NaNoWriMo 2013

This will be my 3rd time attempting to “win” NaNoWriMo, which is short for “National Novel Writing Month” … a web-based contest of sorts that is all about writing a novel in a month: 50,000 words in November.

The first year (2011), I failed miserably — and quickly. I got about 5,000 words done on a book that went to the place where bad book ideas goes to die (my ‘Novel ideas that SUCK’ folder on my laptop — truly, I have this folder because, well, you never know when you’ll get a flash of brilliance that could change a suck-filled novel into a good one).

My first attempt at NaNo looked a lot like this (That’s me walking around my muse, trying desperately to get its attention…):

 

Last year I wrote The Doctor’s Daughter during NaNo — I cheated a bit, because I already had 20k done when I started the month (technically you’re only allowed an outline), but I won NaNo and finished the month with a completed first draft. That book went through A MILLION AND ONE revisions, but did land me my uber agent, Carolyn Forde. So I won NaNo in more ways than one last year.

This year I’m “cheating” again — I’m at almost 40k in my work in progress book, and am determined to have another completed first draft by midnight on November 30th. This is the synopsis for Book 2, my NaNo project:

After a devastating loss, a 26-year-old woman and her husband embark on a journey to fulfill three things from their life experiences wish list, hoping to find an escape from the grief and a way to forgive. Think EAT, PRAY, LOVE meets P.S., I LOVE YOU, with a twist you won’t see coming.

To hit the 50k goal for the month I need to write about 1700 words a day, every day. I’m averaging about 1200 right now, done mostly thanks to copious amounts of coffee and the #5amwritersclub crew I spend a lot of pre-dawn time with on Twitter. So I know I can do it — as long as I follow a very key NaNo rule: NO EDITING.

It’s freaking hard not to edit as you go. But what I’ve learned over this past year is that one, I need to write every day or I get rusty, and two, if I’m editing, I’m not getting new words down. Huh. Who knew? (Oh, just everyone who can do math … words slashed do not a first draft make) I think many writers get bogged down in the editing piece, which is critical no question, but not until you have your words on the page … I mean, we could all spend hours editing our first page alone (and probably should, once the book is finished). Of course, I appreciate everyone writes and creates differently. But that has been a good formula for me. Draft One = writing only. Even when I get crit partner feedback I simply file it into a folder to go back to when it’s time for Draft Two.

My husband actually sighed when I told him I was doing NaNo again this year. Because this is basically what he saw throughout November 2012 (with a few sobs thrown in here and there, when I got stuck):

 

So to anyone attempting to win NaNo this year, whether it’s your first time or your tenth, GOOD LUCK and may the words be with you!

(See you December 1st)

 

HARD WORK (And a sprinkle of luck)

One of my writer friends recently asked me what the key to success was in getting an agent. Well, here’s the secret:

HARD WORK.

Honestly, I could probably stop writing this post now. After all, without hard work you’re not getting anywhere, anytime soon. And even with hard work, there were many (MANY) days where it all felt a little like this:

 

But because I find two sentence blog posts annoying and lazy, I’ll qualify what that HARD WORK looked like, at least for me.

When I was writing my current novel, the one that landed me my (awesome) agent, I woke up most mornings at 5 am (thankfully, the super supportive #5amwritersclub crew joined me). Yes, you’re reading that right. For nearly three months I set my alarm and diligently got up to write. At times I jumped out of bed, because I had the next scene already churning in my brain. Other days? Well …

 

During some of those early morning writing sessions, depending on what time the kiddo joined me (she is also quite an early riser), I only got in 500 words or so. Other mornings, when I was on a roll, I could write 2,000 words in an hour. But regardless, I wrote every single day.

(HARD WORK)

Then, after letting the book marinate for about a month and using my kidlet alarm rather than my phone, I recommitted to 5 am and started my revisions. I had a few beta readers go through the book and offer me their thoughts. I had a critique partner do the same. I made changes they suggested, or addressed concerns they had, and I forced myself to reconsider every word, every scene, every chapter. I killed a lot of darlings. I rewrote scenes and deleted others. I was certain I was never going to finish. But I did.

(HARD WORK)

After the crazy contest and first offers time, I got back to work. Some of the other agents, who passed on representation, offered me feedback. For those who haven’t been in the query trenches … unsolicited agent feedback? It’s a gift. So I PAID VERY CLOSE ATTENTION TO IT. And armed with that feedback and my own ideas for changes, I tackled revisions again. This time with four critique partners who all brought different talents to my manuscript. Some of the suggestions I didn’t like. Mostly because they meant more HARD WORK. Some of the changes would also send ripples all the way through the book. Which meant, you got it: HARD WORK. But I was committed to the process, and so I was flexible. Of course, I didn’t make changes or revisions just because a critique partner thought it was necessary. Ultimately it was my story, and my vision for it trumped all. But as a rule, I at least considered every piece of feedback and suggestion offered.

(HARD WORK)

A few months later, miraculously the revisions were finished and I was ready to query. I carefully honed my list, scouring online agent interviews and posts, plus Twitter and gems like QueryTracker for any and all information I could gather on agents who represented my genre. I researched the agents, and the agencies, and made my decisions based on a few key things:

  1. I was happy to query a more junior agent with less experience as long as they had a successful agency backing them.
  2. I avoided agents who I felt were less than professional in their blog posts and/or on social media.
  3. I made sure to query agents who had at least a few sales to their credit.
  4. I didn’t query any agent who hadn’t made a request for my genre in the last year (this is where QueryTracker can be helpful, if the agents are on there — you can see the request rates, and genres being requested).
  5. I didn’t wait to hear back from small batches of agents (say, 10 at a time) before querying more. I sent out queries in batches of 3-5, but if I got a rejection, I sent out another query. Over the course of a month and a half, I queried 70 agents.

This querying strategy worked for me, both in terms of successfully getting an agent and controlling the anxiety, dread, and doubt that comes part and parcel with querying. It allowed me to still feel like I had some control over the process, even when I was waiting to hear back on full manuscripts and queries. Because the waiting? It’s brutal. Seriously, I’m surprised more querying authors don’t get tendonitis from the endless email refreshing that goes on …

(HARD WORK)

All in all, from writing the first word to signing with Carolyn, it took 11 months and 11 days. I had a goal back when I wrote that first word that I would get an agent by the time I turned 41, which is happening in just over a month. Goals are powerful things. If you’re reaching for one, I highly recommend you write it down, look at it often, and tell people about it.

So after all that, I guess there is a little more to the secret.

Along with HARD WORK, and a willingness to be flexible, a sprinkle of luck doesn’t hurt.

(I like to picture it sort of like this, the sprinkle of luck…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Querying: Sticks and Stones (and dodgeballs)

About a week ago I finished revisions. For the eighth (give or take) time. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a single word in my manuscript that I haven’t touched or retouched. I was lucky through this round to have fresh eyes on the story, and can’t thank my critique partners (Abby, Rosey, Kate, and Kristy) enough for sticking with me (and not telling me to STOP.SENDING.THEM.EMAILS).

So now I query. And toughen up, because I forgot how hard querying can be. I liken it to putting a bunch of strangers in a room, handing out rocks, and asking them to throw the stones at you (repeatedly) … for fun. Or like playing solo against a really good dodgeball team, sort of like this:

 

Why do we do this? Because let’s be honest, no one NEEDS to write a book. No one NEEDS to be published. Authors do this for all kinds of reasons, probably ranging from “why not?” to fulfilling a lifelong passion that won’t let them rest. As for me, I write because I love it. Stones and all.

There’s this pervasive saying amongst authors looking for agents … it’s always some variation of keeping at it until you find the right agent for your book. Which basically suggests there’s a right fit agent for nearly every book, and every writer. I’m here to suggest that is simply not true. I wrote two books when I was in middle school. My mom had both bound, and my daughter loves reading them with me (she’s also quite impressed by my illustrations of mice, toadstools and ice skating elephants). However, I guarantee there is no right agent for those picture books. They are not books that have (much of) an audience outside the walls of my home. And that’s okay.

Believing this ‘right agent’ myth is akin to believing there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or that it’s good luck when it rains on your wedding day. While there’s nothing wrong with a little magic, and having a positive attitude goes a long (long) way, it also pays to be realistic … even if I desperately want for there to be unicorns, fairies, pots of gold, and for Hogwarts to send me my admission letter by owl.

I do believe there is an agent for (nearly) every well-written, thought-provoking, fresh concept, well-told story out there … as long as its author is prepared to do the work, and refine the manuscript until it’s so shiny it hurts to look directly at it.

So as I sit here today, a few queries out, a full manuscript requested (and subsequently rejected), I remind myself that my book is only as good as the work I’ve put into it (which, for the record, is a lot). And that hopefully there is a right agent out there who sees its potential and wants to team up with me in making it even better.

And that maybe this time I’ve been smart enough to hand out soft rubber balls, rather than stones …

 

 

You did what?!

Whoa. It’s been a while since I posted. My only excuse is that I’ve been down a writer’s rabbit hole, and am only now popping up to see the light!
Here’s a brief rundown of the crazy events of the past few weeks. My last post talked about the pitch contest I entered, and why I’m a fan of such events. Well, that contest led to an agent request, which was exciting! Then I decided to play along with a twitter pitch contest running a few days later, put on by the same creative minds behind the Pitch Madness contest. THAT led to a small press publisher partial request!

And here’s where things went crazy.

 

That small press pub partial request (query and the first 25 pages of the manuscript) turned into a full request (!) … and a few days later, an offer of publication.

This. Was. Exciting. Like, really (REALLY) exciting. I was in Florida on vacay with the family, trying to sort out what I wanted to do. If I took the offer it meant my book could be in the hands of readers (or rather, on the screen of their e-readers, as it was a digital only press) by the end of 2013. Now small press publishing hadn’t been something I’d considered before. I have been set on the idea of getting an agent first. I really believe in the partnership of agent-author, and that felt like the right path for me.

But to be published by year end? Tempting …

However, there were some challenges with the offer, including editorial changes I wasn’t sure about. Contracts can be tricky and sticky, and I didn’t love the idea of slugging through that process on my own.

So I did what some lovely writer friends advised and sent notification of the offer to the agents I had queried. There weren’t that many of them, because I had only sent out a handful of queries before this all happened, but I ended up with eight agents reading my full manuscript by the end of the week.

To make a long story short (although I suspect it’s too late now, because this story is already long…), by the deadline I had one agent who offered representation and the publication offer on the table. I very carefully considered both offers, and then turned them down.

Many may think this was a crazy decision. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted, after all? Well, yes, but it wasn’t that simple. Through the passing agents’ feedback I got a good handle on what’s really working in my story — plenty of compliments on my writing and the ‘freshness’ of my premise and concept. However, I also sorted out what wasn’t working … and I wanted a chance to fix that on my own first. In truth, while both were GOOD offers, neither was the right fit for me … or my book — for reasons that aren’t important to mention here. But in my gut I knew I had to take a step back and start anew. So that’s what I did.

I have no regrets about my decision, even when I’m struggling through my revisions and feeling like I may never get it all done. Writing is like anything else — if your heart, head, and gut are not aligned, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing. That has never let me down before, and I’m confident it won’t this time either.

Off I go back down my rabbit hole again … see you when I see you …

 

 

Why I love other writers, and Twitter.

I follow a lot of other writers and aspiring novelists on Twitter. And almost as many agents and publishers. Which means every day I’m seeing plenty of good news in my stream … writers getting agents and book deals, agents signing authors and sharing ‘happy publication day’ tweets, and a whole lot of publishing love.

And every.single.time I see one of these good news tweets I give a ‘congratulations’ shout out. Even if I’m having a bad writing day. ESPECIALLY if I’m having a bad day. Because these writers? They’ve worked DAMN hard to arrive at this good news place — whether it’s getting an agent or a book deal, finishing a new book, receiving a great review, winning an award, learning of a publication date … regardless, they deserve to be recognized for not.ever.giving.up. Plus, every time a writer gets her publishing wings I’m reminded what is possible. And I decide I’m never.giving.up.

I’ve heard rumblings of writers not feeling the love for other writers (market is tough and competitive, blah blah blah). That we’re sort of jealous and territorial about success, kind of like this:

But when I see a tweet about a writer getting ‘the call’, or read someone’s good news on one of the message boards I visit? I don’t feel all Black Swan-like. Nope. You’re more likely to find me doing this:

In my experience, writers love helping other writers, especially via Twitter. Stuck on a line in your query? It won’t take long to get some tips, or perhaps even an offer of a critique. Frustrated by your revisions? Add #AmRevising to your tweet and you’ll find out you’re not alone. Up at 5 a.m. writing, wondering if you’re crazy to be doing so when everyone else is sleeping? Check out the hashtag #5amWritersClub — used every morning by a bunch of super supportive, crack-of-dawn writers who will keep you company. I have been endlessly amazed at the kindness of the writers I follow on Twitter, and how willing they are to help one another out.

So when it’s my turn to announce the good news? Here’s what I imagine I’ll be doing:


And the best part? I know there will be a whole crew of other writers celebrating right a long with me … Kermit flail and all.

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