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Sunday, November 01, 2009


Can you believe it! It’s November, which means it’s time for NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month, in which something like 100,000 people have signed up to sit in a chair (or stand, if you like, or recline, or maybe suspend yourself from the ceiling, as I would like to do) for an entire month and string together approximately 1,666 words per day. That’s 50,000 words by the end of the month.


Since writing is WHAT I DO, and since I love to provide SERVICES, I will be answering NaNoWriMo advice questions and attempting to dispense some advice EVERY DAY.*

You may be asking yourself, “mj, are you actually DOING NaNoWriMo this year?”

My friends, I am always doing NaNoWriMo. I will be writing many, many words in November, but I will not be listed on the official ranks because I will not be uploading what I write. This is because those 50,000 words belong to a book that is already under contract, a book that is already well underway. I’ll be writing a lot, and you’ll be able to see those words eventually, when the book is out.

But trust me, I’m going to be coughing up a LOT of words.

And now, the first NaNoWriMo question . . .

Samuel asks: Hey! I'd love to read your advice of having/developing a writing habit -- more to the point, I'm curious if you treat it like a job (i.e. always writing at the same time every day, no distractions). For people who work a full time job and struggle with kids/pets/pants, what advice do you have for making sure the writing gets done too?

I like the phrase “writing habit.” All writers start with a “writing habit,” which is admittedly pretty weird and antisocial, but is still better than an “arson habit” or a “loud whistling” habit. If you really want to write, you have to make it habitual—and NaNoWriMo can help you develop it.

It’s ALSO a job. Well, it’s my job. And I do treat it as such, and proudly. Personally, I don’t write at the same exact time every day. My job has flexible hours. But I generally work 6-7 days a week, and at weird times when other people aren’t working. Because writing is my habit as well as my job, it’s just part of the continuum of my life.

But I think your main question is: how can you schedule in all that writing when you have ANOTHER job, and a family, and a life? How can you make it all work? HOW IS THIS GOING TO BE POSSIBLE? There are hamsters to feed and shiny things to collect and people who will want to talk to you and phone calls that need returning . . .
To answer this, let’s return to the idea of the job. When I first got serious about making myself a professional, about making writing my life, I decided to MAKE it my job, even though I had two full-time jobs at the moment. I begged, borrowed, and stole the time. I wrote whenever I could, under whatever conditions, making sure I clocked a minimum of two hours a day, if not four or six. I was a pretty terrible employee, but I was developing the correct attitude about writing!

Writing doesn’t come to you. It doesn’t just hand itself over on a plate. And it’s not magic. I do not, for instance, believe in muses. I believe in work and practice. Writing has always been a craft, and there is nothing wrong with viewing it as a job, something you must do. Shakespeare was a workman playwright (notice the “wright”), after all. It means “maker” or “builder.” It means WORKER.

I realize this idea of writing as a job conflicts with portrayals of writers on tv and in film, where the writers are usually these weird creative types that are always sawing on about something esoteric, hammering away about their inspirations in their special writing studio. Perhaps they are wearing a beret.

Writers on TV and in films are shown this way because ACTUAL WRITING IS VERY BORING TO WATCH. Oh, it’s good to DO, but it is not something you want to see in action. Actual writing involves the aforementioned sitting/reclining/dangling and WRITING. Sure, some places are nicer to write in than others. For example, at this very moment, I happen to be sitting on a lovely porch overlooking some trees and woodland creatures, but this is only because I am at a wedding that is at an inn.

Notice that part in which I am AT A WEDDING. The wedding is in 90 minutes, and I am jamming this session of writing in between a long car ride, some lunch, and the ceremony. I usually write at home, or with friends who are also writers, or on the subway, in a car, on a plane, in the airport . . . I have snuck my computer into my beachbag. I have written in hospitals and on buses and in traffic.

Many of the most prolific writers I know write while raising children or working other jobs. This is because they have to LASER-FOCUS their writing into set times, and they make those times work. When I’m backed into a corner, I tend to get more done. It’s like that old saying about how if you want something done, give it to someone with too much to do. Or Robert Benchley’s quote that anyone can do any amount of work, provided that it’s not the work you are supposed to be doing at the time.

So if you are doing NaNoWriMo while working another job or going to school . . . YOU ARE SET! You simply have to blow off about two hours of your other work every day and write! You will find this kind of finkery is a time-honored tradition amongst writers, who are by nature a sneaky, nocturnal group. You are joining the proud ranks of People Who Write When They Are Supposed To Be Doing Other Things (PWWWTASTBDOT).

We cannot entirely be trusted.

Though 1,666 words SOUNDS like a lot, you will find that it comes easier with time. Because when writing becomes your habit, you’ll be able to press on, press faster, and press harder. You will not be frightened by word counts. You should find that’s true even within this month. NaNoWriMo is a great way of SNAPPING YOU LIKE A TINY TWIG, and I mean that in the best way possible. Use the train. Use the bus. Use lunch. Use 5th period Spanish** Use TV time. Use mindless internet surfing time. Make writing your job. Be proud.

Have questions? Please leave them below! And to anyone who is wondering . . . YES, the final installment of The Lost Symbol Readers’ Guide is coming soon! Why isn’t it done yet? I WAS WRITING!

* Please note the word attempt.
** High school students: I’m kidding, obviously! Stay in school! Study hard! (wink!)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Five minutes of mindless internet surfing spent here.



7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Maureen. I'm a terrible writer, even though I write constantly. Do you have any tips on how to improve (besides practicing daily)? :)

Also, I'm too shy to show anyone my work. Do you have any tips on how to...not be shy about what you write? Thanks so much! ^-^

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Kylie - Crash said...

Thanks for the advice! This is my first NaNoWriMo & I'm super pumped. I'll be back for more words of wisdom. :)

7:46 PM  
Blogger HeatherMarie said...

Excellent advice Maureen! This has been my problem too. I'm just so easily distracted. One of my online friends has talked me into Nanowrimo so I'm hoping that will kick-start my butt into actually writing everyday.

Oh and I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the scene from Arsenic and Old Lace posted at the top, I was just watching that last night. I love that movie.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Rohan said...

I'm finding the start of my NaNoWriMo novel to be coming along a little slow. Do you find that in your writing you start off slow and gather momentum as the story gets going? So far I am trying to figure out who exactly my characters are, but I only struggled out 645 words on the frist day. Is that okay or should I start to panic?

7:53 PM  
Blogger Kerrie T. said...

Very good advice. I'm happy to report, I met my goal today in about an hour. I'm not sure about the content, but it is something. I'm trying not to overthink it and save that for the second draft, right?

8:01 PM  
Blogger Loxley said...

AHA. I knew there was something to call myself. (PWWWTASTBDOT). Thank you!

Thank you for also doing the NaNoWriMo writing advice blog! I'l definitely be checking it every day. :)

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Julie Polk said...

I have already sent links to Scott and Justine's blogs to my NaNo buddy for their daily dose of encouragement/tips. I'm sending her this as well. Gracias!

8:17 PM  
Blogger Cate said...

haha thanks a lot. I think this will help me :D

8:34 PM  
Blogger Clarisa Brown said...

Wonderful article and five stars for picturing Groucho Marx!!

Thanks for the great contribution.

Clarisa Brown
Twitter @bluearthredshoe

8:36 PM  
Blogger Margo said...

i will be writing in my 5th period class. its not spanish though. just a homework period. who need to do homework anyway?!i am pround to be a new member of PWWWTASTBDOT !
happy writing everyone!

8:41 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

How prepared should one be? Is it okay to go into NaNoWriMo with no real plot? Because that's kind of what I'm doing and everyone else seems to have their entire novels written in their head.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very happy to find out that all this time I was a member of PWWWTASTDOT! Am in high school and spend all but maybe one or two classes writing. Either homework for another class or stories. Which brings me to my question:
How do you make yourself write the story you are suppose to be writing and not a different one???

8:48 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Thank you for the sage advice, mj. Of course I won't be writing when I'm in Spanish class. That's absurd. *wink*

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Molly said...

Any advice for NaNo-ing college students? Particularly those with very large workloads? Between the classes, the work, and the ever-so-tempting social life I have no idea how I'm gonna get this done and retain what is left of my sanity. Thank you =) -M

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

I don't even know where to begin. This is my first NaNoWriMo.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG!!!!!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Bekki. said...

goodness, me, this does make me feel better :)

9:30 PM  
Blogger CAROinwonderland said...

what happens when the flying monkeys of SELF-DOUBT come and steal away your confidence in your writing?
What if what you are writing is complete and utter CRAP? How do you make it not CRAP without simultaneously driving yourself to a mental hospital and a cozy padded room?

9:44 PM  
Blogger liznwyrk said...

Thanks for this post. Sometimes I need someone to remind me to stop whining and just get 'er done.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

going along with the PWWWTASTBDOT thing, i once read this this about procrastination.



12:10 AM  
Blogger maybeimamazed02 said...

Thank you, MJ! I have written two novels but am doing NaNoWriMo for the first time for my third. You and I have very similar attitudes about writing--I have a full-time-plus job, but I write on lunch hours, commutes and basically whenever I have a free minute. Hopefully, someday I will be as successful and awesome as you!

Looking forward to many more pep talks! (And love the Groucho pic--I live in Chicago, and saw the new stage version of Animal Crackers last night at the Goodman. Hilarious.)

12:17 AM  
Blogger just Joan said...

Great post! =D

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I do believe I am a supreme example of today's advice blog. I am, in fact, blowing off hours that should be spent on my 45 page Thesis paper to write my NaNo. I have not started the former and am well into the latter. Clearly, this advice is advice well given.

I had an advice question for you, but it has hidden away in my mind. When it comes back, I shall come back and ask it.

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maureen, what font do you write in?

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Jodotha said...

Ah, Maureen, you awesome writing cheerleader, you! I don't think I have ENOUGH stuff to corner me yet. I miss having a full time job. Oh well. (Retail jobs make ROUTINE a most elusive thing.) That said, your blogs are always so full of WISDOM. Thanks!

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Abby said...

Hey Maureen, is there ever a thing called too many words? And do you do use word padding-use two or three words where you could have used only one?

3:23 AM  
Blogger CopyCat62982 said...

Thanks for the great advice. Now, I KNOW I'm on the right track because everything you just explained, I'm already doing! Love your blog, love your tweets!


4:43 AM  
Blogger Deanna said...

Do you have any tips for over coming a part of writing that your stuck on??


5:18 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Is it okay that I don't really know where my story is going? I have a vague idea of what should happen, but I'm a bit fuzzy on the details.

6:55 AM  
Anonymous bus said...

YA, i believe it its November ..but after read your blog...lovely...

7:47 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

I am TOTALLY one of those PWWWTASTBDOT. I LOVE to do things when I'm supposed to be doing something else. For instance, I have a 6 page paper due tomorrow, but here I am reading YOUR blog. That's how much I LOVE YOU, mj. I love you more than HOMEWORK. (Okay, that doesn't adequately express my love, because I love a lot of things more than homework. But you get the point.)
Oh, NaNo, how I love thee.

11:17 AM  
Blogger kira902k said...

This was the truest advice I have ever received.
"you simply have to blow off about two hours of other work every day."
At the moment, I'm in English class. And I'm reading this advice blog and...writing.
The problem with this is that although I would WILLINGLY blow off all my other work to successfully complete 50 000 wordss, this is not a possibility. I have to somehow find the time to write AND finish my homework. Which is not entirely possible.

I am part of PWWWTASTBDOT, but it isn't doing me much good. (Failing school,even with a novel complete, isn't a good things.)

My question is about plot. Should I have an entire plot outlined before I start? Or is it better to just write, and hope a plot emerges?


7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am booking marking this with the tag 'Don't Panic.' It's going to be my NaNoWriMoer's Guide to the Galaxy, lets hope you can teach me how to properly write a Zaphod or how to imagine a Bable Fish, or maybe ever the importance of the towel in writing. From my understanding they're great for wiping up the sweat induced by fear.

My question is, how much sleep is enough to keep my alive and sane? And is it even worth trying to stay sane while trying to write 50 000 words, and finish your physics homework at the same time?

2:12 AM  
Blogger Larangutang said...

Well I wrote 1,815 words today and I'm really proud of myself. I also did actually write a few pages in fifth period today, but it was Algebra 2 not Spanish, don't worry.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Katie said...

This is awesome. These articles are a good way to blow off some writing steam. I'll use them as my word count reward for the day. :)

11:31 AM  
Blogger tommyp72 said...

At 7:42 Anon. said I'm a terrible writer and I'm too shy to show anyone my work.
This is like saying I'm a terrible bowler without having ever held a bowling ball.
You may think you are a terrible writer, Stephen King threw the manuscript to Carrie away and his wife fished it out of the waste basket. The original manuscript to Dancing With Wolves had been left behind in a friend's apartment in LA when the author returned to give New York another try.
Someone had to read those two magnificent works, BESIDES THE ONES WHO WROTE THEM. We are our own worst critics.
David Baldacci sells millions of books that I do not care for. That doesn't make him a bad writer. Even an outside critic doesn't make you a bad writer. You write to the readers that are YOUR readers. Let someone see your work. Really, you must.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have spanish 3rd hr. dang it. lol this is awesome advice. I had to drag myself away from my writing to be able to do my homework (sorry it's spanish)

6:17 AM  
Anonymous nerdgurl said...

that whole every day thing seems to be going well.

12:44 PM  

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