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Pep Talk from Mark Oshiro

Every year, we ask authors to write pep talk letters with tips and inspiration for everyone participating in NaNoWriMo. Read this week's, and if you need more motivation, check out our pep talk archive.

photo of Mark Oshiro

In 2021, a combination of COVID delays and the coincidence of landing projects in both the Star Wars and Percy Jackson universes left me with a prospect that felt quite literally impossible. In that single calendar year, I would need to write four complete manuscripts. I had two of my original novels bumped up in their publication schedule, and I had two IP projects with relatively short turnaround times that needed to be done. I’d certainly sped up the process of writing a book since my debut, but this prospective plan filled me with dread. How could that ever be possible?

I now exist on the other side of that challenge, having successfully written all four of those books in nine months. Would I recommend someone doing this? No. But it did allow me to technically complete something I’d wanted to do before:

Write a novel in a single month.

I come to you both frazzled and deeply proud of myself. The hardest part of this experience was finding ways to keep up the momentum. How was I going to sit down, day after day, and write hundreds to thousands of words, knowing how many more I needed to write? Early in my career, I figured out elements of my process that helped speed things up. I am not here to evangelize the outline, but I am going to talk about why outlining helped me so much. After writing my first novel, I discovered that I needed the planning and brainstorming that came with writing an outline. It allowed me not only to know where my story was going, but firmly anchored my creative journey in the ending. When I got stuck, I thought about how I was going to land the ending I’d come up with. (And written first! I actually write my endings before everything else.)

But even with a strong, detailed outline, exhaustion still creeps in. So does doubt. How was I going to combat these?

With peanut-butter-filled pretzels.

To me, those funky little pretzel chunks represent one of a number of techniques I use to maintain momentum. On a very basic level: I set a bowl of them next to my keyboard. When I write 100 words, I get to eat one. (And I really want to eat one all the time.) It became a game for myself: Could I finish the bowl within a few hours? The beauty was that I rarely remembered to stay on track once I started. I’d earn maybe four or five pretzels, and then I’d be so locked in to writing that I would forget to stop.

On a more metaphorical level: I came to understand that while my process needs structure, I also need joy. Sometimes, that came as a tiny reward for words accomplished; sometimes, it meant I took entire days off from writing to play Pokémon Go or to spend time with friends. I returned to my work refreshed and ready to go.

You don’t have to write every single day in November to accomplish your goals. I did not have consistent word counts each day, but I remained consistently engaged throughout the process by reminding myself of what I loved: the story and the joy.

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Mark Oshiro (they/them) is the award-winning author of the young adult books ANGER IS A GIFT (2019 Schneider Family Book Award), EACH OF US A DESERT, and INTO THE LIGHT, as well as their middle grade books THE INSIDERS, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, DAVID BRAVO, and STAR WARS HUNTERS: BATTLE FOR THE ARENA. They are also the co-author (with Rick Riordan) of the #1 New York Times Bestseller and #1 Indie Bestseller THE SUN AND THE STAR: A NICO DI ANGELO ADVENTURE. When not writing, they are trying to pet every dog in the world.

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