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Pep Talk from Anna-Marie McLemore

photo of Anna-Marie McLemore

Dear Writer,

So do you want the good news that’s going to sound like bad news but is in fact fabulous news?

That novel you’re drafting right now? The novel it eventually becomes may or may not, on the surface, end up looking anything like the words you have on the page right now. Maybe it will. Maybe your novel will need mostly polishing, expanding, smoothing out. Or maybe you’ll revise your draft so completely it will, on the surface, bear only a passing resemblance to what your novel eventually becomes.

Both are fantastic news. Want to know why? Because being open to any and all of the above can take immense pressure off you and this fever dream called writing a novel in a month. Because then you can celebrate this process for what it is, a path into the marvelous woods of your story.

NaNoWriMo writers, I have probably needed and still need to hear these words as much as you do because many of my first drafts have been just that: paths in, and they’ve needed rewrites to find their way deeper into those woods. The distinction for most rewrites of my career is probably a tie between my second book, When the Moon Was Ours, and my forthcoming Lakelore. Lakelore took many detours to find its heart as a story of Latine enbies, neurodivergence, and a secret world under a lake. When the Moon Was Ours took many detours to become the story of a trans boy who paints the moon and a Latina girl who appears from a water tower.

But to take those detours, I needed a starting place. So do you, and you’re finding one right now. Whether you finish this draft just a few trees away from where your story belongs, or on the other side of the forest, this is your starting point. This is your way in.

Here’s more good news: did you notice the three-word phrase I’ve said twice so far, “on the surface”? I include these words, because, even if you completely change your novel, even if you add or drop a POV, even if you rewrite it from page one, this draft is where the story magic starts. This draft will help you find a beating heart of your story, and that heart will be there no matter what your revision process looks like.

That space—where you recognize the importance of the work you’re doing, while also embracing it as a low-pressure starting point—that space is where you can do your best, most creative, most brilliant work. No matter what your story becomes, the work you do now will glow at its center. 

This is where the light starts.

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Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) is the author of The Weight of Feathers, Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, Wild Beauty, Blanca & Roja, Indie Next List title Dark and Deepest Red, and The Mirror Season, which was recently longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Lakelore and Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix will be released in 2022.

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