On Scalzi, NaNoWriMo, & being Mary Robinette Kowal’s evil minion

Scalzi & me (not heckling him!)

So…here’s a little NaNoWriMo-related  tidbit. It may keep you thinking about the endeavor with hope rather than dread, no matter where you are in your word count and story line.

Last month I went to a Chicago stop on John Scalzi’s book tour for Lock In. I went at least partly because John claimed on his blog he gave good book tour, and partly because I just enjoy reading John Scalzi, so why not get a signed book? Also, Cookie likes John Scalzi, so I had a built-in buddy.

Anyway, he wasn’t kidding. He does give good book tour. Not that I was surprised, having seen him handle toastmaster duties at ChiCon/WorldCon with fabulous aplomb in 2012. But it was fun to see him less formally.

Before the signing, Cookie and I were sitting around waiting for Scalzi to start the reading, and I happened to tweet where I was and what I was doing. Then things started happening, so I put my phone on vibrate and forgot about it so I could soak up Scalzi wisdom. Here’s what I learned about writing:

  1. Write a lot. Scalzi wrote for years and years as a day job and a fan before he started selling his fiction.
  2. If a story doesn’t work as you first conceived it, it’s okay to start over. He initially started Lock In with one idea in mind, but found that he was spinning his wheels, so he started over again, bringing different characters to the fore and letting them carry the story line. He read us a discarded scene. Cookie and I can testify that there was nothing wrong with the scene, but he needed to go a different direction in order to have the book do what he wanted it to do.

There are some things it doesn’t hurt to hear over and over (see 1 and 2, above). Until they stick. I write plenty, but if I still need to write more in order to come up with something marketable, I will feel less stupid about it. I can say, hey, even John Scalzi sometimes needs to start over, but what he ends up publishing is primo.

Anyway, while I was standing in line waiting to have my book signed and mulling over these little lessons on writing and life, I happened to glance at my phone again. Lo and behold, Mary Robinette Kowal had responded to my tweet with this request: “Heckle him for me.”

Ordinarily I would never do such a thing, but I felt the need to let him know of Mary’s tweet, so I showed it to him and he was all, “Yes! Yes! Heckle me and take a picture, so she knows you did it!”

So Cookie used my phone to take a picture of me heckling him, which we then sent back to Mary. She seemed, as John predicted, delighted that I followed instructions. I could practically hear her go, “Mwah-hah-hah!”

It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized I had become Mary’s unofficial evil minion. Mary has official minions, of course. When I was at the Writing the Other workshop last June, there were two, Christy and Stina. They took turns; sometimes Christy was the evil minion and Stina was the good minion, and the next day they would change alignments. It can be full-time work, being one of Mary’s official minions. I’m just glad I got to be an unofficial minion for a few minutes, albeit an evil one.

I’d like to mention just one more John Scalzi related tidbit. He wrote a very encouraging blog post just as NaNoWriMo started up this year. In it, he explained how writing a novel in November isn’t necessarily a giant waste of time. Lock In, when he finally needed to turn it in, ended up being written during NaNoWriMo, and now…you can buy it! So there’s that.

For those who are working on their novels this month, here are a few other novels that got started during National Novel Writing Month which ended up getting published to fabulous acclaim:

And several others I haven’t read yet, including:


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