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Pep Talk from Maggie Stiefvater

photo of Maggie Stiefvater

Dear Writer,

I hear you’re trying to do an impossible thing.

Good. I love impossible things. I try to do at least one each year. I love everything about that word, impossible, and I love everything about slapping the im right off its smirking face. It turns out humans are pretty good at the impossible. Just last month I read an article about an old lady who hand-fought a bear to keep it from eating the collie dog out of her backyard. There were photos. She was covered with claw marks. Impossible, said the bear. He didn’t realize that was our specialty.

When undertaking the impossible, however, it’s important to remember what actually makes it impossible, because that’s what you have to overcome. The novel-writing part isn’t what makes NaNoWriMo impossible. Time is the only thing that makes NaNoWriMo impossible.

It won’t feel that way. It’s going to feel like the writing is the impossible part. But all of the puzzles you’re going to face — plot holes, characterization woes, bad pacing, words ceasing to make any sort of logical sense — aren’t even really problems; this is just what the writing process looks like, so learn to love that process. The actual problem is that most of these puzzles require time to solve.

Here’s how I fight time:

  1. Know my project. I need to know what I want that final project to look like. Where it sits on the shelf, why I’m writing it, how it will make the reader feel. Then I ask myself with each chapter: does this belong in the book I said I was writing?

  2. Never sit at my computer without knowing what I’m going to write. If I’m stuck, I need to stimulate my physical body so my mind can play — drive, walk, shower.

  3. Unwind each day with thirty minutes of reading something that feels like what I’m trying to make, to remind myself how others accomplished it.

  4. [brackets]. If I know I need a beat but can’t quite get the details yet, I place brackets around the word [fight here] or scene, so that I know I can go back and fix it later.

  5. Move forward and backward. I go back and edit; I go forward and outline. Rereading and scanning ahead helps me keep #1 in mind.

  6. Ignore word count. I get through the plot first, then I go back and flesh out or cut down as needed.

Now get to work. Time’s not on your side, but everything else is. Remember, you were built to overcome the impossible. And at least it’s not a bear.

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