NaNoWriMo Week 3: the Novelist’s Mindset and Sara Gruen’s Pep Talk

As promised I am posting Sara Gruen’s pep talk.

I’m actually taking her advice and just jumping from one fun scene to the next and transitions can go hang. And my post count as of this writing is 13,417. (Yes, I wrote a little over 2,000 words since yesterday’s blog.) And this was just two scenes; a fight scene and a sex scene (yet another reason this will not see the light of day, except perhaps under a nom de plume). This was the first time I’ve written either scene and boy howdy, it’s a–well, this is something you should try….

I always keep thinking that I’ve shut off my internal editor and to my chagrin find out that no, that is usually not the case. I’m pretty sure it’s still not off as there are almost no typos in the manuscript. Sigh.

This morning I also came to the conclusion that no one has ever taught me how to write a novel. It is a far different experience from writing a short story compilation or a couple of novellas (I’ve done both, neither is publishable in my opinion). The mindset and approaches (well, mine in any case) are unlike my usual modus operandi.

With this being Friday and my having canceled all but one social engagement, the weekend forecast for writing looks good. I’m optimistic in that I’ll crack 20,000 by Sunday night.

I have to keep reminding myself that the point is QUANTITY not QUALITY. I just have to hit 50,000.

And now I turn it over to Sara Gruen….

– – — —- ——–

Dear NaNoWriMo author,

I’ve been trying to write this pep talk for almost a week. The problem, you see, is that I’m wickedly behind on my word count and I was determined to catch up first. Last night I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. So. All you people who have vast amounts of words in the bank, gobs more than you’re supposed to have at this point in the month? Super great! Keep it up! Those of you who are just a little bit depressed and crazy, not to mention googley-eyed because you’ve pulled eight all-nighters in a row trying to catch up? Come sit with me. We will get through this.

I started out with the best of intentions, namely letting my OCD run free. I created a spreadsheet that shows my word count for the day and what my word count should be if I had completed my 1667 words a day. Just looking at that growing column made me feel giddy—If I could just drag my way through 1667 words each day, I’d sail on through the month and be the prou d owner of 50,000 shiny new words.

Then life got in the way. My horse got conjunctivitis, and while I was out treating her, I slipped and broke my foot, meaning I couldn’t sit at my desk because my foot would balloon. But I was still determined, so I got up each morning, lay on the couch with my foot on pillows and my laptop propped open on my stomach. It made for a lot of typos and a toasty stomach (my laptop gets really hot!), but at least I was writing. Then my dog got sick. Really, really sick. As in, they thought she had cancer and might not come home sick. But as soon as we’d spent the requisite fortune to prove to her that we love her, she miraculously recovered (all our pets have taken up this method of proving our continued devotion). Meanwhile, my word count was slipping a little further every day. (You’re probably wondering where the pep part of this pep talk comes in, aren’t you?)

In the wee hours of last night, when I was trying to figure out how I could possibly give advice to people about their word counts when mine is so abysmal, I realized my problem. I’ve been ignoring my own advice, and everyone else’s too. You know, the "no editing" rule, and the "it’s okay to write a really bad first draft" rule, and the "move around the story as much as you want" rule. I was dutifully handing that advice out to my nano’ing friends, but I wasn’t taking it myself and I was (and am) 5,640 words behind where I should be according to my little spreadsheet. But today, I am going to jump around and write only the fun bits! I’m going to write about food fights, and disastrous sex, and escaping in-laws, and apes with unlimited credit! I’m going to write about roach-infested motel rooms with strippers upstairs and ways of using Jefferson Starship’s "We Built This City" as revenge! (Sorry Grace, I love you, but…)

And whenever one of those scenes starts windi ng down, I am going to ditch it without so much as a sayonara and look for the NEXT fun scene. The transitions can wait. And instead of avoiding writing by going to various gossip sites that some person *cough* (Joshilyn) who-shall-remain-nameless *cough* (Jackson) got me addicted to last time she came to my house, I will visit them at the end of the day as a reward for having written my words.

I can do this. WE can do this. However far behind you are, take comfort in knowing that there is somebody else out there in the same boat, and look for that next fun scene. And then the next. And if that doesn’t work, set someone on fire. In your book, of course.

See you in the winner’s circle.


Sara Gruen is the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Water For Elephants, as well as Riding Lessons, Flying Changes, and the upcoming Ape House (Spiegel &a mp; Grau, Fall 2008). She has participated in NaNoWriMo for several years. Ape House will be her third NaNoWriMo book. For more information about Sara, see

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