2 Days to NaNoWriMo: Quit While You’re Ahead

The best books start here.

Tag: On Writing

Going into NaNoWriMo, the temptation will be to write as much as you possibly can each day. It makes sense, right? You’re trying to write as many words as quickly as possible, so if you’ve got more fuel in the tank once you’ve hit your daily goal of 1,000 or 2,000 words, why not use it? Get down as many words and as much of the story so that you can meet your ultimate goal.

I am here to tell you not to do that. My advice—and the advice of many, many writers with more skill and wisdom than me—set a target number of words, write until you reach that goal, and then stop. Some stop mid-sentence (see Graham Greene, who stopped at 800 words exactly); others stop in the vicinity of their target, … [more]

Some of you may have written an outline of the novel you will be writing. Some will have sketched out only the barest minimum—starts here; something happens over there; this thing takes place; somehow it all wraps up. Many of you will have no outline at all, but only a premise, a sense of some characters, a handful of scenes, and—if you’re lucky—an insistent voice dictating the telling of a story.

Outliners start with some gas in the tank, but for those of you who write without a certain idea of where you are going, starting can be gulp-inducing. Happily, NaNoWriMo is almost tailor-made for seat-of-the-pants writers. Plunging ahead is a great way to blaze a trail through the dark of an unknown story. Your trail may ultimately turn out to have wrong turns and … [more]

You’ve heard this piece of wisdom a thousand times, from your toddler days right up to this present moment: Many baby steps add up to one giant leap. And you know this, know it down deep, where you don’t even really have to think about it anymore because, duh, it’s so obvious.

But it is precisely that quality of obviousness—that sense of this idea being shopworn and past its prime and thus in a way somehow beneath notice—that requires it be brought up now. Writing a book is all about baby steps. About putting one foot in front of the other again and again, tirelessly, ceaselessly, until thirty days from starting, you discover you’ve written an entire novel.

And that’s part of the genius of NaNoWriMo: It forces you to split the gargantuan task of … [more]

(Samuel Auster, 1940s; The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster)

Believing that your voice and story matter can be difficult.

No more so than when you are facing an empty page, a blank screen, a yawning expectation that whatever you compose must justify everything: The time you’ve spent away from loved ones, from work, from sleep; the investment you’re asking readers to make in your world and your characters; the cash you’ve spent on your computer, your fountain pen, your bespoke composition costume, on your Word/Scrivener/Final App/what-have-you program, on classes and how-to books and on and on. To prove that you are not a monster of ego, but that you have something to say that the world may enjoy hearing. (The world may well need to hear what you have to say, but that’s … [more]

T-minus 7 days

“I can’t imagine anyone becoming a writer who wasn’t a voracious reader as an adolescent.”

—Paul Auster, The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. IV

Writers read.

I mean, of course. In order to write well, you need to read well, and in order to read well, you must read. A lot.

“You should read the entire canon of literature that precedes you, back to the Greeks, up to the current issue of The Paris Review,” William Kennedy said in The New York Times back in 1990. But that seems a pretty tall order while dashing out a first draft during a one-month marathon. Maybe we can just agree that you shouldn’t skimp on reading while you’re writing your novel.

Why? Because reading refills the well. It replenishes you. Reading primes your brain with words, sure—but … [more]

T-minus 7 days
T-minus 8 days until you catch lightning in a bottle.

“I write when the spirit moves me. And the spirit moves me every day.”

—William Faulkner

Mason Currey has assembled an invaluable little book called Daily Rituals, and it is required reading for process obsessives. The whole organizing conceit behind it is the one heading this blog post: namely, that ritualized work processes free us up to do our best work. Indeed, this idea is also one of the primary motivations behind NaNoWriMo itself—helping writers develop a habit of creating.

Devising and sticking to a routine is how we demarcate in our brain a sacred space devoted to creating. Set aside a time you will work every day. If possible, set aside a space. Follow such a routine for enough days and weeks, and … [more]

“I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now: Don’t think!”

—Ray Bradbury

The shared pressure cooker of NaNoWriMo accomplishes so many things. First is how it takes this task, drafting a novel—a task that is only and ever done alone, by a single person sitting with her thoughts and a blank page—and transforms it makes it into a group effort. Those thousands of other writers who are also drafting their novel may not be right next to you at your desk; they may not be shouting encouragement as word joins word, sentence joins sentence, and page joins page while you write; they may only be an amorphous sense of camaraderie as you labor over your work. But you know that they are out there, struggling as you struggle, and that … [more]

T-Minus Ten Days

In these final days of October, when NaNoWriMo is still just a vague itch, an aspirational notion, a secret should I?, it can be easy to dismiss your own ambitions. To treat the idea of drafting a novel as a fool’s errand, a lark, a waste of time. A self-indulgence, a self-delusion, a set-up for certain failure. To convince yourself you have nothing to say, that no one wants to read your story, that it is hubris to think that you can be a real writer.

Let me take this weight off your mind: 

You have permission.

This permission is a blank check. Write it for whatever amount you’re going to need to carry you through the month of November. Use this permission to justify whatever it is you need to … [more]

In honor of NaNoWriMo‘s twentieth (!) anniversary, we’ve put together a sort of daily devotional beginning tomorrow and appearing each day right up through the middle of December. It’s our small way of expressing our solidarity with the thousands of writers giving the month of November over to their work.

Expect to find bits of inspiration drawn from our reading; practical advice gleaned from other writers and from our own experience; and ideas about how you might want to approach the monumental feat of drafting a novel in thirty days.

Some of it may be new to you, some of it may be obvious, but our hope is that one or two of our posts might be just the thing you need most should you find yourself written into a corner.

Stay tuned!

Next [more]

The agents of Upstart Crow Literary are hosting an #AskUpstart session next Tuesday, April 9th from 1:00-2:00 pm EST. This is an opportunity to ask us any publishing or book related questions – we’re here to help! In preparation for that, here’s some information about the session.


Who’s participating?

Danielle Chiotti, Susan Hawk, Alex Penfold, and Michael Stearns. For more information about each of us, please click the ABOUT link for our bios.


What do you represent?

Children’s books of all kinds—young adult, middle grade, picture books, as well as graphic novels, and non-fiction for children and teens. In addition we also rep select cookbooks, adult fiction, and nonfiction. Again, more details and specifics in the About link.


Are all four of you open to submissions right now? 

Danielle Chiotti and Susan … [more]