that we sometimes neglect to do the things that make us feel truly alive. You have a world of people depending on you—family, friends, co-workers, bosses, teachers. Taking care of everyone’s needs while still finding time to buy groceries and bathe every couple days can be a feat. Unfortunately, this means that activities like writing and art and music tend to disappear into the margins of our lives.

Think of November as an all-expenses-paid, 30-day vacation to novel-land. It’s a place where you can whoop and holler and dance the crazy dance. A place where you can conjure new worlds, dream oversized dreams, and explore the wilds of your imagination. For one month, you get to orient your life around your creative spark, rather than vice versa.

Which brings us back to November 1. Today, over 100,000 people are heading out to find that spark. It’s going to be a great, unforgettable month. The cloud wishes you well! And all of us here on staff wish you well, too.

The world needs your new novel, author.

It’s time to go get it written.


Dear Author,

Hey there! It’s Chris Baty again, and hoo, boy, have I been watching some television. Do you know this show Battlestar Galactica? I’ve just started in on the first season, and I am shocked by how much stuff the show’s writers borrowed from NaNoWriMo.

For instance, Battlestar Galactica centers on a group of humans stranded in space after their worlds have been destroyed by their enemies. NaNoWriMo takes place in the space of November. In Battlestar Galactica, people are hunted by shape-shifting robots who sometimes wear red dresses. In NaNoWriMo, participants sometimes hunt for the, uh, red address bar, where…um.

Shoot. Okay, so the similarities break down a little bit at the granular level. But there is one irrefutable nod to NaNoWriMo in the show that many veteran NaNo participants likely noticed right away. The crew on BG use mysterious technology to “jump” from one galaxy to the next, folding time and space to cross vast distances in the blink of an eye.

This was obviously inspired by NaNoWriMo’s two famous wormholes, which fling writers forward (in a good way) when they hit 25,000 and 35,000 words. At these magical tipping points, normal rules of NaNoWriMo physics no longer apply. Forward writerly motion becomes easier, fitful stories take off, and word-counts begin accelerating towards warp speeds.

Our mission this week is to heave ourselves up to the precipice of the 25,000-word wormhole. From where I am now, that feels woefully far away. In reading through the forums, I see I’m not alone. Our non-noveling lives have turned hectic, we’re facing tough decisions about what to do with our characters, and we’re grumpy from lack of sleep. I am also—for the third year running—facing the very real possibility that my protagonists might literally bore me to death.

To help get us through Week Two and on to the exciting worlds beyond, I have a few tips I’d like to share.

1) Write every day. Even if you just knock out 75 words before collapsing into bed, those 75 words will keep you connected you to your story in essential ways, and make diving back into your book much easier.

2) For now, stop thinking about 50K. Just sprint thousands. Visualize each writing session as a tall staircase made up of 1000 steps. You are part ninja, part monkey, and part stairmaster cyborg. You were born to fly up those steps. Bash out 250 words, and you’ve made it halfway to 500. Keep going for another ten minutes, and you’re past 500 and within striking distance of 750. Once you hit 750, you could sneeze out enough words to get to the top! After each thousand, be sure to take a quick break and celebrate. Then fire up that monkey spirit and go run another thousand.

3) Remember that your book is important. I didn’t say this in the Week One pep talk because we’d only just met and there’s really only so much cornball sentiment from a random guy on the internet that anyone should have to tolerate in one month. But here’s the truth: You have a book in you that only you can write. Your story matters. Your voice matters. The world will be richer for you seeing this crazy creative escapade through to 50,000 words.

This may be hard to believe given the craptastic state that many of our manuscripts are in. But there are great, unexpected things ahead for you in Weeks Three and Four. And there is someone out there who has been waiting their whole life to read the book you’re writing now.

So don’t slow down. Don’t give up. We’ll be at the first tipping point soon!


Dear Writer,

We’re closing in on the final lap of NaNoWriMo. Just one weekend left! From my perusal of the NaNoWriMo forums, it looks like we’ve now split into three groups.

Group One: The Superheroes. You put in your 1667 per day, and your word-count graph has grown tall and mighty like a redwood forest. You’re currently sprinting through the 40,000s, and you’ll win handily. You’re the NaNoWriMo equivalent of an ultra-marathonner, and your discipline puts you in the top 3% of Wrimos everywhere.

Group Two: The Come-Back Kids. You are part of the vast middle. You’re still bushwhacking through the 20,000s or making the trek through the 30,000s. It’s going to take some work, and you’ll probably validate your novel at the very last minute, but victory is still in sight. Update your time zone (under user settings) so the Validator is there when you need it, and keep on trucking.

Group Three: The Go On Without Me’s. For you, November turned out to be a very bad month to try and write a novel. Life went completely crazycakes, and you faced a never-ending series of demanding work or school projects, health emergencies, social obligations, and/or tech meltdowns. You managed to get a few good ideas down on paper, but never quite found your novel’s rhythm. You’re thinking of bowing out, and planning on giving it a try next year.

If you’re a Superhero, I offer you the highest of high-fives. The word-count Validator is now live under Edit Novel Info, and it’s eager for you to come paste a scrambled version of your 50,000-word (or longer!) manuscript into its maw and hit the Submit button. Your purple winner bar, winner’s certificate, and other goodies await.

To the Come-Back-Kids: I am so with you. I somehow fall 10,000 words behind pace every year. I also win every year, and you can too. Easy-peasy. Our path to victory lies in huge word-count days. The sooner you knock out your first 5,000-word day, the happier you and your book will be. Don’t wait until the last minute! To help get some momentum, allow yourself to write the juiciest, word-filled climactic scenes still to come in your book, even if it requires some skipping ahead. Start writing as soon as you finish this email.

For the Go On Without Me’s: This is going to sound really weird, but you’re in the best shape of all three groups. You’re off the map, but that’s the point of this escapade. NaNoWriMo is to there to put you in such an impossible situation that you can stop worrying about perfection and achievement and just savor the thrill that comes with making and doing. Think of the remaining days in NaNoWriMo as an anything-goes creative retreat. You sacrificed your novel to the world around you this month, and the world around you appreciated it. But you now get some time for you. You may not write 50,000 words, but you still have plenty of time to create something smaller and equally wonderful. Return to the page—there’s still a beautiful adventure waiting for you.

To everyone: Have a great final lap of NaNoWriMo. Write like the wind! We’re almost home.

Warm noveling regards,

30,001 words

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