Maggie
Stiefvater

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My Annual Dear John Letter to NaNoWriMo

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Maggie in 2011 says: A lot of folks have been asking me about my thoughts on NaNoWriMo (not without reason, as I write novels quickly and once a year), and I thought the best thing was just to post my final NaNoWriMo post from last year. This is my Dear John letter to NaNoWriMo from last year, and the novel I’m referring to in it is THE SCORPIO RACES. I think it pretty much says what I need it to say.

Maggie in 2010 said:
__________________________

Dear NaNoWriMo,

We’re through.

I know that you have enough people who love you and care for you that this break-up won’t be difficult for you (Last collective word count of all NaNo’ers, everywhere, was 1,776,482,205 words), so really don’t have a problem telling you exactly what I think of you.

You’re a bad concept, NaNo. You suck.

No, no. Let me back up. I can be reasonable. Just because I’m feeling vehement and emotional about you ruining my life . . .doesn’t mean I should be unfair.

You are not a bad concept. You’re a bad concept for me, NaNo. This is why: you make me write crap, NaNo. You make me make bad novel decisions. You take away my ability to brainstorm between chapters. You make me rush through characterization. You make me pack filler in that will only get ripped out later, having taught me nothing about my novel. You make me into a bad writer.

You know what hurts me the most, NaNo? I want to write something meaningful. Something with subtext and theme. That’s the reason I write, really. And you took that away from me. How could I possibly contemplate the greater picture when I was constantly chasing word count? What kind of conceptual boyfriend are you anyway? That you would make me write superficial tripe?

Oh, for weeks I believe your spiel: that it was okay that we were bad in the sack together now, that we’d get better with revising. But I see through your lies, baby. We will never get to sweet, sweet passionate love on the beach from where we are here. Basically, if we played the game your way, I’d end up rewriting every single word I wrote.

So this is me saying, I’ve been cheating on you. Since November 15th, I threw on the brakes, reread what I’d written, cut out huge parts, and started writing my novel the way I like to. And the difference is that now I have 23,000 words that I love. Instead of 50,000 words that I can’t stand to read over.

But it took me a long time to get to that point, NaNo. Because you made me feel like I was turning my back on some great goal that I’d made. You hit me where it hurt, NaNo; you know that I don’t like to give up a goal once I’ve made it. So here’s where I say thanks. You taught me that not all goals are good goals. That some are picked up out of principle and aren’t worth pursuing. You reminded me of what I used to always tell people in conjunction with my little goals speech: that you should choose your battles wisely.

And you aren’t a good battle, NaNo. You’re just a bad boyfriend and a lousy literary lay. I’m taking my Secret Novel and getting the hell out of this relationship before you can hurt us anymore! We’ll be fine without you. Nay, better off without you! When you see me walking down the street with the hardcover edition of Secret Novel in 2012, looking fine, fine, fine with its deep theme and subtle characterization, I hope it makes you throw up a little in your mouth.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.

50,000 superficial words of love,

Maggie

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Maggie from 2011 adds to this: I don’t have a problem with other people doing NaNoWriMo. If that’s what it takes to motivate you, go for it. If you work well that way, go for it (not that you were sitting around, waiting for my approval). But for my style of writing, for my creative process, it will literally never work. I cannot knowingly write crap. I just can’t. I can and do write crap, but I can’t realize that I’m doing it at the time.

I know that lots of people use NaNo for the community, and I get that, too, but for me . . . I’d rather build a writing community that I have year round, a community that I know better than just a forum cheering zone. It’s why I encourage everyone to have beta readers and critique partners: people who become friends and reading buddies. That’s the sort of community I crave, not one with a sort of expiration date. I kind of feel like NaNo offers everything a writer needs, but in a diet version. Just because you don’t write full time doesn’t mean you can’t have a full time support system and deadlines that you set for yourself. Having only a little time to write doesn’t mean you can’t have the non-diet, full-fat, all the whipped cream and sprinkles too please writing accoutrements. I wrote my first published novel only on Wednesdays, from 6-8 p.m., because that was all the time I had. Deadlines are good. Community’s good. But NaNo . . . one month . . .

The how the story is told is just as important as the story itself to me, which means . . . NaNo and me are never meant to be. You, however, are welcome to it.

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  • Minerva Vasquez

    Thank you for freeing me of NaNo…I was giving myself a guilt trip for not having started ( it has taken me two weeks to conceptualize the story idea in my head in between a 40 hour work week with 3 teens, 3 dogs, and 1 husband).

  • Shawn Newman

    This is a very valid point … I never thought about NaNo like this until I read your 3 bye-bye NaNo articles, including this one.
    I did NaNo once when I was 13 and had unlimited time on my hands. And it was fun and community and very exciting with your aforementioned cheering-on forums. And then every year after since then, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it (I’m 21 now). I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about it. But now, thanks to your articles, I realized that maybe it’s not me and maybe the pressure really is too much. I haven’t ever stopped writing since then. I just haven’t written 50K words in a month flat.
    And now I’m okay with that.

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  • CC Riley

    I just quit NaNo for the first time. I was feeling a little guilty. Yesterday was the first day that instead of writing my 2k words, I wrote in my journal, about life and what it feels like to quit. Today, I wrote about how the ideas are coming more naturally. About how I’m not forcing it. Thank you for writing this, even if it is old news to you. After spending a summer writing, I found my stride, and NaNo just doesn’t fit anymore.

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Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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