Okay, ladies and gentlemen, get ready for Aunt Julie’s Rules and Regs for the
1) Eat the elephant one bite at a time. You aren’t writing 50,000 words —
you’re writing somewhere between six and seven pages a day. The beauty of this
system is, it’s flexible. Say you write nine pages today. Tomorrow you only have
to write five. Practically a vacation.
2) Don’t worry that the speed will affect the quality. That way lies failure. In
fact, forget quality.
I mean it, just forget it. Quality is not what NaNoWriMo is about — quality
comes in December, when you sit down with your manuscript and hone it. (Did you
catch that magic phrase, “your manuscript”?) That’s what this is about — the
difference between nothing and something. What you want by the end of the month
is a whole pile of hard-copy pages — that’s right, print ’em out, so you can
see what you’ve wrought — personally written by none other than you. They
won’t be perfect, but they won’t be gibberish either.
3) Okay, here are the two best bits of writing advice anyone ever gave me, in
descending order. I got them both when I was a reporter.
The first bit came the week I was assigned to the court beat in San Francisco.
What you do is run around all day getting stories, and then at the end of the
day, you go back to the press room to write them. Frequently, they’re so
complicated they make your stomach hurt. One day when I had seven stories, and
about half an hour to write them all, I whined to Eleanor Hayes, the salty old
reporter from the Oakland Tribune, “Oh, woe! Oh misery!” (or words to that
effect) “However am I going to do all this?”
Eleanor didn’t even stop typing. She just bit out a few words and flung them
over her shoulder: “Put one word after another, Julie.”
I would have thought she was just being amusing — or maybe cruel — but I was
desperate. I took it because it was all I had, repeating it like a mantra, as I
proceeded to write those seven stories, one word at a time. That’s exactly how
you’re going to do 50,000.
The other — and world’s best — piece of advice came from an unlikely source —
maybe the least pleasant person I ever met in my life, my then-City Editor, Abe
Mellinkoff. A sexist and a martinet. Horrible man. When it got near deadline and
you’d still have a million calls to make before you were ready even to begin to
write, Abe would holler, “Where’s that liquor store shooting?” Whereupon you’d
mumble something lame, and Abe would shout, “Godammit, Smith, DON’T GET IT
RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN!” And you’d have to. It was that or be fired.
See, the thing was, Abe was counting on later editions. Whatever you set down on
paper (remember that stuff?) was merely that — not stone. You could make those
phone calls and clean that baby up for the home edition. You were just getting
something out for the first.
That’s what you’re doing now. By spring, when you’ve had time to monkey around a
little bit with a finished manuscript (Lord, what a beautiful phrase!) — you
could have something like the next “War and Peace,” maybe. Or at least something
publishable. But if you fiddle-faddle all your life trying to choose between
“white” and “pale,” you are doomed — Doomed! I promise you this! — to a life
So listen to Aunt Julie, ya hear? Write like the wind:
DON’T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN!
PUT ONE WORD AFTER ANOTHER!
MUNCH THAT ELEPHANT!