Write. Writing. Writer. What do all of these have in common? Passive-aggressive cheerleading from me!

One of the toughest parts of trying to be a writing coach is achieving the proper level of cheerleading. If people are paying you for a class or for one-on-one instruction, it’s not too complicated — your (constructive) criticism and support is what they are buying with the fee for the class or coaching. I would no more tell the worst official student or coaching client that they should give up writing fiction than I would tell a parent to give up on a baby because it isn’t walking two weeks after he or she was born.


Or dancing. (This joke comes to you courtesy of the year 1996.)

But what about the writers who look to you for support or encouragement — not even critique at this stage — that you offer for free, as a way to pay it forward to give thanks to the muses that helped you become a for-profit teller of tales? This is the case with the NaNoWriMo worldwide write-a-thon, which is in November and asks writers to pen 50,000 words during the course of the month, words that tell a single story that you begin and complete in that time. (Of course, what a writer has at the end of that is a very rough draft which will then be rewritten and reworked, but you need the raw material before you can bring it to life.)


This cat knows what I’m talkin’ bout.

And so it is the same with the July version, Camp NaNoWriMo. This is a wonderful opportunity for those writers who want to do something other than the 50,000-word novel, instead maybe a 30,000-word novella (that’s what I’m working on), or a book of poems (two in our group are doing that), or a full revision of a manuscript, or whatever you would like to work on. (Interesting is how the poets are handling it. Because there is a 30,000-word minimum for participatnts to be considered “winners” for the month, they are splitting their poetry books into 30 or 31 even slices, and as they finish each chunk [ideally once a day] they give themselves 1,000 words. It is this kind of ingenuity that is sparked by Camp NaNoWriMo’s relatively lax requirements.)


here we go

I will thank you for not undermining my authority, younger and funnier Jim Carrey!

Not one person in our 11-writer cabin — and this includes Yours Truly — is even close to near the wordcount he or she had posted as a goal. Some people are still at 0, some (points at self) are at under 5,000 words, and some haven’t updated their progress since the beginning of the month so there’s no way of knowing, but one can assume that radio silence ≠ incredible success.

But that’s okay! And what’s more, going through the process — even if you don’t do what you had hoped — is valuable to writers and to humans in general. I love my cabinmates whether or not they finish or even start their projects. They stuck their necks out to be a part of the community of writers, and that’s brave.

All of that said, I really want to help my cabinmates to succeed at Camp NaNoWriMo if they are looking to do that. The best way for me to do this is to get some brasselfrackin’ consarned words done my own bad self! So I wrote the following on our Camp NaNoWriMo cabin’s Facebook page, to try to give my peeps some inspiration.


“Yeah, wow, consider me inspired. w00t or what have you.”

All right, guys, it is July 13 as I am writing this. Camp NaNoWriMo has not — THUS FAR — been a huge success for our little cabin. Part of this may be because the month of July was chosen for us, not by us, and maybe it’s not the ideal time for some of us to hit it on a big project. That’s certainly valid. But there are other reasons why our word counts may be sorely lacking:

1. The writing bug sometimes takes a little time to get out of its chrysalis and onto the, um, sugar bowl of, uh, words. (If you can’t tell, this was a metaphor I made up on the fly –THE FLY! HAHAHAHAHA! Ahem.) We might start with 3,000 words done by July 15 and then end up doing 30,000 (or however many) in the last two weeks. As any novelist will tell you, there’s a physical feeling of momentum once you get really writing your book.

2. It’s too goddamned HOT to write. Not as valid as No. 1, but certainly something to take into consideration. Of course, winter might be too cold, spring might be too damp, fall might have to many nice days to spend them inside …

3. You don’t exactly feel inspired by your Dear Leader’s word count. It’s true, my own efforts have been really pathetic, mostly because I started working on one project when the publisher said it liked a different idea of mine and asked for that. Since then we’ve been hashing out the plot and I should be good to go by tomorrow. Then, I hope, my word count will jump like a track and field superstar (they jump, right?) and I can be a bit more of an example to follow for you guys.

4. Only 1 in 6 writers finish their project in the month. Maybe the other 5 get really good stuff down but just write more slowly, or maybe they get stuck in rereading and revising their stuff (a HUGE mistake for NaNo), or maybe they just don’t have or don’t care to cultivate the discipline it takes to sit still for an hour and bang out some words. So if you don’t finish your project, you’re in the majority and shouldn’t feel bad.

5. Rereading and revising instead of plunging forward. You were warned, you were told the folly of trying to revise instead of just writing for this project, but (maybe) you went ahead and did it anyway. That is certainly your prerogative, you’ll do what you want to do, but it’s deadly for NaNo time. For those who are doing revision as their Camp NaNo project, you’re for one reason or another not actually doing the revising OR writing new material. This, again, is fine — we’re not trying to save lives here — but I hope you’ll reconsider that strategy for the second half of the month.

6. You have given up or just realized you don’t want to do this. THIS IS PERFECTLY VALID! But maybe drop us all a message on the cabin message board and let us know we shouldn’t be trying to pep up someone who has opted out of the game. NO SHAMING, because it’s not shameful! NO GUILT, because it’s not hurting anyone else and maybe not even yourself. NO WORRIES, because creativity thrives on freedom … until it needs to thrive on asses in seats. (But you know this.)

All right, then, lecture over. I do hope you’ll let us all know any thoughts, feelings, fears, hopes, what have you, anything about your experience that you think we’d find interesting or enlightening. And I’ll try harder to do the same for all of you.

Whaddya think of that? Was that not some incredible support of my writers whether or not they get much done? Am I not a wonderful — not just coach or cheerleader, but wonderful humanitarian?!? 

Thank you. Really, you’re too kind.

NOW GET WRITING, EVERYONE! Or at least reading. Be a pepper, come on.*

* And this comment was brought to you by the year 1982.


13 thoughts on “Write. Writing. Writer. What do all of these have in common? Passive-aggressive cheerleading from me!

  1. If you are writing everyday, you are a winner whether or not you meet your goal for the month. You are way ahead of me and many others who just talk about writing. So, get writing and be a winner.

  2. Good on you, Sean for leading by example. However, the best thing any coach can say to a (student? Coach-ee? Disciple? Seeker of the Universal Truth to the Meaning of Life?) is this: Put your butt in the chair and write. Period. No one is going to do it for you…unless you hire a ghost writer…nor will the words magically arrange themselves on the page and pop out the other side a polished, finished piece.

    Excuses are rooted in fear and doubt. They’re disguised in the nasty voices in our heads and echoes of discouragement from the people around us. Write crap. Yes, that’s what I said. Write. Crap. Give yourself permission to be as bad as you wanna be. Spew that story out on the page. So what if it’s got plotholes the size of a meteor crater? Who cares if nothing is perfect? That’s what re-writes are for.

    And forget about those word counts for the time being. Numbers suck. That’s why I went to art school. Let go of them and they’ll add up on their own.

    • I was gonna say that! Excuses, excuses. A blogger I follow, who is also a published author, says that all the time. He writes every day. EVERY day. It might be, and usually is, mostly crap, but it establishes a discipline that cannot be denied. The most important thing of all is butts in chairs, writing. Well, some creativity helps, sure. But not if you aren’t willing to sit there and…. write.

      Excuses are also a dandy way to cover up laziness. That won’t get a book written, either.

      I myself happen to be a diet pepper. Love the stuff.

      • I firmly believe that writer’s block is the product of inaction. If you keep writing, even garbage, you’re still in motion and going forward. Sooner or later you’ll find a gem in that pile of manure. By giving yourself that permission, you’re freeing your mind from the pressure The Box creates. In fact, I recently wrote a post about it and how to counteract the most common excuses here

      • I wholeheartedly agree! It’s like when you know you need to send a Thank You card, but you haven’t, so it weighs on you even more and you avoid sending it because you feel guilty, and so on and on …

      • When it comes to hesitation/procrastination of any kind, we need to look deep and keep asking ourselves “Why?”. On the surface it may be the flimsy excuse of the weather, or the desk is too dirty, or—Oh look! A Squrrel!

        But if we dig, we eventually come to the answer, and it’s always fear. Even being a perfectionist is reduced down to the fear of not meeting someone else’s expectations, or the fear we aren’t good enough and so on. Once you learn to step back and ferret out where the resistance is coming from, you can look at it objectively and get past it. The only person who needs to approve is you.

      • Just this morning I got a message from a cabinmate saying that her house was dirty, so no writing today! And I was like, You go, girl! Write when you want! (Which is the exact opposite message of NaNo — “Get ‘er done” — but what can I say to that? I’m not officially her writing trainer. Or even unofficially! Just the schmendrick who set up the writing cabin and invited peeps.

      • There’s the fine line between being a coach and a friend. It’s like going to a party and talking to a doctor or lawyer there. Sure, they can offer all kinds of advice for free, but they’ve learned how to temper it and when to say, “This is better off discussed in my office, can I book you for a meeting?”

        I walk that line every day. I love to help and so does my biz partner. If we lived in a perfect Utopia, we’d do everything for charity, but hey, food with our meals is nice too. I’d kinda miss it if I didn’t have it.

        So, you can still be the Coach and leader of the Cabin by speaking the Truth, go ahead and nudge her out of her comfort zone. Make your cabinmates think. Give them value. Something they can use and apply right away. Then one day, when they’re ready to get serious, they’ll say, “Hmmm…Sean had some really good advice he gave away for nothing, I wonder what he can do for me if I actually paid him?”

        There’s truth to that old actor’s saying “Always leave them wanting more.” The serious ones will heed your advice. And if they ignore it? Well, they’ll still be cleaning their houses while that novel sits in the sock drawer and you’re off enjoying the benefits of a bestseller.

      • You folks all seem to be ignoring sheer laziness as another valid reason for procrastination. I’ll do it later kills some of the best of good intentions. I don’t know how not to be lazy, but I imagine owning up to it is a good start. (I’m trying to take my own advice, here…) I’m not afraid of failure. I’m just a slug, sitting on the sofa. Inertia is my biggest problem, not fear.

      • Yeah, until presently it becomes too late, and then you really feel guilty, because there’s not much you can do about it at that late date. My niece and her wedding thank-you notes comes to mind. It’s been a year… Ouch!

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