Advice from a Caterpillar

Hello, author. A brief introduction should be in order. I’m Mr. Caterpillar, and I first tried this NaNoWriMo thing in 2008. I had been aware of the event since many years prior to that, but 2008 was when I finally tried in earnest to do what I had been pretending to do since I was in single digits of age. Using an electronic typewriter, and a lot of encouragement, I would put up to one single paragraph on a sheet of paper and consider that a “page” of writing. After ten “pages” or so, I had written a “book”. The rest of the page was left open for illustrations. I was usually the star of this story, and various friendly talking caterpillars of different shapes and sizes were something I felt the need to include every time.

It was absolutely terrible and derivative stuff, pinching from any number of things, from music videos to videogames, movies to television commercials. And after a few of these, I was eventually able to write an entire double spaced page of material, calling this a “chapter”, and realizing that the back of the page always had space for the requisite illustration.

I have brought up just the sort of embarrassing thing that might lead you to question why I am fit to give you advice. You are most likely out to compose a work of far greater word count, and hopefully better quality—though quality can be left for later, not being of the essence in NaNoWriMo tradition. Personally, I hate giving advice because I never had an easy time taking advice as a younger man. So, what I offer are thoughts to take or leave, the key thought circling back to quality.

Don’t worry about quality right now.

It’s simpler to say than to execute, because I have already failed at that several times this November despite my past experience and successes. It’s my fault I have taken other manuscripts to the next level, it’s my fault I have dealt with beta readers, and it’s therefore my fault that I pause after a chapter and imagine fierce emails with some sentences in caps lock. You can avoid this fate, or at least not feel like it is such a big deal right now. I would never have passed 50K in every NaNoWriMo since 2008, nor performed readings of edited NaNo novel material on several outings to favourable reviews, if I let that understandable fear get in the way. Learn by composing, when you can, and learn a lot by composing a lot; now is the time.

You might find it natural to imagine readers without much effort, because many people write to be read. We both know that right now, those readers are as real as the talking caterpillars I used to draw with pencil crayons. In NaNoWriMo, the traditional focus is quantity, and the only certain reader is also the author. If you have set for yourself different goals than the traditional ones, then I absolutely respect your choice. If, as I am this year, you simply desire to crank out at least fifty thousand words or greater, then my advice is to listen less to those imaginary readers of the future, and more to those imaginary characters who would love for you to tell their story.

Unless you’re writing a story about imaginary future readers, in which case, you have just broken my brain.

Sincerely, Mr. Caterpillar