An Open Letter to First-Time NaNos

This is a letter I wrote to a friend’s 11th grade Honors English class–I’ve left it intact, but I feel like it’s appropriate for a lot of WriMo virgins, regardless of age.


To the Victims of Ms. Laskowski’s Honors English:

I remember being in your shoes: staring down the barrel of a month of frenetic page-filling, sometimes doing whatever it took to get words down to fill up my Daily/Weekly Word Count. It’s a bit scary, isn’t it?

It’s daunting if you have absolutely no idea what you’re writing about or even where your end-point is. I grew up on the Advanced/Honors/AP route, so I feel you. Everything can become about the destination rather than the journey, especially when you’re juggling several classes, all of which are vying for your undivided attention. Success can mean getting the absolute correct answer as efficiently as possible in order to get the best grade you can. It’s a wonderful skill/ambition to have.

The problem is, life doesn’t always work on a system of right/wrong, pass/fail. Sometimes it’s being 20 years old and deciding it’s perfectly appropriate to wear pajamas to Krispy Kreme at 3 in the morning while pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam in your 8AM Lord of the Rings and Politics class (and my friends, let me tell you. College is awesome that way)…

Sometimes it’s being 30 and deciding to eat Halloween candy for breakfast-in-bed on the first day of NaNoWriMo, while wrangling your attention-seeking cat to get his butt out of your face and hopefully only lay on half your laptop’s keyboard. Life is weird, and sometimes the only right and wrong choices are not the ideal ones–they are maybe the only ones available given the bizarre back alley you’ve wandered down.

(Spoiler: Both of those things have happened in my life. I have no regrets.)

That’s what NaNoWriMo is about at its very core. It’s about cutting loose and having fun, about going where the wind blows you–and trusting that your penny-per-word Dickensian description of a flower will win the day’s word count.

Here’s why: at some point down the road this month, you may find a perfect use for having described that flower. Maybe it becomes a symbol for someone’s bitter rivalry, or a recurring motif wherein the author is subliminally injecting their own disdain for a particular character into the project. (I used to do that a lot in school when I wasn’t thrilled about the writing project assigned. I’m pretty sure making this one math teacher a demon was extra subtle.)

Who knows? You won’t, unless you write like mad and find yourself down a dank back-alley with little more than a pair of roller-skates, that flower, and a shovel, hoping you can dig your way out of the odd series of events in which you’ve found yourself.

Life (and NaNoWriMo) isn’t always about perfection–it’s about letting yourself get creative with the situation at hand.

Here’s the best part: a single 50k-word work is a novel. 25-30k is a novella. So hey, look at you! At the end of this month, YOU’RE GOING TO BE A NOVELIST! That’s pretty B-A. Surviving NaNoWriMo is something worth bragging about–even if you have exactly zero desire to pursue writing later in life. (And who knows? Maybe when you’re 45 you’ll have some sort of mid-life crisis, buy a Camaro, and decide to become the demented love-child of Geoffrey Chaucer and JK Rowling.)

(Spoiler: That one hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m not counting any chickens.)

So do the thing! Strap on some heavy boots and wade into the mud. Stomp, flop, and push your friends over into it–get messy! FLY BY THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS! Don’t worry so much about that golden star at the end. The month will go faster than you think it will, I promise.

Most of all–good luck, you guys. Have fun. Wear roller skates, pick flowers, and eat doughnuts. Let your mind wander. Then write it all down.

Happy November!

❤ Pru Holcombe

Pru, a 3-time NaNoWriMo survivor, is a bizarre little creature whose natural habitat involves a laptop, the internet, and a jar of Nutella. They wrote their first (completely terrible) novellas at 14, and is currently first-time e-publishing a novel. Also? They absolutely loved that Lord of the Rings & Politics class and sincerely believes life is an amazing and weird thing.