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You wrote 50,000 words in 30 days–now what?

National Novel Writing Month 2011 (NaNoWriMo) is now in the history books. Congratulations to everyone who ‘won’ (meaning they completed 50,000 word in 30 days). In case you’re curious I made it to 18,500 words, and when I have more time I’m planning on finishing my novel; I’m actually having a lot of fun with it.

Over the past few days I’ve had several people ask “So now what?” I guess that really depends on your goals as a writer, but I’m going to answer that question assuming your goal is to publish your work.

  1. Step away from the keyboard! You’ve just written a large number of words in a short period of time, and those words are probably still bouncing around in your head like an echo. If you haven’t finished the manuscript you should, of course, finish it. But if you think it’s finished, you should put it aside for a few months. This will allow all of those short term memories about your novel to be replaced by thoughts about how you spent the holidays. By taking a break from the manuscript, when you do pick it up to work on it again you’ll be looking at it from a fresh perspective not encumbered by the memory of initially writing it. Should you completely stop writing for the next few months? No. Perhaps now is the time to start working on that other idea that popped into your head at 3 AM as you were frantically trying to get your word count up. Perhaps it’s time to write some short stories to help create a fan-base for your writing. If your goal is to be a writer, then you should spend a few hours a day writing, regardless of what you write.
  2. Create an outline. When you do decide to work on the manuscript, do not immediately start editing. Instead, sit down with a pad of paper and, as you read, write down a summary of each chapter. This will help with the editing process in several ways. First, it will allow you to see where there are holes in the plot that need to be filled. How did your characters get from the space station to the penal colony in M86 without a spaceship? Most publishers are looking for novels in the 80,000 word range (although this will vary by genre), so in fact you probably still have some writing to do. An outline will tell your where to focus that effort. Second, it will allow you to see places where you’ve added too much detail. Does your reader really want to see 40 pages of your curse-immortal-servant-of-the-Underworld thinking about biting the woman he kidnapped? Does an entire chapter of your manuscript really need to discuss the doilies in the living room? Third, this will allow you to see obvious errors regarding facts. How did the frat boys drive northeast from Gary, Indiana, and end up in Missouri City instead of the middle of Lake Michigan? Next, this will allow you to see the things that seemed to work when you were in an over-caffeinated sleep-deprived state but that do not, in fact, really work. Should your curse-immortal-servant-of-the-Underworld really sparkle in sunlight, or should it turn into a howling mass of flaming immortal goo? Is that chapter of Haiku really the best way to advance the plot and keep the reader engaged? Finally, a chapter outline will help when it’s time to write a synopsis.
  3. Edit. Once you have good outline to work from which highlights not just the plot but places where the manuscript needs work, now is the time to start making those changes. Now is also the time to start looking for those grammatical errors and places where word choice could be improved.
  4. Review and repeat. How many revisions you do before you let others read your work is really a personal matter, but at a minimum I would suggest you do one complete review and revision before sending it to others. Why? Because I know that personally I don’t like reading things with a lot of errors, and a large number of errors will make the manuscript less enjoyable for those who read it. Who should you ask to read it? This is where belonging to a supportive writing group, where you help review one another’s work, can be invaluable. I would ask reviewers to do the same type of outline you did and to include comments about things they didn’t like or didn’t follow. This will tell you whether a reader is seeing the same things you do when they read the manuscript and will tell you where you still have work to do. Once you have back the reviews, it’s back to editing.

How many drafts you do before you begin querying is again a matter of personal taste. One writer I know said she generally does four rounds of revisions before she starts sending out queries but that it does depend on the book. In my next blog I’ll talk about preparing your query material. And if you haven’t had enough of monthly writing challenges, National Novel Editing Month (http://www.nanoedmo.net/) is in March. Happy editing.

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Scolopendra and Tables…

Let me start by apologizing for being a little late posting this, but I attended a 24 hour write-in for NaNoWriMo in Boston this weekend and wanted to blog about that.

“It’s quite alright. To answer what is bound to be your most obvious question, you are in the processing center in Purgatory. My job is to set you up with housing and a job…You have been given unit MI-156404 as housing, Sarah—”

“Sadie,” Sarah interrupted. “I go by Sadie. I’m planning on legally changing my name…” Sarah trailed off, realizing that her plans to change her name at some point were probably moot.

“It’s ok, Sadie, I can make that change to your records here. Consider this a fresh start.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Brittany, but I have to know. Is Purgatory a fresh start?”

“Purgatory is what you make of it. I’m sorry, Sadie, I’m really not allowed to give you more of an answer than that.”

This is one of the exchanges in the novel I’m writing this month (where I’m woefully behind on the word count, in case you’re curious). What’s interesting is that this is based on an actual conversation I had at one of the write-ins. The young lady I was sitting next to introduced herself as Sarah but said everyone called her Sadie. She then mentioned that she was even thinking of legally changing her name at some point. This small exchange just fit perfectly into my story: Do we regret the things we don’t get around to doing. When I came up with the line “Consider this a fresh start,” I realized just how perfectly the little exchange fit into the plot and Sadie became the one of the two main character in the novels. Sadie goes by the nickname ‘Scolopendra’ on NaNoWriMo, and because I had already decided to have everyone in Purgatory wearing black, the character in the story now has bright red hair. In case you’re curious, the idea for Sadie’s own novel sounds very interesting and I love the title she came up with, so I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Perhaps it’s just that it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, but most of the characters in my novel are based in some way on people I’ve met this month. At one of the locations for the write-in this weekend, Tom (the person who did an incredible job organizing the 24-hour event) was moving tables. In the novel he became Thomas, the man with the tables. Brittany, one of the angels in the novel, is based on the talented young lady who is kind enough to host our bi-monthly craft group at her home (my hobby is making teddy bears). Darryl, the other angel, is based on someone who did a hilarious extemporaneous ‘reading’ of some of our query letters at the NH kick-off meeting (I had brought some queries to read to get caught up). The judge in Purgatory will be based on ‘LC’, the young lady who was kind enough both to let me sit with her for the latter part of the event so I wouldn’t be sitting alone and to let me read what she had been writing; to say the scene I read was hysterical would be an understatement, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she writes. I must also admit to my embarrassment that I kept getting her name wrong (and may have spelled it wrong here); I’m sure a scene like that will make its way into my novel someplace.

I wanted to make two points with this blog. The first is that, as writers, we should always be aware of the ‘little things’ that are going on around us and in the conversations we have. Often these little things are a good way to add depth to both characters and scenes without a lot of back story and to make characters more multi-dimensional and real. The second is that writing does not have to be a ‘solitary art’. Writers groups and events like the NaNoWriMo write-ins are a great way to meet like-minded people, exchange ideas, get feedback, and most of all have fun with your writing. I’ve met some very interesting and talented people this month, and I’m hoping that a few of them will stay in touch after the excitement of NaNo has passed. There’s no reason you shouldn’t not only do what you love but also have fun doing it while hanging out with others who feel the same.

In case you’re curious, yes, I have agreed to read the stories from people I’ve met this month, with the only rule being they need to be polished and edited first. Also you can read Sadie MacMillan’s blog here.

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National Novel Writing Month

Most people who follow our website know that this week we released Dragon’s Teeth, a futuristic detective novel by Suzanne van Rooyen. What most people don’t know is that Dragon’s Teeth was the novel Suzanne wrote in 2010 for National Novel Writing Month.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) is a pretty simple concept—write a 50,000 word novel in a month. There is a website where you can report your progress and add “writing buddies”, and most of the regions hold “write-ins” where authors can get together and work on their manuscripts. I attended my second write-in last night, and I have to admit it was really good time (I’ve also decided I really like the Salt Caramel Mocha at Barnes and Noble, but that’s a topic for another day). While everyone did spend time working on their novels, quite a bit of time was also spent talking about our writing. It is here that I think the hidden value of NaNoWriMo lies.

I’ve commented before that I think writing groups can be really useful for authors. Writing groups provide authors with a network of peers that can assist an author in all aspects of their writing, from discussing ideas for plot twists to critiquing each others work. In addition to providing the “kick” some authors (like myself) need to work on their writing, NaNoWriMo offers writers the same opportunity to form peer groups. As I looked around the room last night, I couldn’t help but draw the conclusion that many of the people there would continue to meet and possibly collaborate long after November 2011 and NaNoWriMo entered the history books.

It is said that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis belonged to an informal writing group called “the Inklings” while they were both professors at Oxford. The group supposedly met at The Eagle and Child pub and discussed their writing over a few pints. While in our case the pints were replaced by coffee, the write-in certainly created an atmosphere where writers felt welcomed and supported. This is the purpose of peer groups, and I encourage writers to become more involved with local writing groups.  And while writing 50,000 words in 30 days will probably only be beginning of your journey towards becoming a published author, it seems like a fun way to start. I would recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone looking to meet other authors or who need that “kick” to get started.

If your participating in NaNoWriMo and interested in following my progress this month, feel free to add me to your buddy list:


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