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How to Survive NaNoWriMo

On the podcast: Alums Julia Leef and Hurley Winkler have both tackled National Novel Writing Month and they share their advice for taking on a big writing challenge.

Find the full transcript after the Episode Notes.

Episode notes

MFA in Creative Writing

We've got two veterans of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, to share their advice on tackling this famous book writing challenge. Whether or not you're trying to pen 50,000 words on your novel this month or are thinking about setting writing goals, our NaNoWriMo alums Hurley Winkler ’17 and Julia Leef ’18 have practical tips for staying the course...and what to do when you don't make those daily word counts.

Hurley and Julia are graduates of Lesley University's low-residency MFA in Creative Writing.

About our guests

Julia Leef sitting on a bench writing on an autumn day.
Julia Leef

Julia Leef wrote her first book at the age of six about a frog and a prince who problem-solved their way through many exciting adventures such as “The Prince and the Frog Dug a Big Hole and Now They Can’t Get Out” and “The Prince Uses Too Much of the Frog’s Lake Water for His Showers.” She was so proud of her first completed book that she convinced her teacher to let her read it to the Kindergarten class, presumably because it’s hard to say no to a six year-old. She has loved writing stories ever since, dabbling in all styles of fiction but mostly drawn to fantasy and magical realism. She works at Macmillan Learning in Boston and loves that dirty water. She has been selected as a finalist in the 2020 Dream Foundry Contest. Read her short story The Well in Belmont Story Review. Follow Julia on Instagram @julia_writes731.

Hurley Winkler head shot
Hurley Winkler

Hurley Winkler's writing has appeared in Hobart, Neutral Spaces, The Millions, and elsewhere. She’s an alumna of Lesley University’s MFA program as well as other juried workshops, including Mors Tua Vita Mea, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Lit Camp. She has received grants from the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. Hurley lives in Northeast Florida, where she is writing her first novel. She teaches at Flagler College. Subscribe to Lonely Victories, her newsletter on writing and reading and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hurleywink.

Mentioned in this episode

This week's episode image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.

Find all of our episodes, show notes, and transcripts on our podcast page or just go ahead and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play Spotify or your podcast player of choice.

  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling

    This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode we bring you conversations with authors from the Lesley community to talk about books, writing and the writing life. My name is Georgia Sparling, and today I've got a special NaNoWriMo episode. In case you haven't heard of it. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month is a challenge that's meant to help writers complete a draft of a novel during the month of November. It doesn't have to be a great draft. But for a book for adults, it means writing about 1600 words a day, I think or 50,000 words for the whole month. So there have been some famous books written during NaNoWriMo: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen are some of the most notable that I could find on the internet. But today, we're going to talk about how to tackle this challenge. And I'm joined by two Lesley alums, Hurley Winkler and Julia Leef. So thank you for coming on the show today.

    Julia Leef

    Thanks for having us. 

    Hurley Winkler

    Thank you so much for having us, Georgia.

    Georgia 

    I'm so excited to talk about this. So, I feel like this is something that a lot of writers try to do, some succeed, some peter out. But, let's start out with introductions first. So, I'd love it if y'all would tell me a little bit about yourself and what kind of writing you do.

    Julia

    Well, I'm Julia Leef. I graduated from the Lesley MFA program in fiction. And for my type of writing, I tend to lean towards, more towards magical realism or speculative fiction for my short stories. But if I'm writing something that's novel length, I'll go more towards sci fi and fantasy. 

    Hurley

    My name is Hurley Winkler, I also graduated from Lesley studying fiction, and I'm a freelance writer, and editor. I also teach writing at Flagler College, and I've published short stories and essays, and I'm currently revising my first novel.

    Georgia 

    Nice, that's great. So let's get down to some NaNoWriMo talk. So, what made you guys, or you ladies each want to tackle this challenge?

    Julia

    I think I first heard of NaNoWriMo on a probably a forum that was online somewhere with a bunch of other people who were tackling it at the time, and I thought, "Oh, that's neat. I can- I was very ambitious. Like, I could definitely knock out a novel in a month. No problem. That's so easy." So I've done NaNoWriMo several times, I've also done the camp version that they have during the summer as well, I've yet to actually complete it. But I still always get something out of it, which is why I keep doing it every year, even if I haven't actually finished something because I always end up with more than what I would have had if I hadn't done that at all. 

    Hurley

    So I've done NaNoWriMo twice. The first time was in 2018. And I've always wanted to write a novel but never felt like I was fully capable of doing so. And I had graduated from Lesley the previous year and had written short stories during my time there. And NaNoWriMo just felt like a great way to practice the form of novel writing. So my first time I wrote a draft of a young adult novel called "Hangover Breakfast", about two friends in high school who were branching out socially and going to parties for the first time and started a tradition called hangover breakfast where they meet at a diner and talk about what happened the night before. And they attempt to continue that tradition into college. But their friendship sort of starts fading. And I actually haven't touched that project since I started on it for NaNoWriMo all those years ago. But I am completely at peace with that actually, I really did do my first NaNoWriMo as practice for the form of the novel. And it pushed me and helped me see how much extra characterization and depth I really had to achieve in order to write in this kind of extended form. And the entire time I actually kept thinking about an independent study I took during my time at Lesley called: The Art of the English Sentence with an incredible teacher named Barbara Baig. And Barbara touts the importance of what she calls deliberate practice in writing. And I think NaNoWriMo is a great way to deliberately practice the form of novel writing, it really pushes us to deliberately work within the shape and size of a novel. And the second time I did NaNoWriMo was last year when I was working on a revision of the novel I'm working on now. And I think like you said, Georgia, I think the typical word count goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, but I was in an account a different accountability program at the time called finish what you start with the writer Chelsey Hudson, who had encouraged me to aim for 30,000 words instead of the 50,000 and that year, I made a list actually of 30 different character exercises I wanted to do that would help me get to know my protagonist better. So every day I did 1000 words, with different character exercise and it was really such a great way to spend a month and it just goes to show that there really aren't rules to NaNoWriMo, like they say 50,000 Words, but it's not a requirement. And it can really just be whatever you want it to be.

    Georgia 

    That's great. And NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit. They're not holding over anybody's head. They're just trying to like help facilitate. Yeah. So what challenges did you have while trying to complete this project?

    Hurley

    So I think the biggest challenge is the one that everyone always talks about, which is the fact that NaNoWriMo is in November, which is one of the worst months to try to write a novel in a month. And the founders of NaNoWriMo, like you said, it's a nonprofit. And they say, it's a very deliberate choice for it to be in November. It teaches us to keep writing amid the chaos of life. So another challenge I had was just planning ahead, so I wouldn't have to write on Thanksgiving. So making sure I got a word count in before then so I wouldn't get behind. Last year, though, I actually did write on the morning of Thanksgiving, I felt very stoic doing so like sort of the Stephen King approach to writing who famously writes every day no matter what because of course, he does he Stephen King, right. And that's what I always tell other writers before they embark on their NaNoWriMo dreams is that it might feel kind of good to claim space for themselves and their projects before the chaos of family life ensues. You really never know until you try. But I think it's worth noting, like you shouldn't push yourself to do that, if that's just not reality. I think NaNoWriMo really pushes people to accept what the realities of life are, and when they really are going to get daily writing in. But I personally actually have a harder time focusing on Black Friday, because I always want to get all my online Christmas shopping done, and then go out and get my Christmas tree and do all of that, like fun nesting stuff. So I think it just goes to show we all have our distracting days and NaNoWriMo really shows us what they are.

    Julia

    Yeah, very similarly, my biggest challenge when I'm doing NaNoWriMo is just time, like, if you fall behind, it is very difficult to catch up. And I think that discourages a lot of people, because they'll see that, oh, you know, I'm- it you know, it marks your word progress. So you can kind of see how many words you'd have to write in order to catch up to where you want to be at that stage in the month. And so I think when people say, "Oh, I'm 10,000 words behind, there's no way I'm going to catch up, I might as well just stop for the month." And I think that, you know, people should try to push through that as best they can, you know, writing a little bit, even if it's not going to meet your word goal for the day is better than not writing at all, the latest stretch where I did NaNoWriMo, I was trying to use it to finish up the first draft of my novel. And I had given myself a goal throughout the whole year to write at least 500 words a day, it was a very small, very achievable goal that didn't make very fast progress. But it didn't make consistent progress. Because if I hit the end of the day, and I only had say a couple of hours before I needed to go to bed, doing 500 words was so much more doable than I believe it's about 1300 words, you have to write a day for NaNoWriMo to get it through for the whole month. So yeah, even if you do find that you don't have the time that you haven't been able to write for the last three days, and then you think you're probably not going to hit that 50k at the end of the month, just keep going anyway, you know, just write with those small word goals that are going to get you further along towards the end.

    Georgia 

    Yeah, I have a question sort of off that, like, what was your writing style or regimen before that? I mean, you talked a little bit about doing, you know, 500 a day for a year. So yeah. Is that is that a common practice for y'all? Or do you tend to kind of go hard, sometimes, nothing sometimes.

    Hurley

    It definitely wasn't common for me beforehand. I always had it in my head that I needed, like a special time to write, you know, those like two, three hours that you were going to be uninterrupted. You could focus entirely on your writing, nothing would distract you. That doesn't exist. That's not like a reality for the average writer, I don't think unless, again, you're Stephen King, you do this for a living. And you can just set aside those hours. Most of us can't do that. So I found that adjusting my goals, and especially for the novel draft because I really wanted to write that in about a year's time. And I knew that if I did my normal stuff, which was to wait for that perfect moment to write, I was never going to get started on this thing. So adjusting the goal so that it was a word count, rather than Oh, all right, for an hour, all right, for two hours. It forced me to always have something done every day, even if I was up until three in the morning trying to get my 500 words in because I'd put it off through the whole day. But it was much more tangible and a much more achievable goal than I'd done before. So NaNoWriMo was kind of just an extension of that. I was reaching the end of the year, I wanted to give myself an extra push to get more words out. So I expanded the word count, tried to do a little bit more and get a little further in the draft.  I rely really heavily on word counts when I'm drafting something because it just pushes me so much drafting is discovery while you're writing, you really don't know what's going to happen until you do it. So you can have a plan in your head. But you often end up as I'm sure you both know, you end up in places you never would have seen coming sometimes, which is the excitement of writing. So I feel like a word count really helps me get past my initial fear of just diving into the unknown, and just pushes me to just hit a mark gives me a tangible goal, because so much of writing just feels bottomless and endless, especially when you're working in the form of the novel. So that really, really helps me just to keep word counts, those word counts have varied for me through the years nowadays, if I can get like 500 to 1000 words in, it's great. I think that's a great place to aim. Because the funny thing is, you often trick yourself and you say, Oh, I'm just gonna write 500 words, and then you'll end up writing 1500. And it'll be so exciting. And you'll think, how did I do that? So?

    Georgia 

    Yeah, like once you're on a roll. 

    Hurley

    Exactly, even outside of NaNoWriMo, it's a really, really great thing to just instate word count goals; when in doubt, I think it's a great place to turn.

    Georgia 

    Yeah, I know, there's a lot of resources available for this, you know, month of writing. Was there anything you wish you'd known before you went into NaNoWriMo, like anything you wish you'd prepared or resources you wish you had known about?

    Hurley

    So, I actually have never used the formal NaNoWriMo resources before, [laughing] which I'm probably doing myself a horrible disservice, [laughing] I really just have used like, "month of November 50,000 words, let's go." Like, that's kind of been my approach to it. I have, however, used Instagram and Twitter as accountability measures, because I have great friends and my friends really hold me accountable. Like if they see that I'm not writing, they're like, Hey, what's going on. So I really just rely on those people in my life to keep me writing sometimes. But that really worked for me. But another thing that worked outside of that was learning to write out of order and giving myself permission to do that. Because I guess, you know, like I said, this was my first time even attempting a novel form was doing NaNoWriMo. So I had it in my head that I had to go in order of when things happen in the book. But I learned very quickly that often, I don't know what happens between one scene and another. But I do know that I want to get to that next scene. So I'll just write that scene and then figure out what happens in between them later on. So, I think that's a really great thing that I wish I had known before I'd gotten started because I think I would have been a lot less hard on myself, you're already going pretty hard on yourself when you're setting out to write 50,000 words in a month. So anything to make it a little bit easier is always a good, good thing. 

    Julia

    Yeah, for me, I probably would have outlined what I was planning to do a little bit more than I did, I kind of just jumped into it. Which is actually a big topic of debate on the NaNoWriMo forums, which I did sign up for, and they're available year round, if you wanted to check them out. And it's the the planner versus the pantser. So the person who plans what they're going to write ahead of time outlines, everything knows what they're going to do, versus the person who flies by the seat of their pants, just sets pen to paper and sees where it takes them. I think both approaches are valid, I'm definitely more of a pantser than a planner, probably a balance of both is probably the best thing that would work for your writing there. But, you know, just going through NaNoWriMo, one of the better things about it, I think this is kind of what you touched on earlier, Hurley is that you can't pause to do a lot of planning, when you're in the middle of the month, you don't have time for that you just have to keep writing. And I think the benefit of that is that you're not stuck in the planning phase. Because Oh, I don't know where I'm going to go with this. I don't know what this character is going to do. You'll just find that out as you go. Which you do a lot of the time writing is in its own way its own kind of planning. Because you will discover things about the characters that you probably wouldn't have found out if you were stuck on the outline face for another week or so. And that goes along with writing out of order as well. I know I would get to a lot of spots in my draft where I'm just like, "Alright, bracket time fight scene goes here. skip to the next scene and just keep going." Because you don't have time to stop and be like alright, I got to hash the scene out. Nope, you just got to jump to the next thing. That's going to be the easiest thing for you to write because that's what's in your head right at that moment. But though in general, I probably would have planned what I was doing up just a little bit more so I wasn't free balling it quite as much as I did for the month.

    Georgia 

    Did you ever, either of you ever hit a writer's block? If you believe in writer's block and so people say it doesn't- it's not real. [laughing] But yeah was there ever a point where you just couldn't think of what to put on the page next?

    Hurley

    For me, like I- there was a great essay going around last year that I'm sure you guys saw that was written by the writer Alexander Chee about like writer's block and whether or not it was actually real, and what it actually means when you're experiencing that and he just sums it up as fear. Like when you're blocked, you're afraid of something, you're afraid of going deeper, or you're afraid that you're not capable. Or you're afraid that if you do write something, it won't be good enough. So you shouldn't be writing anyway, you know, all of those different fears. So, for me, I try- I mean, on a good day, this is this is not what I do every day, but on a good day, I will look at what I'm doing, and if I'm feeling blocked, I'll say "Okay, what's really holding you back here?" Sometimes when, when you're writing nonfiction, it can actually weirdly be a little bit easier to figure that out. Because you especially personal nonfiction, because you look and see like, "Okay, what am I actually afraid of in my life? Like, what am I not coming to terms with here? What am I holding back on?" But in fiction, I think it's a little more complicated, it's a little less direct, at least. So I feel like, if I'm feeling blocked, that's sometimes usually a good place to start doing a word count goal again, or during NaNoWriMo. It's a good place to either just get up and take a walk and figure out "Okay, what is what is holding me back? What am I afraid of?" Or just pushing through. I mean, really, with, with writing, and like what I said about discovery, you just really don't know what you're going to discover if you just keep writing. So sometimes that's the answer. Usually, it's both usually it's the walk, then the discovery, [laughing] pretty good pairing. 

    Julia

    For me, writer's block kind of manifests itself in the form of this great big tangle. And I'm looking at it on the outside, and I've no idea how it could even be possible to unravel this thing, it just looks too tangled up, I don't know what I'm gonna do with it. So what I usually do then is I just kind of go for a walk. And I'll just think out various things, I could do various ways of tackling the problem. This is usually when I have a character, and I don't know which way they're going to go in the story. So I'll say, "Okay, let's follow the character down this road for a little bit. What are the consequences of that decision? How does that affect the other characters in the story? Do I hit any roadblocks for the run? Now, let's back up to the original diversion point. And we'll go to the different way. And we'll look at those consequences of that decision." And then by going ahead in my mind a little bit without writing anything down yet, I'm able to kind of see what path will work the best in terms of untangling the knot. And then I can move forward a little bit more than knot gets a little more untangled. Sometimes I'll run up into another obstacle. So I'll go back, I'll walk, I'll look at the different paths. And then that way, I'll be able to figure out basically, what was the snarl that was holding me up in my writing and keep going.

    Georgia 

    We talked about this a little bit, but what are some things that really worked for you? What are some things that really didn't? And maybe that you just sort of didn't anticipate that would be issues or would be kind of areas of success?

    Hurley

    I mean, definitely what worked for NaNoWriMo was I got words on the page, I feel like that's always the biggest accomplishment you can do with any kind of writing. So especially for a month where you're pushing yourself to do that as much as possible. So, you know, I think I on my latest one, maybe we wind up with 30,000 words, which is obviously short of the goal, but it's still 30,000 words in a month

    Georgia 

    That's a lot, yeah.

    Julia

    That's amazing. So, yeah, NaNoWriMo was definitely a good push to make sure I got words on the page, no matter what, at the end of the day. For things that didn't work, I'd say you're probably not going to have a very cohesive draft at the end of NaNoWriMo. Because it's so much about getting the words on the page. And sometimes that's a good thing, because it means you're not totally in love with what you've written that you're not afraid to tear it apart a little bit and build it up and make it better. But it can be a little tricky to work there. I know looking at what I'd written during that month, there's a whole lot of "alright skip this, write this later, I'm like, Oh, come on, Past-Julia, you could have just like spent five seconds trying to figure out that scene?"

    Hurley Winkler

    I love that Past-Julia. [laughing] That's great. Yeah, I'm just gonna echo everything Julia said, like, truly what works is that you get those words down. And that's- there's really no secret. Like, if you're getting words down, you're getting words down. And I really feel like I, I feel like with writing, especially thinking about it from the perspective of deliberate practice, like what I was talking about before, was writing sometimes it really is about, like, quantity over quality at first. So like, getting those words down, seeing what comes of it, learning the shape of it. Because also with with any kind of fiction writing, I think, you know, you're you're filling up empty space with things that, for the most part don't actually exist. So especially I mean, Julia, especially because she's writing speculatively and sci fi and things like that. 

    Julia 

    A lot of world building.

    Hurley 

    Whereas I'm writing realistic but I still feel like, I'm just like inventing things out of thin air. So a lot of the time we just, we're spending so much mental energy, just trying to figure out how a character moves from one room into the next, like, "What is the most interesting way to make that happen? Okay, we got that down. Now we can think about it more interestingly." So what works is just getting those things down, like figuring out how characters move on the page, which is excruciating and boring. Sometimes But it's so so important and really lays the foundation for any kind of future novel you're going to be able to write, I think. But aside from that, I mean, what doesn't work. Like I said, writing out of order, or writing in order for me doesn't work. I think it does work for some people, probably those planners that Julia's talking about, probably works better for them than it does for me, I kind of dance between like "planning, pantsing, planning, pantsing, oh, pantsing for a while, ooh, got to go back to planning, I don't know what I'm doing." So there's kind of a dance there. But aside from that, I think like, what doesn't work is like, getting getting too discouraged about getting off track definitely doesn't work. Because like Julia said, If you end up with 30,000 words, those are 30,000 words, that is a huge, huge victory. And they even call it in the NaNoWriMo world. I know they call it like, if you write 50,000 words, you quote unquote, "won" NaNoWriMo, which I think is really funny, [laughing] and is sort of counterproductive. But I think no matter- if you get any writing done, it means you won. Like, I know that sounds corny, but truly, if you if you write you won, that's a really good way to think of it.

    Georgia 

    I'm sure some of our listeners need to hear that too. Who should try NaNoWriMo? And who do you think should maybe wait a year or longer? [laughing]

    Hurley

    I think the people who should try are people who thrive on accountability, which according to the writer Gretchen Rubin, who wrote a book called "The Four Tendencies Framework," she's a great like, I don't know if she's technically a psychologist, but she thinks very psychologically, and writes very psychologically, and studies the way people work. According to her, most people in the world are what she calls "obligers", which are people who thrive on accountability and who need outer accountability in order to reach their goals. So thinking of it that way, if someone really does gravitate toward accountability, then NaNoWriMo is probably a good fit for them. And most of us know what we want to do, but we need the outer accountability in order to get started. And once I personally stopped seeing that is a weakness, and I stopped comparing myself to what Gretchen Rubin would call "upholders" who are the kinds of people who just see something they want to do and just do it without any outer accountability involved. Once I accepted the fact that I was not that kind of person, my writing got so much better, because I was giving myself what I really, really needed, which was outer accountability. And the people who shouldn't work on NaNoWriMo. I think Julia kind of mentioned this earlier, but anyone expecting to write a polished novel, they can just immediately like December 1, just email out to their friends and family and loved ones after working on it for a month of writing, and give those people a really good time, like those people should not be doing NaNoWriMo [laughing] the people who should or people who are looking forward to having a draft to play with later on. Because also, it's worth noting that NaNoWriMo is an incredibly polarizing thing in the literary sphere. I mean, I every year on December- or November 1, I see so much controversy, so many writers speaking out about like, "Why this is not the right approach. This is not the thing that writers should be doing." And a lot of writers argue that it's harmful to expect to be able to write a worthwhile draft of a novel in a month. They say that it belittles though all the work that novelists do in order to finish their books and gives people false expectations about what it takes to write a novel. And many others just don't see the point of not taking one's time in their writing lives. They think that the rush of NaNoWriMo takes away from the beauty of the creative process in a lot of ways. And I completely see where those writers are coming from because like we've said a month is not a long time. And that's my number one tip for writers who have decided to embark on NaNoWriMo is to manage their expectations. Because most of the time if any of us do, quote unquote, "win", NaNoWriMo, we do it with a very, very messy draft on our hands. Like Julia was saying brackets everywhere. Like I remember at one point I had like "to come: great paragraph here." And I was like really Past-Hurley, really, like just so mad at my past-self. But that's what I had to do in order to reach the goal. And I think it's wonderful that that happens. And 99% of the novels in the world have to start at that point. They have to start with those brackets and the "C'mon past-self," and it really just lays the foundation and it helps writers get their initial ideas out of their heads and onto the page so they can clear away brain space for new ideas in order to strengthen the project later on. 

    Georgia 

    Yeah, 

    Julia

    Yeah, I think for my part, I feel like anyone should try NaNoWriMo as long as they're going into it with the right expectations. You know, like Hurley was saying you're not going to come out of that with a polished draft that's ready to go and submit to editors. That would be a wonderful little trick, if we could do that. [laughing]

    Georgia 

    And also, if you could do that everybody- all the other writers would hate you. [laughing]

    Hurley

    Right, they'd be like, "What the heck, we should have done this." But yeah, the controversy is definitely very interesting. But I think it maybe comes from a misunderstanding of what you do when you're done with NaNoWriMo, which is not send that draft right off together, what you do is you revise usually, or you know, maybe you start a new project, because you found that what you were working on, didn't end up working. So instead of spending maybe four months, cranking out and getting that far in the draft, you now know, in a month that this idea of yours doesn't work, and you can move on to something else. And I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with writing a quote unquote, "bad first draft." First up, I think, well, first, drafts are bad just by nature. That's just that's kind of a freeing thing about first drafts, they're not meant to be good or polished, no one's going to see them except you if you don't want them to. So you really don't have to worry about "Oh, am I doing this technique right? Have I got my style down? Did I characterize everyone perfectly on the first time?" You know, you can write bad first draft. There's a famous quote out there, which I think is one of those so famous, no one knows who actually said it first quotes, which is that: "You have to write a million bad words, in order to write anything good." So you know, it's kind of getting those bad stuff out of the way, it's really more practice, you know, you're practicing different techniques, you're deciding, "Okay, I don't know if this is going to work, but I'm going to try it. See if it works. And if it doesn't, well, now, I know. And I can do it differently the next time." So I think as long as people are going into NaNoWriMo, knowing that it's really more about practicing your craft than polishing your craft, I think they'll have a good time. And you know, if you do start it, and you find that you're getting overwhelmed by the deadlines, and it's causing a lot of stress and anxiety, you don't have to finish, there's no obligation, you didn't pay a fee. In order to participate. You're not losing money. If you don't do anything, you can just decide, "Alright, I'm done. I'm gonna stop. And maybe I'll go back to this, maybe I won't, maybe I'll try it again, I'll see how I feel." But, you know, it's it's a very casual event in that way. For all that it sounds stressful for doing all that writing in a month is, you can really do- and use it however you want to.

    Georgia 

    Yeah, that's great. So yeah, after such a big writing, push, What is life like on December 1st?

    Hurley

    It can be so devastating.

    Georgia 

    Oh, no.

    Hurley 

    I think people really suffer withdrawals after NaNoWriMo. They're like, "Oh, God, what do I do now?" Because they think, "Okay, I'm gonna commit to this for a month and then not think about it after. " But really, I think some people think that they're - I've seen some writers think that they're going to maintain that pace through revision, like the ones who are committed to revising a novel are saying, "Okay, I'm just gonna keep doing this, like 50,000 words a month, let's go." But it's such a clip to maintain. And few writers maintain that throughout the year. And for good reason. Actually, it was Michael Lowenthal, who is a wonderful, wonderful writer, he's Lesley fiction faculty, and he's a great friend of mine, perfect specimen of a human being. He taught me that so much of committing to a writing life is getting comfortable with the rumination that writing requires. And there were a few years where I committed so fiercely to outer accountability, after I read that Gretchen Rubin, "Four Tendencies Framework", realize that about myself, I just thought, "Okay, we need all the outer accountability now. We need to always have these deadlines, always commit to this." And I did things like NaNoWriMo and 100 day challenges and writing swaps with friends. And you know, even thinking about being a student in an MFA program, I was doing it then too. And I think that's why so many people commit to time in an MFA program and seek that kind of accountability, it's because they need that, that structure and that framework in order to write. But in all of that time, I really hadn't carved out much room to just stare into space and think very deeply about what I was working on. I wasn't taking those good walks that Julia and I both talked about, which was so funny that a walk is truly a writer's best tool. It really, really does solve a lot of problems to even just walk around the block. But then again, I think too much rumination can keep us from actually writing. So like every single challenging thing in life, I think it's really a balance between getting the words out and thinking about them. Getting the words out and thinking about them. And I don't have the answers yet, because I haven't finished a novel to completion yet. I'm still working on my first one. I've been working on it for about two years. But I am learning through that process, how to detect what my project needs for me. And sometimes it needs me to crank out a draft of a new scene idea so I have something to play with later on. And that's when I set a daily word count goal until I get through a draft and after that, I might ruminate for a few days but ruminate sort of deliberately, where I give myself some questions to think about. I also love talking to myself out loud, I think because I grew up as an only child. So, I'll do that a lot, I'll talk to myself out loud in the car or out on a walk around the neighborhood, I'll put in my air pods and just pretend I'm on a phone call and just talk to myself about what comes next is my book, which by the way, I wish we could normalize talking to ourselves out loud, because it's really a great tool, like the walk itself. So I stan [laughing] talking to oneself out loud. But anyway, there's a balance, I'm trying to strike there. And it's really been helpful to listen to that. So I think that's my biggest tip for people on December 1st, finding that balance in revision of going between, you know, continuing to write and rewrite, and also just thinking very deeply about their project. I think a lot of people, when they get to December 1st, their instinct is to stop completely, you know, because they've made this big push throughout the month, and they want to rest. That's what you do after a big race, you rest the day after because you need your muscles to heal and whatnot. But I would actually encourage people to slow down, rather than stop completely, because it is much harder to get started again, if you've stopped entirely than if you just say decreased your work count to 100 words a day. You know, it's a very little amount, it seems like nothing compared to what you did during November. But it's still something and kind of keeps you moving forward without everything, grinding to a complete halt. And I know that NaNoWriMo offers a lot of resources, post November, they do a couple of "Now, what?" months, they're called, quote unquote, "Now what?", and they're your months for revisions, they'll continue to post resources, usually advice from other authors, they will have authors sort of write mini essays of like motivational words to keep people going. They'll post tips on what you can do for your revisions. There's also the forums that I mentioned earlier, that are open year round, those are honestly a really great resource for sort of collective knowledge. There are a lot of different threads that are things like, "Hey, I need an expert at this. So I can check my facts against that", or "Hey, I am an expert in this ask me anything that you need to know for your novel", or "Has anyone been to this location? I need to know a firsthand account of that". Those are all really great resources for when you're doing your revisions and you've come to a part in your script, you know, like, "Oh, I actually don't really know much about this, I need to do more research", you know, then you can do a lot of that online. And you can also do that with the forums in talking to people who maybe have experienced these things firsthand. And you can ask them very specific questions. And it's nice, because it's, I think it's hard sometimes to find that in real life. Because you don't want to bother your friends too much. You want to be like, hey, I need to sit you down for two hours and ask you every question I have about this specific thing. But instead here you have a whole community of writers who want to help you with that, because they've got questions of their own. And so they completely understand, you know, that need to get even the smallest, seemingly insignificant detail correct. And they're happy to help you out with that. So, I think using the forums, or even if you don't just cutting down your word count instead of stopping completely, is a good way to help keep that energy going. After NaNoWriMo and going on throughout the rest of the year.

    Georgia 

    That's great. That's great advice. So, are you- did you all decide to do NaNoWriMo this year, or are you taking a year off?

    Hurley 

    I took a year off. Although I'm on sort of a stretched out version of it right now. I just started teaching this semester. So- and before that I had been teach- I'd been freelancing full time since 2018. And as a freelancer, you don't really have a calendar, like everyday blurs into the next year giving slack messages on Christmas day like it's constant. But with with teaching, it's like "Oh, this starts in August and ends in December, and then we do it again." So I'm finally back on an external calendar of some sort, and that's been really helpful for me, because now I- like at the very start of the semester, I said, "Okay, I'm going to finish this revision by the end of the semester", which also happens to be December 10th. Which one of my favorite books is George Saunder's "Tenth of December". So, I also sort of feel like I'm doing it for George, you know, [laughing] which, anything to keep you going, you know, so.

    Georgia 

    Yup, definitely.

    Hurley

    I'm not doing NaNoWriMo. But I am working very diligently to get this draft done by December 10th. And I'm also sort of tricking myself because if it doesn't happen by December 10th, my thinking is that it will at least happen by the end of the year. And that is good enough for me. This is like a major overhaul of my book that I've been working on. So I'm super excited to just have this full draft. It's so much closer to where I want it to be. And it feels really, really good. 

    Julia

    I skipped NaNoWriMo this month as well, I'm kind of in a weird space where I'm trying to figure out what the smartest way to organize my writing schedule is because I feel like there's so many aspects to writing, right? There's the actual bit of writing, there's doing research for your submissions. There's researching certain things that you need for your drafts, you know, and I've got I've got short stories I have in drafts, I've got the novel draft that I have. And so it's trying to figure out what I use my time for when. So "How much time do I spend on the novel? Does that mean I put all my short stories on hold for a year while I do revisions? Is there a way to balance both of them? How do I fit in with just the novel alone? The research the character, building, the world building-my God, so much world building-" let me tell you if you're doing a novel, and it's a sci fi fantasy novel, find as many books as you can about world building to help you out. I believe Jeff VanderMeer wrote a fantastic book called "Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction", and it has everything you could possibly hope for when you're considering world building, it talks about religion, currency, politics, you know, different regions, the weather, you know, and all that stuff is really important when you're building your world, because you want to make it seem as realistic as possible. And these will just be little details that you kind of spread out here and there when you're actually writing the story. But it's important for you, the author to have that in the back of your mind. So it's, you know, what I'm trying to figure out with my schedule is how much time do I spend on that aspect of the draft. You know, if I spent too much time on that, I might never actually get to the revision portion of it. And that could hold me up for too long. So overall, I just decided not to do NaNoWriMo this month, just that like one less thing to worry about and that extent. But I do miss it. I miss participating it, I miss talking to other friends who are doing it who are panicking because they're already behind. Or that one friend, who is always 2000 words ahead, somehow, who just sails through the whole thing. No problem.

    Georgia 

    Oh, well, this has been really great advice. And I think it'll, it'll help a lot of people who are, you know, tackling NaNoWriMo this month? Where can people find out more about the two of you and what you're working on for projects?

    Hurley

    I am on Twitter and Instagram. My handle is @Hurleywink. And I also write a newsletter about writing and reading called "Lonely Victories", which you can find at lonelyvictories.com 

    Julia

    Can recommend, excellent newsletter? 

    Hurley

    Thank you, Julia. I appreciate it.

    Georgia 

    About you, Julia.

    Julia

    Um, I avoid Twitter like the plague. I am only on Instagram. And I am there under @Julia_writes731. I don't post very often, I might eventually one day. But I'll occasionally share some things. I'm also slightly visible through the Lesley alumni group, Cambridge Common Writers, which is a organization that likes to help promote alums and what they're doing in their work. So if there are any Lesley alums listening to this podcast, I highly recommend you check us out Cambridgecommonwriters.org. And if you're not on the website already, please reach out to us we'd love to add you. And we just love sharing news about what people are up to, whether they've published a short story, or they've got a new book deal coming out, or they just had a screenplay get adapted. You know, it's, we love hearing what folks are doing and all the amazing things that they've started and finished since graduation.

    Georgia 

    I use it all the time to come up with ideas for who should be on the podcast next. It's a great resource. And I'll include all of that in the show notes too, in case people are driving and couldn't furiously write everything down. Yeah, thank you so much for coming on today. And to all of you out there who are doing NaNoWriMo I hope we provided some mid month inspiration and help. And I'd love to know if you've tried it like send us an email and news@lesley.edu And yeah, so we will be back in a few weeks with a new episode.