30 days, 30 tweets: wisdom for writers

This post is going to look massively long already — but most of it is white space! — so I’ll try to keep the intro short.

The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's HandbookA couple years ago, Meghan Ward gave me the book THE SECRET MIRACLE, a sort of mass-interview of 60 or so authors. Basically, editor Daniel Alarcón asked a bunch of questions about the process of writing and then organized the answers into a “handbook” for novelists. My copy is riddled with Post-It flags, as if they’re some kind of disease. Honestly, the first part (about reading habits) is a little boring — hence why it took me 2 years to get past it — but once the questions got into the meat of the authors’ thoughts and habits on writing, I couldn’t stop underlining.

While I prefer not to participate in NaNoWriMo, I applaud and encourage those who do, and this year, I thought maybe I could share some of the wisdom from THE SECRET MIRACLE with them via Twitter. Like someone cheering on marathon runners from the sideline, you know?

Not all of my favorite quotes applied, nor would all of them fit in 140 characters, but here is a compilation of the ones that I managed to share:

NaNo? Nah, no(t for me)

Ah, November. A great month, for many reasons. The 21st day in particular is a favorite of mine. ;)

For many writers, November is synonymous with HOLY CRAP I HAVE TO WRITE A TON — aka National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, or NaNo. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days, never mind that major holiday where all your family comes and stays with you and you have to cook a big meal for them and socialize and stuff.

(Unless you’re not in America, in which case, never mind that holiday for real.)

Me, I don’t do NaNoWriMo. Not because I’m “better” than it — quite the opposite, in fact. I suck at it. Every time I sit down to NaNo, all I can think about is those 1,667 words I’m supposed to write each day. Then when I don’t write that many, all I can think about is how much I suck and how hard it’s going to be to catch up. Then when I don’t catch up, all I can think about is how I’m the worst writer ever and I’ll never finish a book or get an agent or do anything worthwhile with my life and hey where is that bag of dark chocolate?!

Yeah, not a good place to be.

So I prefer to sit NaNo out. Instead I watch from the sidelines and cheer for my friends who are participating. It’s still a blast.

Not NaNo-ing doesn’t make me — or anyone — less of a writer. For the record, not “winning” NaNo also does NOT make me — or anyone — less of a writer. (I kind of wish they wouldn’t use that term.) I just find that I’m happier and more productive when I’m not focused on word counts.

If that’s the case for you too, rock on! If you’re a NaNo diehard and do it every year, rock on! If you’re just trying it out for the first time, rock on! (And good luck!)

The most important thing is: Are you pursuing your passion to the best of your ability? Because that’s what NaNo is really about.

New Twenty-Somewhere episode + links!

First up, from Episode 33 of Twenty-Somewhere:

When Sophie finishes her drink, she turns to set it on the counter. The man turns also, and their eyes meet. His are a greenish-brown, and penetrating.

“I’m Mathieu,” he says.

“Sophie.” She offers her hand and he accepts. He shakes it firmly, American style. For no reason at all, she finds this comforting. “I’m sorry if I’ve been standoffish. You caught me on a weird night.”

“That’s twice you apologize. And yet you say you are fine.” He shakes his head. “You are not fine. But maybe a dance will help.”

“Excuse me?”

“A dance.” He gestures to the crowd. “Do you want to dance?”

Yes, that’s right, another one already! In spite of NaNoWriMo — or maybe because of it? — I have been pushing forward with 20SW. My goal is still to finish through Episode 40 (my temporary stopping point) by the end of 2009, which means one episode a week, plus one week with two. o_O It’ll be a doozy of an effort.

Anyway, be sure to read Episode 33 in full and let me know what you think in the comments!

I also got the previous 4 episodes up in their Amazon bundle, for anyone who wants to read 20SW via their Kindle/iPhone/iPod Touch:


And finally, a couple writerly links/snippets for the week:

Awesome YA authors (and husband/wife duo!) Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfield have blogs! News to me, but probably not to them. Full of good stuff, Justine’s especially, including NaNo tips all this month.

Writer T.J. McIntyre talks about 5 things he’s learned so far on his journey to becoming an author. My favorite part:

5) Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better — Not everyone finds success at the same time. Some authors take more time to get to the point where they are publishable than others. Some authors have connections, others don’t. Some live in New York, others (like me) live in the middle of nowhere. Some have a platform (like all those celebrity-authors on the bookstore shelf), while others are destined to struggle with obscurity.  This is okay. It is the way it has always been and will always be. Accept it.

Here’s what matters: Enjoy your work. I wrote long before I started trying to get published, and I will keep writing whether it gets published or not. It is just a part of who I am. It is part of how I process the world around me. Besides, it’s FUN!

And Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance (later a Will Smith movie), has an inspiring series called Writing Wednesdays. Thanks to Aurora for pointing me to that one!

Say no to life, yes to crap! … Wait, what??

So far, I think the 2 hardest things about NaNoWriMo are:

  1. Saying No — to distractions, to obligations, to cute puppies, to sleep.
  2. Allowing Yourself to Write Crap —  but you have to. And it’s probably not as bad as you think… (And even if it is, that’s what December is for: revising!)


I’m at about 7,000 words right now, which means I’m only… 967 words behind where I should be! Oh wait, I forgot to carry the decimal. So that’s… 9,670!


Well, it’s all right. I refuse to be discouraged or stressed. For me, the goals for this month are to try to get to 50,000 words; to push myself; to create characters I love and a plot that keeps the reader hooked; and most of all, to learn more about myself as a writer. I need to figure out how I work best, and then do it. Simple as that.

And you know, I used to think I could copy other writers’ habits and routines. I asked my professors, I Googled my favorite authors, I asked every writer I met: HOW DO YOU DO IT? But the truth is, there is no “right way” to do it. (Only a few weird ones…) We each have to find the ways that best suit our individual personalities, you know?

That said, I still like reading about what other writers do. Morning v night, computer v long hand, plot vs pants? The Wall Street Journal recenty surveyed several different authors — including Junot Diaz, Orhan Pamuk, Anne Rice, and Margaret Atwood — about their writing habits (via Jeff Abbott). There are some very interesting answers. (And weird ones!)

Well, since we’re on the topic, what do you do? What’s your optimal writing routine?

Quotes and links for the writerly minded

NaNoWriMo update: I’m at about 5,500 words, which puts me like 1.5 days behind, but I think I can make it up. In addition to music without lyrics (or no music at all) I’m finding that NO INTERNET makes me much more productive… I’ve started using Freedom again to carve out little chunks of dis-connectivity.

Somehow in the midst of this NaNo craziness, I’m also working on the next episode/s of Twenty-Somewhere. That is COMING SOON. Ish.

In the meantime, here are some great tips/thoughts on being a writer:

“Big Ass Advice Post” – aka 10 tips for aspiring writers (via moonrat). In particular I think I need to take #1 to heart:

There’s a difference between the craft of writing and the business of writing. At the beginning, your job is to learn everything you can about craft. Don’t obsess about the business until you have an actual product to sell. Educate yourself but don’t get sidetracked from the job of learning how to write well.

“A posteriori” looks at “craft” (Glimmer Train):

So, what then is craft? I might say a distraction, the discourse of the deconstructionist. Writers should work with the original matter, not the tools of the critic.

John Irving talks about his writing process at Big Think, a GREAT new website (a bit similar to TED?) that I stumbled upon today:

I never begin a first draft until there is a plot, until I do know what happens to all of the characters, you might understand why those first drafts are pretty quickly forthcoming, but the rewriting process slows me down and I like everything about the writing process that compels me to slow down, to keep it slow. I write all my first drafts in long hand because you can only write so fast in longhand. And on a keyboard, you can cover too much ground in too fast a time…

And the longer the book you write, the more times you must pass through it because writer’s voices change within a four, five year period of time, you’re actually liking a different kind of sentence five years down the road, than you were four years ago. And one of the tasks of revising a novel of any length is to go back and make the whole thing sound as if it were spoken in one breath, as if your sentence style, your preference for the semicolon or the parentheses or the dash, just was constant, and you got to make it look that way, even though it wasn’t spoken in one breath, it was spoken in very halting little bits, it’s supposed to sound like it’s coming right off the top of your head.

And also from Big Think, Jonathan Franzen talks about what writing should be:

A piece of writing’s not interesting or worth doing if there’s not some personal risk, if it’s not dangerous in some fashion, whether you’re exposing some part of yourself you’d rather not talk about or whether you’re trying to be sincere about something that would be much more comfortable to be ironic about or vice versa, if you’re being sarcastic or ironic about something that people take seriously.