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Pep Talk from Erin Morgenstern

photo of Erin Morgenstern

Greetings, dearest daring NaNoWriMo writer!

Come closer.

Let me tell you a story.

One day last year my kitten, Vesper, was suddenly afraid of the ceiling fan.

The ceiling fan had always been there. We’d had Vesper for several weeks. She had been settling in and getting comfortable, learning to read tarot cards and getting the couch all fuzzy. She was overly fond of licking my toes.

Vesper was aware of the ceiling fan.

But now on this particular afternoon the ceiling fan was scary when yesterday it was just there.

To be clear: she was genuinely frightened. Tail all puffy, hissing and chattering in the ceiling fan’s direction, hiding behind the bookshelves and staring warily upward.

She kept trying to find places where she could see the ceiling fan but it couldn’t see her and eventually I took her into another room where she could be free from the terrible gaze of the ceiling fan just as a flock of turkeys was passing by the window.

Vesper hadn’t seen the wild turkeys before.

She hid under the bed for awhile after that.

My husband had been away at the time and when he got home and I was explaining Vesper’s sudden fan-terror which now sounded particularly odd since at that moment Vesper was sprawled out on the table calmly licking a paw in full view of the ceiling fan.


Do you know what had happened and how this has anything to do with NaNoWriMo?

The fan speed changed.

I had flipped the fan from medium to low without thinking about it, even though it was usually on medium. Vesper noticed.

Ceiling fan on medium = fine and normal and expected. Ceiling fan on low = STRANGE AND TERRIFYING.

November is the ceiling fan. Or maybe your story is the ceiling fan. Or maybe a giant plot hole you only now noticed is the ceiling fan. Maybe the ceiling fan is just a ceiling fan. Something’s the ceiling fan in this extended metaphor kitten anecdote, just go with it.

Something is different now than it was before. Maybe. Probably.

This deep into November the pace and the wind changes and it doesn’t feel the way it did before and maybe neither does your story. Crisp and cold and strange and possibly suddenly unfamiliar.

It might not look the same as it did yesterday, or last week.

It doesn’t look the way it did when you started.

And it certainly doesn’t look the way it did in your head.

(An aside for another metaphor: I have heard that Ann Patchett describes the version of the story in her head as a beautiful butterfly and the writing process involves taking that beautiful, fluttering butterfly and pinning it down onto the page. I think about that butterfly a lot. The story will never look on the page the way it did when it was fluttering in your head and it never could.)

But the story will look different tomorrow. And it could become an entirely different creature post-November. The important thing is getting it down on the page, because that’s how the story starts to become whatever it’s going to become.

You might not know what speed the ceiling fan should be set at yet. You may have no idea where all these wild turkeys came from or where they are going or what they symbolize. They’re probably a metaphor. (In this pep talk they are actual turkeys in my actual yard. They leave footprints in the snow in the winter. Vesper has become accustomed to them and she never even noticed the raccoons.)

It’s okay to not know.

I haven’t participated in National Novel Writing Month myself in years but I have spent most of that time writing and rewriting and rewriting a book that is now book-shaped and called The Starless Sea.

It did not look the way it does now for a long, long time.

It was written and rewritten and rewritten again and again and even when I wasn’t sure where it was going I kept putting down words and those words led to more words and different words and eventually I found what the story wanted to be and where it wanted to go. NaNoWriMo taught me how to do that, even when my December 1st is a different day looming somewhere in the future. I made it through even though there were times when I was certain that it would never, ever be book-shaped.

You find your way through the darkness and you work your way through the story and there are possibly-frightening things in the dark that may or may not be ceiling fans but you have your words and a torch and a sword and probably an animal companion of some sort. You can borrow an imaginary version of Vesper if you’d like. She will not be helpful but she is cute and the imaginary version is hypoallergenic.

And she can remind you that it’s okay to be afraid of the ceiling fan, no matter what your personal ceiling fan might be.

It’s just a ceiling fan.

You can change its speed and change your world.

(You have no control over the turkeys, because they’re wild, but all stories should have some uncontrollable wildness in there somewhere.)

You do not have to make your story perfect right now. You don’t even have to get it right. You only need to get it on the page. That’s all.

Don’t look back. Keep moving forward with your torch and your sword and your imaginary kitten companion. There is an ending to be found, whether you find it this month or further farther deeper later on. You can wander back and choose different paths because this is your world and your rules.

Go with it and see where it takes you.

There’s magic left in these late November days yet to be found.

You can find it.

I believe in you.

(Vesper does, too.)

With best November wishes,

Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus and The Starless Sea and someday hopefully she will write other books so she has more things to list in biographies. She grew up in Massachusetts and studied theatre and studio art at Smith College. Erin currently lives with her husband Adam and the world’s cutest kitten in the middle of the woods in the Berkshires where she is writing and playing video games.

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