Pep Talk from Patrick Rothfuss

Hello there everybody,

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I should write here. Though I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for ages, I’ve only done it once before.

But this is supposed to be a pep talk, so I get the impression that I’m supposed to cheer you on. Inspire you. Encourage you keep NaNoWriMo-ing for all you’re worth.

So. You’re awesome. You know that, right? We’re all writers here. We’re awesome by definition.

Consider yourself cheered.

Now, I’m going to encourage you to break the rules.

I’m not talking about the little rules—grammar stuff like avoiding sentence fragments and ending sentences with prepositions. (Though I encourage breaking those rules, too.)

I’m not even talking about the bigger rules that pretty much everyone agrees on, like Write What You Know, Avoid Adverbs, and Don’t Use The Passive Voice. (Though I can take or leave those rules, as well.)

No. I’m going to encourage you to break the rules of NaNoWriMo itself.

I know what you’re supposed to do here. You’re supposed to start from scratch. Start a new novel and blaze a trail, always moving forward. And most importantly, never ever go back and revise.

And these aren’t bad rules. They encourage you to learn the one true rule of writing. The rule which is absolutely inviolate and true:

1. Yay, Verily. You Must Sit Down and Write.

1a. Thou shalt not go see a movie instead. Or watch reality TV. Thou shalt write. No. Stop. You don’t need to clean out the fridge right now. Neither dost thou need to sort the recycling. I’m not even kidding. Go and write.

1b. Thou shalt not just think about writing. Seriously. That is not writing. The worst unpublished novel of all-time is better than the brilliant idea you have in your head. Why? Because the worst novel ever is written down. That means it’s a book, while your idea is just an idle fancy. My dog used to dream about chasing rabbits; she didn’t write a novel about chasing rabbits. There is a difference.

1c. Thou shalt not read, either. I know it’s book-related, but it’s not actually writing. Yes, even if it’s a book about how to write. Yes, even if you’re doing research. You can research later. Sit. Down. Write.

NaNoWriMo’s rules are useful because they force you to attend to that one singular Platonic Truth, as outlined above.

That said, I’m going to encourage you to break those rules.

NaNoWriMo is great at teaching you to blaze a trail, but you can have too much of a good thing. I’ve known people who start from scratch every year because that’s part of the rules, and they’ve ended up with a string of half-finished, 50,000-word novels.

So I say unto you: You don’t have to start entirely from scratch. (But you can’t count previously written words in your word count. Obviously.)

NaNoWriMo says you shouldn’t go back and revise. But honestly, writing is all about revision. So if you realize you need to change something three chapters back, go and do it. Sure it means you aren’t constantly churning out words, but it makes your story better. Writing good stories is why we’re all here, right?

So I say unto you: Revise sometimes.

NaNoWriMo says that you shouldn’t switch between projects. When I did NaNoWriMo a couple years ago, I moved back and forth between my start-from-scratch project and the third book in my trilogy. Why? Because I had a brilliant idea for a scene in Book Three. Something that I was excited to write.

Why would I ignore that impulse? When you’re enthusiastic, the writing comes quick and easy. And do you think my editor cried any tears that I’d broken that particular rule? Do you think my readers were pissed? No. No they weren’t.

So I say unto you: Follow your enthusiasm.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I lost NaNoWriMo when I did all these things. I only wrote about 35,000 words. I did not get bragging rights, the special icon on my profile, or a cool T-shirt.

But I learned some things, and I improved my craft.

Is there a moral to this story? Not really. I’m just a contrary person by nature, and I like encouraging people to think about all their options.

As a writer, considering your options means thinking about what part of your craft you’re looking to improve. So if you’re the sort of writer who needs practice getting words down (like me), maybe the strict NaNoWriMo ruleset is for you. But then again, maybe not…

Either way, the most important thing is to get in there and do it. Sit. Down. Write.


P.S. If you’re curious about all the particular details of how I lost NaNoWriMo, I wrote a blog post about it here.

Read more author pep talks.