Pep Talk from Kelley Armstrong

Dear Fellow NaNo Writer,

So it’s all over. How’d you do? If you hit 50,000 words, congratulations! If you didn’t, and you gave it your best shot, congratulations! Whether you achieved the word count goal or not, you now have a brand new story. So what do you think of it?

When you reflect back on what you’ve written, you may be thrilled. You may be amazed at what you’ve produced. Or you may not… You may be disappointed. You may even feel like you’ve just wasted a month and an awesome idea. You haven’t. Trust me. I’ve been there.

I first did NaNo in 2005. I’d been hearing about it for years. By then, I was already published myself, but I thought it would be a great exercise for members of the online writing community I host on my message board. To truly support and encourage members, though, I needed to take the challenge alongside them. And I knew exactly what I wanted to write—the first draft of an idea I’d been toying with for years, that of a young adult story set in my Otherworld universe.

So I wrote that novel, called The Summoning, and this summer, The Summoning was released and made it onto the New York Times children’s best seller list. And that sounds so much more impressive if I don’t point out that the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo is not the same version that was published.

What NaNoWriMo gave me was a quick and dirty first draft, and by the end of it, I could see that my book had some good stuff…and it had some serious problems and missed opportunities. So I put it aside for a rest period and pondered how to fix it while I worked on my next contracted novel. The manuscript underwent significant revising, reworking and, yes, rewriting, before I let my agent take it to market.

If a multi-published author can’t expect to turn out a publishable first draft during NaNoWriMo, then neither should you. Of course, you could—some people do—but what NaNoWriMo has given you is at least two things you didn’t have on November 1.

The first reward will vary. Maybe you have a first draft you can work on. Or maybe you’ve realized that your idea wasn’t as novel-worthy as you thought. Or maybe, in the course of writing this book, you got an idea for another.

The last two may not seem as rewarding as the first, but they’re equally important. If you’ve been writing for a while, you probably have stories you’ve labored on for months, even years, before realizing the idea wasn’t novel-worthy. To hit that realization in a month frees you up to start something new without lamenting all the time you put into a story that didn’t work.

The second reward is one that every NaNoWriMo participant gets: one full month of writing practice. It’s a rare writer who publishes the first book they wrote—I didn’t—so practice is invaluable. And whether you dream of getting published or not, you have just spent a month discovering and exploring the joys of storytelling.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I did hit 50,000 words this year. I just barely squeaked by with a win on Saturday, though. I can blame my near-miss on a month of book-touring and unexpectedly early edits, but I’m a full-time writer, so I really have no excuse for not hitting 50,000 words. For all of you who reached the goal words despite school or work or kids, I bow to you.

I’ll let you get back to your post-NaNo rest, right after I wish you good luck with your manuscript—this one or the next one. Because, even if you aren’t planning to edit this one, there will be a next one, right? I hope so. The world always needs more storytellers.


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