Inspiring Words by Writers for NaNoWriMo

Jessica Tripler

Staff Writer

Jessica Tripler is an academic who lives in Maine. Follow her on Twitter @jessicatripler.

Jessica Tripler

Staff Writer

Jessica Tripler is an academic who lives in Maine. Follow her on Twitter @jessicatripler.

NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month, better known in social media circles as #NaNoWriMo, is upon us once again, and for the month of November, writers are trying to draft a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’m participating in #AcWriMo, an academic version where we set goals to finish that book or journal article, and check in daily.

The energy and comaraderie during Nano is fantastic, but writing is inescapably a solitary activity. I start out strong but can get blocked when my inner gremlin rears its ugly naysaying head. Here are some wise words from great writers that inspire me:

On fear of failure…

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” ― Nora Roberts

“You feel a little bit silly writing your first novel, thinking, What’s the point of this? Even right now I still feel silly, to just sit down and make up a story and think—this is my job—sitting at my computer, making up a story. It just feels sort of foolish sometimes. I can’t let it take hold of me, that every single time I start a novel I think, I can’t do this.” ― Liane Moriarty

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.” ― Anne Lamott

On taking it one step at a time…

“The hardest thing is always the first sentence—that is painful.” ― Orhan Pamuk

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” ― Anne Lamott

“Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord of the Rings, the work is always accomplished one word at a time.” ― Stephen King

“Constructing a sentence is the equivalent of taking a Polaroid snapshot: pressing the button, and watching something emerge. To write one is to document and to develop at the same time. Not all sentences end up in novels or stories. But novels and stories consist of nothing but. Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace. One in front of the other marks the way.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri

“I tell writers not to think about writing short stories or novels. Just write one good scene. And then a novel becomes a bunch of good scenes stacked on top of each other.”― Joe Hill

On letting the perfect be the enemy of the good…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” ― Anne Lamott

“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” ― Stephen King

“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous. Because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in…it’s actually kind of tragic because you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is. And there were a couple of years where I really struggled with that.” ― David Foster Wallace

On waiting for the muse…

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ― Stephen King

“Some critics will write ‘Maya Angelou is a natural writer’ – which is right after being a natural heart surgeon.” ― Maya Angelou

On giving yourself permission to produce crap…

“You can fix anything but a blank page.” ― Nora Roberts

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” ― Anne Lamott

“I also spent years writing, making mistakes, working on writing better (which I still do), and writing in different ways to stretch my chops. It has been said we have to write thousands or millions of words before we find our rhythm. There is something to that.” ― Linda Addison

On the great calling that is writing…

“To choose to write is to reject silence.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“For me, the writing life doesn’t just happen when I sit at the writing desk. It is a life lived with a centering principle, and mine is this: that I will pay close attention to this world I find myself in. ‘My heart keeps open house,’ was the way the poet Theodore Roethke put it in a poem. And rendering in language what one sees through the opened windows and doors of that house is a way of bearing witness to the mystery of what it is to be alive in this world.” ― Julia Alvarez

“I said that if he read my books he would find a worldview that he couldn’t find in a book by a German, a Swiss, a Nigerian, an Arab and so on and so forth. He said, ‘What if I am not interested in discovering another worldview, because I am content with mine?’ I responded that no matter how happy one is with one’s worldview, the truth is that our world—as Swiss, as American, as Somali—is incomplete without the additional worlds that will be brought to bear on that world, to make it richer and more fulfilling.” ― Nuruddin Farah

On not quitting…

“Keep those dreams lit. The world needs them.” ― Beverley Jenkins

“My Advice is: You always have to keep persevering.” ― Temple Grandin

“Write with the bridge burning behind you.” ― Richard Peck

On avoiding distraction…

“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” ― Zadie Smith

“I get up at 4:30 in the morning, I get my cup of coffee, my two double stuff oreo cookies, and I sit down at my computer and I start to write very much alone and nobody bugs me.” ― Erik Larson

“Gotta just write. Love your kids. Love your spouse. Then keep it moving.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates

On trusting the process…

“I was writing for a while not knowing what I was writing. That’s the way it’s been with all my books. Things will come to you and you’re not going to know exactly how they fit in. You have to trust in the way they all fit together, that your subconscious knows what you’re doing.” ― Donna Tartt

“Sometimes when I’m stuck, I really do need that cup of tea, or that chocolate, or a break, or a walk, but in most cases what I actually need to do is make myself keep writing until it flows again. I’ve always found this hard to accept because it’s counter-intuitive, like when people say you should exercise harder to cure a stitch. (Although, I don’t believe that at all. Stop! Rest!)” ― Liane Moriarty

“I feel like when you commit to something and that’s YOUR path and you believe in it, and you make a move with it–that’s when it happens. ― Daniel José Older

If all else fails…

“I can recommend wearing blue mascara whilst writing. I’m telling you, it really adds something.” ― Helen Oyeyemi

“Put your left hand on the table. Put your right hand in the air. If you stay that way long enough, you’ll get a plot.” ― Margaret Atwood


If you’re doing #NaNoWriMo, we here at Book Riot wish you the very best. We hope to see your books out there in the world some day. And remember…