Pep Talk from Stephanie Perkins

Dear Novelist,

I’ve been trying to write this pep talk to you for the last two weeks. I’ve thrown out three drafts. I feel embarrassed, sad, frustrated, and… a little confused.

I love National Novel Writing Month. I’ve spoken passionately about it in the past, and I’ll continue to speak passionately whenever I’m asked about it in the future. So why has this pep talk—this letter to you—been so difficult for me to write?

Sometimes the things that matter the most to us are the hardest things to actually do. Sometimes they matter so much that we never do them, because our fear of failure is stronger than our fear of not even trying.

You are still trying.

I am so proud of you.

Before NaNoWriMo, I’d never finished a draft of a novel. I’d worked for seven years on an idea, and I only had seventy pages to show for it. My fear was growing. I was beginning to believe that I didn’t have the discipline necessary to become an author, and it was devastating.

I used to pooh-pooh NaNoWriMo: “How could anyone write good novel in a month?”

But I was missing the point. It isn’t about writing a good novel. It’s about writing a novel. It’s about finishing what you’ve started—a lesson I certainly still needed to learn. I signed up out of desperation. If I couldn’t write something with a beginning, middle, and end before December, I’d stop trying. I let go of my fear of writing a bad novel and used that pent-up energy to fuel the act of writing itself.

Here’s what I want you to know: The kindest thing you can do for yourself right now is to let go of this fear. Don’t worry about writing something bad. Just write.

There will be a time when your journey grows tough. The idea that seemed so shiny and cool in your head… doesn’t seem so shiny and cool on the page. It’s not quite what you had in mind. The rush and thrill of the adventure is fading, and reality—the time and work it’ll take to reach those 50,000 words—is sinking in. Your friends, family, and coworkers are tired of hearing you talk about it. Perhaps you’re even regretting that you told them at all, because now they’re all about to watch you fail.

Well… don’t. Don’t fail.

Keep writing until you reach the end. If you get stuck, take your protagonist down a different path. This isn’t the draft that you’re going to publish. This is the draft that will help you figure out what story you’re really trying to tell.

Novels aren’t written by muses who come down through the ceiling and shoot magic through your fingers and out onto your laptop’s keyboard. Before NaNoWriMo, some teensy part of me still believed that because writing is a creative act, it should feel easy. But fairies don’t write novels. They’re written with one simple equation:

Time + Work = Novel

I hadn’t had much success before NaNoWriMo, because I hadn’t been putting in enough time or work. In addition, my experience of writing 50,000 words in a month proved that big, lofty, crazy-sounding goals can be achieved, which showed me that even bigger goals—say, turning a bad novel into a great one—can also be achieved.

All three of my published novels have started with a NaNoWriMo draft. It’s one of the few things that I can definitively point to and say, “This. This changed everything.”

Writing this letter was difficult, because this month means a lot to me. Just like it means a lot to you. That’s why this feels hard. It matters. And how beautiful is that?

Keep writing,

Stephanie Perkins

Read more author pep talks.