Write For Your Life

November was the month of NaNoWriMo, the amazing organization that simply demands that you try to write a novel in a month.  Hundreds of thousands of people around the world  attempt this feat, and I was honored to be asked to write a pep talk for them, from my perspective as both literary agent Holly McGhee and author Hallie Durand.  As I put together this blog post, I find myself in need of the very words I wrote for all Nanos because I am a little stuck.  So here are my words, and I plan to take them to heart; for all the writers who find me here, I hope they help you, too.


Of everything I have ever learned as a literary agent and as a writer, there is one lesson that I think is more important than any other: you must write for your life.

And so this is for those of you who have always known that you wanted to be a writer, and this is for those of you who do write every day.  It’s for those of you who have yet to put a single word on paper, too.  It’s for those of you who are lonely, hopeless, and depressed, to those of you who have had a terrible experience beyond your worst imaginings, and to those of you who have never suffered a day in your life.  Mostly, I’m writing to everyone who has ever made the mistake of leaving his imagination behind, if only for a day.

This is what I know:  Sometimes if you haven’t touched your laptop (or whatever you use to write) in a while, you begin to fear it.  You’re afraid to start typing and you’re afraid not to start typing.  Writing becomes a stranger—and without realizing it, you’ve closed the door on your closest friend, your imagination.

You’ve got to honor your imagination, for it’s your best ally.

The good news is that the simple act of getting words down again instantly un-sticks you—you are not afraid anymore!   Writing moves your thoughts and feelings through you and out into the world, and the doors of possibility and wonder open before you again.  Just like magic, you are free.

I learned this the hard way.

There was a time in my life, not too long ago, of utter darkness.  We had moved from New York City to the suburbs so that our children could have a backyard to play in.  It was a catastrophic move for me.  I craved the anonymity and solitude of the city, but found myself surrounded by neighbors—I didn’t know how to be in this new world.  I did not fit in.  I felt trapped.   And I lost faith in the very essence of who I was, and I began to stop believing in myself.  After some time, I didn’t see the world in color anymore either, only grey, and after more time, I didn’t want to get up in the morning.

And then a character, Dessert Schneider, came charging into my life.  I didn’t know that my white knight, the one who would save my life, would appear to me in the form of a conniving, confident, bossy third grade character who demanded I write her story.  I opened the door a crack—and then eventually I opened the door all the way, and I wrote her novel, in her voice—my fingers were on fire.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was writing for my life—I was writing my way out of the darkness and into the light—into believing in myself again, reacquainting myself with my imagination.

The world is at your fingertips, literally.  Just as you need to breathe, just as you need sunlight, just as you need water—if you’re a word person, you need to write.  Sometimes you may know where you are going, and other times you may be embarking on the long road to possibly nowhere—it doesn’t matter—you’re getting the words out.

Writing fuels your imagination, which makes you want to write more.  And your imagination is always loyal, and it will save your life if necessary, as it did for me.  Your imagination is there in the loneliest of times, and in the joyful times, too.

Write for your life.

Holly McGhee