National Novel Writing Month (November 1-30) inspires aspiring writers to finally tackle writing a novel—and to do it in only 30 days. Hundreds of thousands of “NaNoWriMo” participants have been motivated by clear goals and a hard deadline to tell their own story, making this the perfect time of year to solicit advice from the best literary minds of today. Below, these Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau authors share insight into their writing process, and how budding writers can hone their craft.
1. Omar El Akkad, author of American War
Find a quiet place.
“My chief recommendation for the numbing work of putting a novel together is daily, self-imposed silence – prolonged periods of doing nothing, simply sitting alone and thinking about the world in which the story takes place.”
Read more from this interview with Omar El Akkad here.
2. Hannah Tinti, author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
Do as little research as possible.
“One of the best bits of advice I ever got about writing fiction was from E.L. Doctorow. He said to do as little research as possible in your first draft. ‘We’ve all seen enough movies to fake a time period,’ he said. ‘Otherwise your research will end up driving the narrative, instead of your characters.'”
Read more from this interview with Hannah Tinti here.
3. Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
Never delete anything, and if possible, get a head start.
“Never delete anything. If you can’t stand to look at it, change the font to white and keep going.
If possible, get a running start. It gives you flexibility for later in the month when you desperately need to do something, anything that doesn’t involve writing once in a while.”
Fact: The Night Circus started out as a NaNoWriMo project!
Read Erin Morgenstern’s full NanoWriMo pep talk here.
4. E. Lockhart, author of Genuine Fraud
It’s better to write just one page than to write nothing.
“Don’t try to write a great novel. Don’t try to write a good novel. Don’t try to write a decent novel. Don’t try to be witty, beautiful, deep, thrilling. Just write a page. Today. A stupid page. You can fix it later. It is better to write a stupid page than nothing.”
Read more advice from E. Lockhart on Buzzfeed.
5. Nathan Hill, author of The Nix
Write what matters.
“I once handed in a story in a creative writing class. The teacher looked at it and said, ‘You can do this, but you’re going to die soon, so you might as well write something that really matters.’ That was good advice. I think of that incident when I’m writing.”
Read more from this interview with Nathan Hill on the Huffington Post.
6. Paula McLain, author of Circling the Sun
Read like crazy, write every day, and stick to a deadline.
“When writers come to me and say, ‘I have aspirations. How do I do this?’ First of all, read like a crazy person, everything you can get your hands on but particularly the genre you want to publish in. What are the books you wish you’d written? And then write every day, and stick to some deadline. I think it was [author] Nora Roberts who said this phrase: ‘Ass in the chair.’ That’s what it takes. You have to sit down and do it. And on some days it feels like moving solid granite, and some days it’s like magic, but you still have to sit in the chair and see it through and do it anyway, and do it when “no” comes your way and when no one else cares.”
Read more from this interview with Paula McLain here.
7. Tara Westover, author of the forthcoming Educated
Find something wonderful and read it until you understand why it’s wonderful.
“Read deeply, not widely. After complimenting my writing style, my agent once said to me, ‘You must read so many books!’ I said, ‘I do not. I read the same books many times.’ Find something wonderful and read it until you understand why it’s wonderful.”
Read more from this interview with Tara Westover here.
8. Karen Russell, author of Vampires in the Lemon Grove
You’re going to need to revise anyway, so just have fun with your first draft.
“You will almost definitely have to revise, and likely even fully rewrite, whatever story you are pursuing right this moment. There will be time aplenty to refine your sentences, to smooth out narrative pleats. This month, why not go ahead and follow your pleasure? Now I’m plagiarizing the Magic 8-Ball, but believe me: More will be revealed. Go ahead and give yourself that mystic pep talk. The practice of letting go, of seeing where your own curiosity leads you, can only benefit your novel as a whole.”
Read more of Karen Russell’s NaNoWriMo pep talk here.
9. Charlaine Harris, author of the Midnight, Texas series
Don’t be too precious with your characters.
“Personally, I always kill someone. This enlivens the plot every time, and I get to write another ‘finding of the body’ scene, which is one of my favorites. I have never found a body in real life, but I have found dozens on the page, and every time, I get a creative charge from it. This may not be a particularly attractive aspect of my character, but hey! I’m amongst other writers, and I can tell you the truth.”
Read more of Charlaine Harris’s NaNoWriMo pep talk here.
10. Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay
Momentum breeds momentum.
“When it comes to writing, faith can get you started, but it won’t necessarily keep you going. The faith that you need to write a novel is constantly tested—and reinvigorated—by the act of writing one. You’ll be sitting at your computer one morning, with no clear of idea of where a character is going or what she’s going to do. And then she’ll show you. And you will follow. And your excitement in the process will be redoubled, and along with it, your faith. But that can only happen if you’re writing.”
Read the rest of Gayle Forman’s NanoWriMo pep talk here.
11. John Green, author of Turtles All the Way Down
Finish what you started.
“At this point, you’ve probably realized that it’s nearly impossible to write a good book in a month. I’ve been at this a while and have yet to write a book in less than three years. All of us harbor secret hopes that a magnificent novel will tumble out of the sky and appear on our screens, but almost universally, writing is hard, slow, and totally unglamorous. So why finish what you’ve started? Because in two weeks, when you are done, you will be grateful for the experience. Also, you will have learned a lot about writing and humanness and the inestimable value of tilting at windmills.”
Read John Green’s NaNoWriMo full pep talk here.
12. Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series
At the end of the day, you do you.
“Anyone educated in the art of composition in the Western Hemisphere at any time in the last hundred years was firmly taught that there is One Correct Way to write, and it involves strictly linear planning, thought, and execution. You Must Have a Topic Sentence. You Must Have a Topic Paragraph. YOU MUST HAVE AN OUTLINE. And so forth and so tediously on…
Got news for you: You don’t have to do it that way. Anything that gets words on the page is the Right Thing to Do.”
Read the rest of Diana Gabaldon’s NaNoWriMo pep talk here.