iamdanilamb asked you:Hi! This is my first year doing NaNo and I’m trying really hard to just write but the goal of fifty thousand words is freaking me out! Do you have any advice for this? I want to finish but I feel like I’m freaking myself out on the second day.

My dear iamdanilamb,

Let us consider the number 50,000. It is a non-trivial number. It must be examined and respected, but not feared.  It may feel like some strange CREATURE that lives in the corner, staring at you with beady eyes, but this 50,000 has come to help you. It is your FRIEND.


50,000 words may linger just above your head, looking like this.

As I’m sure you’re aware, writing is not about getting as many words down on a page as possible. We don’t think books are great just because THEY WEIGH A LOT. A writer is not classified as a genius because his or her works must be transported by wheelbarrow. Writing is about getting the right words in the right order. That’s the trick, and it’s not easy. Much writhing and teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling is done in the name of getting the right words in the right order. The task is so daunting that many people avoid it forever and make up excuses about why they never write that story they’ve always wanted to write. Fear blocks their way.

You, my friend, decided to sit down and give it a shot. And that is the first step in putting the right words in the right order. The next step is to write some words. ANY WORDS. Something has to be on the page. It’s totally okay if what goes on that page are the WRONG WORDS, as long as they are SOME WORDS, because you can work with the WRONG WORDS. A lot of what you are doing at the start is blowing some of the crap out of your head and knocking the fear out of the way. You are PUNCHING FEAR IN THE FACE. You’ve already got it on the floor. Now KICK IT. Seriously. KICK IT.

The 50,000 words is there to give you space, to give you room to play and move. It gives you a ring to reach for, a big red button to push. It’s there, smiling, waiting for you. It’s not the creature with the beady eyes, hovering, waiting to kill. It looks more like this:

Look at it. JUST LOOK AT IT. It’s doing loop-de-loops around your head, encouraging you to take advantage of this opportunity. Imagine this 50,000 words as a huge room you can dance around. A field you can roll through. You cannot mess this up if you tried.

And 50,000 words, though it seems like an UNGAINLY number, isn’t even as much as you think. It SOUNDS big, but that’s 1,666 words a day. That’s not a huge number. That’s a few emails and a couple of texts. It only seems big because you’ve put an expectation on yourself that you can now THROW AWAY. This is not a text. No one will tase you in the neck if you write the wrong thing, because YOU CANNOT WRITE THE WRONG THING. Give yourself a chance to get it wrong. You’ll get it right later. Listen to Mark Twain. He said:

You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it.”

And he knew what he was talking about! Now go play with your owl. JUST LOOK AT IT.

With love,

Auntie MJ