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Thursday, November 26, 2009


At the start of this month, I said I was going to try to blog every day about NaNoWriMo. I did, however, put in all kinds of conditions: I was moving, I was traveling, hamsters, etc. So I’ve only managed to do four or five blogs. Now it’s the 25th day, and I’m jumping back in the game!

This relates directly to today’s question. When I put out my call for topics, I immediately got 20 or 30 people asking questions like, “I’ve only done 6,000 words! Do I even keep going?” Or, “I haven’t written for a week! Should I give up?”

Clearly, a lot of people are finding that they haven’t hit their target wordcounts and the panic is starting to set in. So, today, let’s talk about what you do when you are REALLY, REALLY BEHIND, and address the “should I keep going?” question.

Listen to a story . . .

When I was a very small mj, I had a best friend named Hortence.* Hortence and I were best friends because we lived next to each other. That was all. It was a friendship of convenience, as all friendships are when you are four years old. Hortence was bigger than me, and her parents were hippies and had all kinds of awesomely relaxed standards. This meant that in Hortence’s house, we could play with ANYTHING at ANY TIME. (This included tools. Nothing says safety like a six year old with a hammer.)

We also listened to music and made up complicated dance routines with props. There was a song we loved called “Centerfold.” Centerfold is a story about a guy who was in love with a girl in high school, who later finds out that she is the current centerfold in a magazine full of NAKED LADIES. And for some reason, this destroys his mind a little.

Here is the video, in case you don’t know it.

There is a line in the song that goes, “Slipped me notes under the desk, while I was thinking about her dress.” Hortence always thought this line was “FLOWERS thinking about her dress.” Now, when I was a tiny mj, I did not understand what the song was about, really. I was pretty confused about why the man was so upset to see a girl he knew in a magazine. But I could speak basic English. So I knew that part Hortence had worked into her routine with the plastic flower was pointless. To be fair, it does sound like the singer is saying FLOWERS thinking about her dress, but (as I pointed out to Hortence), flowers do not think about dresses. Flowers do not think at all.

We were debating this on the swings (we did a lot of talking on the swings). We had to be in each other’s dance routines, of course, and I was refusing to do anything with the plastic flower because the flower was just NOT IN THE SONG. Hortence, master debater that she was, said, “He does TOO say flowers because . . .”

And then she pushed me backwards off the swings. This was how we resolved 90% of our debates.**

I much preferred this approach to Hortence’s other method of punishing me and making me go along with her plans—namely, she would revoke my toy privileges. See, her grandmother worked at a toy factory*** so she had pretty much every cool toy there was. And if I crossed her authority, she would simply tell me I was no longer allowed to play with something. Usually her Suckerman. I LOVED Suckerman. Suckerman was this rubbery demon-sea monster thing covered in twenty-eight suction cups. You pulled on his arms and then you threw him against the wall. He would stick and kind of roll down and stick and roll down and stick and then fall off the wall. It was genius.


So if Hortence REALLY wanted to let me know who was in control, she would say, “You can’t touch Suckerman.” And then she would put him right in front of me. Those of you with siblings might have had the good sense to just reach forward and TAKE the Suckerman, but as far as I was concerned, there was a MAGICAL DOME over Suckerman that my hand could not penetrate. I would just sit there and stare at it sadly.

Hortence’s mojo was so powerful she could occasionally put the magical no-touch dome over MY TOYS. “But that’s mine,” I would say. And she would just shrug and say, “You can’t touch it.” Finally, on one of those occasions, when she put the dome over my Rubik’s Cube, I broke with convention and took it back! And then she grabbed it back from me and threw it on top of our neighbor’s shed. I eventually got it back, but not before it rained. It was never quite the same. So I never crossed her again.

I was, in short, her b%^&h.

Why am I telling you this? I will explain. See, sometimes when you are working on a book, you feel like you are the book’s b%^#h. Like the book holds you under its sway. Like it owns YOU. Sometimes it puts the magical dome over itself and says, “You can’t work on me. I’m too hard.”

The reality is that the book is YOUR b%^#h.**** There is no magical dome. It cannot throw itself on top of the neighbor’s shed. YOU are in charge at all times. YOU make the book. Sometimes it is hard but YOU are still in control. No muses or magical writing pandas.***** It’s very easy to get worked up about how tricky and finicky writing is, how it requires special conditions. NO IT DOESN’T. You need time and something to write with and a little gumption. And, if possible a snack.

And the same is true with NaNoWriMo. Sure, yes, it’s great to meet the deadline at the end and hit that 50,000 word mark on the 30th. But NaNoWriMo is a great tool to get you writing and IT TOO is your b%^#h. Don’t use the fact that you are currently a little bit behind as an excuse to stop. This is your opportunity to finish a book. So finish a book! DO IT. Set new dates for your own personal NaNoWriMo and push on.

No matter what, my answers to these questions will ALWAYS be that you should keep writing.

I am also informed that I am required by law to tell you something. Today, Let it Snow—a book I wrote with John Green and Lauren Myracle—made it on to the New York Times bestseller list. The status of “New York Times Bestselling author” has long eluded me. It wasn’t the be-all, end-all goal of my life. I was perfectly happy not ever having that title. But today, I do have it, and I get to KEEP it forever. And it is actually kind of awesome.

And I got here by just plugging away and writing. Okay, and maybe there was ONE magical writing panda. But whatever.

* Not her actual name, of course. I have changed it on the grounds that she can still beat me up, because . . .
** Hortence is now, and I kid you not, a professional boxer.
*** Again . . . no, REALLY, she did.
**** I look forward to you quoting me to your English teachers on this point.
***** I am not sure how prevalent the belief in magical writing pandas actually is.

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Blogger Kyle said...

Thank you for these blog entries. You are ten kinds of awesome. Maybe when NaNoWriMo is over, I'll have a chance to write up the list, but you can just go ahead and trust me for now that ten is a conservative estimate. Congrats on the NYT Bestseller title, though it probably does mean someone, somewhere is preparing a jar for you, to add to their Bestsellers collection.

4:52 AM  
Blogger kira902k said...

I may have just woken up everything within a 20 km distance from me by laughing so loudly.
What I love about your blogs is not only that they are hilarious but that they're so SMART and have so much wisdom in them. That story was excellent and you HAVE inspired me. I'm only at 25 000 words in my nanowrimo and although this is farther than I ever would have gotten without the competition, i probably wont finish in time. But you've given me the idea to extend my time! The only problem is that I won't want to continue writing. I'll be like, november is over, SUCK IT, BOOK. I'M NEVER LOOKING AT YOU HORRIBLE THING AGAIN.

okay. blog more! you rock. :)


4:58 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kaylene said...

Congratulations, both on having a magical writing panda and on being a NYT Bestselling author.

5:00 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

You are kidding! Really? HAH! That is something. Do you still keep in touch?

Congratulations on being a NYT Bestselling author, Maureen!

I'm at 9,360. But it's Write or Die for me. I'm not giving up. I'm writing like nuts the next few days. Thanks for the great post!

5:02 AM  
OpenID sharigreen said...

Fun post, Maureen. Thanks! And huge congratulations on hitting that bestseller milestone! Woohooooooo! (I totally <3 Let It Snow. Awesome book.)

5:27 AM  
Anonymous Kate said...

Congrats on being a NYT Bestselling Author Maureen! You totally deserve it!

And thank you for these blogs, and also the Pep Talk you wrote for NaNo as well. It got me through a section in my story's middle that was eluding me ^-^ I am almost to 50,000 now!

Additionally, I LOVE the song Centerfold! I grew up listening to this, and until today, I always sang the "nah nah nah nah nah" part, and I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of the song. So thank you for that as well!

Best wishes to you and have a wonderful holiday!

5:42 AM  
Blogger kalimagination said...

I don't know how often people tell you they love you, but I LOVE YOU. The words you say are so funny, yet inspiring!
*Gives candy*

7:17 AM  
Blogger historian40 said...

Hey Maureen, thanks for your blog. I finished my 50k yesterday and it was due in large part to your NaNo pep talk. I've read it, forwarded it and quoted it to friends and family many, many times. "The Middle" - so simple yet perfectly fitting. As a side note, when I read your pep talk, I thought to myself, there is a woman who is wise. I immediately pictured a woman of about fifty. You were smart looking - round-rimmed glasses, grey hair with black streaks and a snappy dresser. Well you can imagine my surpire when I clicked on the "here" at the end of the pep talk to learn more about you and then pulled up your blog and saw your picture. I was way off. Whoops!! - You are an amazing, witty writer and I've enjoyed reading your blogs and I'm sure my daughter will enjoy your books. Cheers and thanks again for the NaNo pep talk.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Tenley Nadine said...

How is it that your blogs always address the very issues I am struggling with at the current time? Its kind of scary, but in an MJ scary way, not a Creature from 8A kind of way.

Also, congrats on being a New York Times Bestselling Author! Its a much deserved title.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Joella said...

This blog entry inspired me to keep on working hard at my NaNo (not that I'm giving up - I'm at about 39.25k!) But it reminded me to keep on plodding through even when it gets difficult.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Congratulations on being a NYT bestseller, Maureen! You so deserve it - (1) All your books are amazing; (2) You are just the best storyteller. This blog post is amazing.

:) Sarah

10:18 AM  
Blogger Maddie said...

thx a lot 4 the post and congrats on the ny title. another thank you cuz yesterday i was tired and let my mc lead. she ended up in a toy store. im sooo using suckerman in the mix!

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we play centerfold for band wow never listened to the original until now though.
loved the story reminds me of me and my sis, though i always grabbed my toy back

8:29 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

LOL at how I have heard that song a million times but never paid enough attention to realize what it was about. That's how I am with a lot of things....

I have to write 5000 words a day from now until the end of NaNoWriMo if I'm going to make 50k. AAAAHHHHH.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

I LIKED this post. I usually get my friends to do what I want by saying, "I will never speak to you again." Then they realise how that would DESTROY them and repeatedly apologise and shower me with gifts. Or at least stop pelting me with pens and text books (yes, this happened today).

Quoting my English teacher? Maybe not on THIS, but on your NaNoWriMo pep talk? Yeah, I will be. For our oral exam we have to speak for five minutes about a hobby, and I'll be doing writing, so I'll be talking about NaNoWriMo, the pep talks, what it's like to be in The Middle, and so I will be repeatedly saying "Maureen Johnson - New York Times BESTSELLING AUTHOR, Mr Uglow, BESTSELLING AUTHOR, she is - said..."

11:31 PM  
OpenID ayamizuno said...

^ That was for you now being 'Maureen Johnson, New York Times bestselling author'
And I would contribute to this super-exciting event, but I bought Let It Snow last Christmas. I am re-reading it to celebrate, though! And from the first time I read it I can safely say that it deserves that place on the NYT bestseller list. Congratulations to all three of you!

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Nina said...

Hi MJ! Entertaining post as always. This one made me laugh so hard! :)
I don't mean to take you away from nanowrimo but I need an URGENT QUESTION answered!

Lately the pressure that comes with having facebook has been getting to me... there is this unstated rule that you have to keep posting, that you have to prove how good of a life you've got through crazy photos taken with friends, etc. I HATE THAT. I only made an account to keep in touch with some friends who live on the other side of the globe, and that's what's great...but I find this idea of making your profile "look good" superficial and narcissistic.
How would you combat the pressure?

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Nina said...

Hey MJ! I laughed so hard at this post.
Now, not to take your attention away from nanowrimo or anything, but I need an URGENT QUESTION answered!

Lately the pressure that comes with having facebook has been getting to me. I only made an account to keep in touch with friends who live far away...but this thing with updating your status, putting up pics taken with friends to make your profile look good...to make your LIFE look good...I HATE THAT. I find it superficial and narcissistic!
Still, how do you combat the pressure?

1:05 PM  
Blogger J. Hernandez said...

WH-HOO! Maureen Johnson, bestselling author! Sounds great.

Plus, this post saved my life. The book was going to kill me. You rock, (NYT Bestselling Author) Maureen Johnson.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Renata said...

Congratulations on your NYT Bestseller credit! That's uber-awesome and you totally deserve it (even if you weren't dying for it or anything).

I recently re-read a novella I wrote 5 years ago, when I was in 7th grade. Though it seemed to be the greatest-thing-ever when I wrote it, I now realize that it was pretty awful (both grammatically and plot-wise and depth-wise). Is it worth rewriting now or should I wait, say, 5 or 10 more years, to avoid having to rewrite it again, when I realize in the future that I'm not that good a writer right now?

7:02 AM  
OpenID karenbschwartz said...

Love this! And thank you!

8:40 PM  

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