Monday, October 24, 2011

Write What You NaNo: You Have My Permission

Welcome to the Write What You NaNo BlogParty! For the next two weeks, guest bloggers will stop by to share their thoughts and experiences with National Novel Writing Month. More information and the schedule of bloggers can be found here.

You Have My Permission

I first heard of National Novel Writing Month in December of 2008, naturally a month too late. I kept the information tucked away in my head and started to think about my book. In late summer of 2009 I was so eager to start my new hobby calling as author that I went to an overnight retreat center nestled in the depths of the Minnesota woods where I plotted to my heart's content. I couldn't wait for Nov 1.

I remember the first time I sat down to write my book. I had returned from Ireland the night before and instead of going to work on Nov 1, I took one more vacation day. This time, I would do NaNo. I brewed a pot of coffee, donned my bathrobe and fuzzy socks, and proceeded to type.

It was garbage.

My MC was supposed to be this independent girl whose adoptive mother had just died. But instead of being relatable, she was just angry. And depressed. Pages upon pages of her sorting the mail, cleaning the counters, drinking her coffee, and not caring about life. I quickly noticed I was using this as an outlet to deal with the emotions from my aunt's death a few years earlier. But then I saw that I tossed every possible emotion into those first thousand words (which have thankfully been scrubbed for something better) and it was the best place to start.

This is why I love NaNoWriMo. It grants me permission to be a terrible writer. It's like when your song comes on the radio and you sing along. No, you're probably not very good (it's okay to admit it, you're among friends), you might not know all the words, and you certainly haven't mastered the high notes, but it doesn't matter. You gave yourself permission to sing because you knew it would make you feel better. You can figure the exact words out later.

Permission was key for me. Permission to dream about fantasy lands, to try chick lit, to try YA or MG, to pretend I was JK Rowling. Or Meg Cabot. Or Janet Evanovich. Or, dare I say it, even Tolkein.

NaNo gives me permission to try something new. My 2009 novel was a YA fantasy and my 2010 novel was a MG adventure book with too many elements of magic/fantasy. My 2011 novel is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that is completely out of my comfort zone. And while plotting for this novel, my brain hatched an idea for a holiday story revolving around a Christmas village, a young brother and sister, some magic, and possibly zombies. I'm not sure which story I should write come Nov 1, but either way, what a beautiful problem to have.

Here's the truth: the first draft isn't going to be good. So what are you afraid of? Get out there and write the crappiest first draft (with all compliments to Anne Lamott and her "Shitty First Draft" chapter) you can.

I give myself permission every November to write even though it's not very good and has gaping plot holes. It's the satisfaction I get from completing my story each year that brings me back for more. And it all began with granting myself permission to dream.

So go on. Give yourself permission. Or ask me. I'll give you permission to write an equally horrible first draft and we can swap notes when December rolls around because I promise you, reading my stuff will make you feel much better about your own...

Happy NaNoing!


  1. Lovely, lovely post :-) I'm terrible about giving myself permission to do write badly, which is why I rarely win NaNoWriMo, but I always end up learning how to do something new. It's exciting!

  2. I don't do NaNo, because I'm not organized enough, but I still love your post. I especially love that you put Tolkien at the top of your list.

    And even though I plot and plod my way through my first drafts, they still suck, and that's okay.

  3. I think this is hard for a lot of writers. They don't give themselves permission to suck, and the truth is writing is mostly about putting down really bad first drafts and then deleting them for something better.

    Enjoy your NaNoing!

  4. This is a really great way to think about NaNo. I'll be working on something I'm pretty serious about (I'm a first time Nano-er). But unlike my first novel, I'm writing this one fast all the way to the end, without stopping or rewriting. Revision will come after. So Nano will work like a sprint to get the first draft finished. I can't wait! I totally love the idea of doing the month as a way to explore other genres and ideas you wouldn't normally. I may try that next year.

  5. Wonderful post about NaNo and so true. Just write. Don't worry if it is crap. Get the first draft down. Hehe! I don't need permission to participate in NaNo, but this year, I'm giving myself permission to stretch myself and write two novels in a month. Bring on November. :)

  6. @ Matt--is there really any other place for him to go? ;)

    @ LG--I know that was the hardest part for me. I almost didn't start my very 1st NaNo because I was convinced "real" authors nailed their first drafts. Or, at least they weren't as bad as mine.

    @ Gail--I love the idea of sprinting to the end and dealing with the revisions later. This is how I try to approach NaNo, but I usually find that I stop once I hit 50K words and not when the story ends. This has left me with two stories with no endings. This time, I'm going to try to stick to the outline and come back later to "fill in" as needed.

    @ Cherie--TWO NOVELS!? Wow, you go! Check back on Wednesday for my guest blogger, Adrianne Russell, and her take on 100K vs 50K words!

  7. I like NaNo because it gives me permission just to keep on going, each day, until i reach my word count

  8. You make NaNo sound really awesome! For some reason I've been REALLY hesitant to sign up. Maybe it's just an "I work alone" mentality... But I really think I'm going to take another looksy! (If there's still time to sign up.)

  9. Yaay, I love the post, TL! I often use NaNo as an exploratory draft for a novel. I also typically overachieve, which means that with the years I've piled up new "To Revise" novels because of it. XD

    I agree it's a great way to try something different. You don't have to be good with NaNo. You just have to do it.

  10. I'm still torn about joining NaNo this year.. I meant to, but I have such a hard time finding time to write every day... Two little kids and my daycare just disappeared last week. And we might be moving to a new state in November. I hate making excuses but I guess sometimes they're legitimate :-(

  11. I love this! We have to give ourselves permission to try and, more importantly, to fail. I also had the delusion that "professional" writers didn't bother with first drafts or revisions. Totally not true!

  12. @Megan, sorry to hear about the daycare situation and the possible move. Yuck--that's a lot to deal with on top of 50K words! But if you choose to do it, let me know. I'll help cheer you on!

    @Ade, permission to try and pretend I can be a "real" writer was all it took. 11 months out of the year I think about that one month when I ignore everything else but writing...

  13. Anne Lamott's shitty first draft chapter was pure inspiration to me! as was every NaNoWriMo I've done. So excited! I love how it gave you permission to try new things and pretend to be like fav authors.


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