An Open Letter to NaNoWriMo Participants

Dear Wrimos:

Congratulations! You’ve embarked on a pretty remarkable adventure. Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, the act of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, in the company of so many others, is quite an impressive endeavor. You should be proud of yourselves. You’re doing something a lot of people only talk about doing.

The good news is that you are an inspiration to many of those people. Next year, they might decide to join you. They may find delight in cheering you on. Everyone wants to know a writer, and you’re a writer. Enjoy this part of the writer’s life.

There is also bad news, of course.

Because you are doing something a lot of people only talk about doing, you are also a threat to some of those people. They are not pleased that you are succeeding. They have any number of reasons for feeling that way, but honestly, the reasons aren’t all that important. What matters is that they can’t stop you, so they need you to stop yourself. To get that result, they’re going to disparage your results. They’ll belittle you personally. They will tell you that you can’t succeed. They will say that your success is meaningless, usually by comparing you to other successful authors whom they will also put down. Then they’ll wait for you to take it personally.

Every year, I see some of you after a run-in with the haters. You’re looking for the box of tissues. Some person said something mean to you about your writing, you’ll say, and now you’re crying and wanting to quit.

I wish I could be nicer to you about this, but I really think you will get more out of the truth.

There will always be people in the world who are going to say mean things about you and what you’re doing. These people are as constant as death and taxes. If you’re going to let them get to you like that, the writing life might not be for you. It’s filled with obstacles, pitfalls and long, dark, thankless nights. People who want to see you fired because of what you write. Teeny tiny paychecks. The eternal question: Is it better to have no reviews or only negative reviews? The highs are great, but the lows never go away.

But haters are not the problem. The dark downside of the writer’s life is also not the problem. The problem is that you are making the behavior of a few unhappy people the foundation for your behavior. You can’t stop those people anyway. You also can’t control much of what the writer’s life is going to do to you once it builds some momentum. You are, however, in complete control of your response to both those things.

You can either do what the haters want and quit, or you can go on living the writer’s life on your terms. If that means you finish the book this month, then so be it. If it means you stop tomorrow because you need time to figure out what happens next, then so be it. If your boss buries you with overtime and your schedule disintegrates, well, sometimes you have to face economic realities before you get back on the horse. If you finish this book and get hooked on the high, then go get ‘em. Live the life on your terms – make those decisions for yourself.

If you quit because someone said something mean to you, I’m not sure I can offer you any real solace. Living this life means dealing with mean people. You might have to deal with them every day. You might even live with them. Listen to them carefully. Don’t fly off the handle; haters love that. Decide whether they have a legitimate point. Take what you can from them and use it. Leave the rest with them.

You will need a thick skin to get by in this life. You’ll run into tactless people like me. You will at some point take a harsh critique from someone who wants to help you. People will say no to you. You will hear no end of ignorance from people who don’t understand what you’re doing. You cannot allow those people to make you cry and want to quit if you mean to gain any measure of success with this. You’re not doing yourself any favors by becoming the sort of fragile person the rest of us are afraid to tell the truth.

I’m going to close here with a quote from that master of philosophy, Rocky Balboa. He makes my point better than I do. In the last of the Rocky movies, Balboa shares with his son the principle that’s gotten him through all six films. “It’s about how hard you can get hit,” he says, “and keep moving forward.”

You will keep getting hit. You must keep moving forward. I’ll see you at the finish line – on your own terms.


6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to NaNoWriMo Participants

  • This is terrific advice whether you’re participating in NaNo or not. I usually sign up but fall short of the word count. Knowing that, I use NaNo with my personal productivity goals. While they’re not NaNo worthy, they move me forward a little bit day by day. Consistency counts. Even baby steps add up. 🙂 Thanks, Lexi, for sharing this advice.

  • So true, Lexi. Sadly, there are always folks who enjoy belittling others. We cannot change them, but we can change our reaction to them. Thank you for reminding us of this fact. The successful writer is the one who WRITES! All the NaNo participants are doing just that. I applaud each and every one, no matter where they are now or where they end up on 11/30. You NaNo writers, listen to our gal, Lexi, and keep on keepin’ on!

    • Aw, thank you! My parents were the first ones to hit me with the wisdom that there will always be haters, but as is often the case with parental wisdom, I didn’t really hear it until much, much later. Sometimes the drive to spite the haters is the only thing that keeps me moving forward. 🙂

    • It takes a little practice, but you’re a tough cookie with lots of support. I have every confidence in you!

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