The Elephant in the Room

November 1st, 2010 • Kate

Elephant BlogIt’s November 1st, and for hordes of writers out there, that means one thing: NaNoWriMo. If you’re still among the uninitiated, that stands for National November Writing Month — a pledge to write and finish a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, no excuses. Now, many other writers will give you tips and tricks for writing your NaNovel (check out the fabulous Rexroth’s month of hints from last year, starting here — also available as a free e-book — or Chuck Wendig’s “Dos and Don’ts”), and so I’m not about to start.

What I do want to do is draw your attention to Chuck’s last “Don’t”:

Don’t Take It So Seriously That You Start Sending It Out to Agents and Editors Immediately.

On a similar note, former literary agent and all-around awesome person Colleen Lindsay began the day with a couple of tweets:

Today marks the day all literary agents and editors dread: NaNoWriMo. #rememberthatrevisionisyourfriend #donthitsendonthatqueryonDecemberOne

Worst queries I ever received as an agent always started with “I’ve just finished writing my NaNoWriMo novel and…”

Don’t be one of those authors agents and editors dread. Recognize that even if you win NaNoWriMo, your manuscript is in NO WAY ready to submit. Take time to revise, revise, revise. Maybe even set it aside for a few months so you can come back to it fresh in the spring.

This is a marathon, people, not a sprint.

But I don’t want to be all doom and gloom and deargodpleasedon’tsendmeyournovel. I want to tell you how I’m getting into the spirit of things myself.

No, I’m not writing a novel myself (though I’ve participated — and won — in the past).

On the suggestion of another great literary agent, Erin Murphy of EMLA, I’m signing up for NaMaReMo, or National Manuscript Reading Month. At the moment, I’ve got about 30 client manuscripts, partials, and fulls sitting on my Kindle to be read and responded to. I’m pledging to read and respond to at least one author per day until I’m all caught up. At the same time, of course, I’m also going to continue to plow through queries and will try to keep those under control, as usual.

I may finish early, which would be awesome, of course, but I may also add more to my plate in the process of going through queries, so it’s not the same clear finish line as NaNoWriMo. Still, it’s a goal, and I’m excited!

What about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo, or your own version of it? If you’ve done it before, do you have any tips or tricks for others? Share them in the comments!

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20 Responses to “The Elephant in the Room”

  1. Jessica B Says:

    This will be my fourth NaNo. I love it for getting started on a new first draft of something!

    Really like your commitment for NaMaReMo. Best of luck!

  2. Rexroth Says:

    I feel no shame in pointing out that, while one of my NaNoWriMo novels has been picked up by an agent and has the heartfelt interest of an editor at a big-name publisher, it's the story I wrote in 2002.

    In that time, the story has acquired about 35 thousand more words, and has gone through (at last count) seven major (and four relatively minor) revision cycles. And I'm working on the eighth revision right now.

    A nanowrimo winner is no no way ready for publication.

    With that said, everything has to start somewhere, so I remain a huge proponent of Nanowrimo, despite my eight years of revisions.

  3. Erin Says:

    I'm a huge advocate of NaNoWriMo! (But also a HUGE advocate of revision!)

    Winning in 2008 showed me I was capable of writing at a 50,000-words-a-month pace (which before then I'd never empirically tested). It also taught me more about my own writing process. When it comes to first drafts, getting them out fast is important for me, because the real magic happens when I revise. (I'm one of those nuts who adores revision.)

    This year I'm using NaNo to write the last 50K of my current WiP. I need to be done with it and NaNo is the perfect motivating force to encourage me to stop second-guessing every single word on the page and just get it done. (Everyone at the NYC NaNo meet-up promised me I'm not cheating. I believe them!) By December 1st I will have the final page written or else. I'm certain this will be far more challenging than my last two NaNos, but I'm also one of those nuts/optimists who loves rising to absurd-seeming challenges. I'm excited! 😀

  4. Becka (Fie Eoin) Says:

    This will be my sixth year doing NaNo (3rd as ML!) and probably last until I can get something ready to go out to an agent/editor. Having seven rough drafts is great, but having to stop in the middle of editing to write something new is no longer doing it for me (although I love this year's NaNo Novel and am very excited to write it).

    My advice to others doing NaNo is to relax and write. Stressing about word count gets you nowhere fast. And go to write-ins! They are the biggest help in my opinion. I've also started a blogchain for NaNo tips, tricks and inspiration if anyone is looking for other ideas! http://stickynotestories.wordpress.com/2010/09/27

  5. Jeremy Hopkins Says:

    I'm writing in NaNo this year, and I do hope to send my finished work to you as well as some other literary agents, but that's not going to be for some time. This is my third try at NaNo, and my advice is just write. If anyone out there reads this, I won't you to know that the faster you write your first draft the better. Get it finished. Don't worry about how it looks, because it's going to suck. The first draft is just the start. You have many more drafts to work on before your work is ready to submit. Don't torture agents and editors with your first draft. Only bother yourself with it. Figure out how you can make it better. As Maureen Johnson would say, "Dare to suck," because from that sucking, you'll eventually end up with something worthy of merit. And that's what we're looking for. So get writing, keep reading, and edit until you barely recognize your final copy from your first.

  6. Allison Says:

    Yay for NaNo! I actually got off to a pretty decent start last night (or, technically, this morning). Now I just have to keep going strong.

    In the past I've used an excellent website: writeordie.drwicked.com. It's a good tool to keep you focused on just WRITING while you're writing.

    I'm using Scrivener for the first time this year. Anybody have any good tips/suggestions/secrets? I've never used it before.

  7. Bess Says:

    I'm participating for the first time this year, but this means writing every day before and after a fairly challenging full-time job. Currently, I'm a weekend writer. We'll see what it does for me and my writing. I can't imagine sending out the manuscript, if I truly complete one in just one month, to any agents though. I just look at it as a chance to throw myself into a new project.

  8. Trish Says:

    I always "lose" NaNo because I just don't have what it takes to write a novel THAT fast. *sigh* However, I do love NaNoWriMo as a kickstart to a new book.

    I wholeheartedly agree that you should NOT send out your NaNo manuscript right after you finish it. My first NaNo project caught the eye of Daphne Unfeasible but I did a LOT of revising before I started sending it to agents. I think from the time I started (November 2006) to the time I started querying was about ten months. And hindsight being 20/20, if I could do it over again, I'd probably have made another revision pass before I started querying.

    My second NaNo project (2009) is THISCLOSE to complete (so I've been working on it about a year) and while it sold on partial to Bloomsbury, that kind of lucky is the exception rather than the rule. So give your project time to simmer and then go back with a fresh eye to make it as polished and awesome as possible.

    GO NANO!

  9. Shannon Says:

    I'm using NaNo to finish what I hope is a final revision on a MS that has been staring at me from the depths of my desk for far too long.

    Life getting in the way of writing won't allow me to try to 50K words in one month. I'd have to farm out my kids and hubby and find a replacement at my paying J.O.B.

    Revision it will have to be … (groan)

  10. Allisyn Says:

    This is my second year participating in NaNoWriMo. I can't say enough how big a difference having an outline is! And I definitely second the suggestion of using Write or Die.

  11. Chelsey Says:

    This will be my fifth NaNo. I've done it since I was sixteen. This month it's a time to at least let my WIP breathe, and have something new on hand too.

  12. Georgiana Says:

    This is my eighth NaNoWriMo. I've won every year but 2004, when I was asked to start my weekly entertainment column and focussed on that instead.

    I've got two thousand words so far, which makes me happy. I like to do two thousand words a day for the first couple of weeks so I feel like I have some wiggle room. I don't always succeed but it's nice when I do.

    My best advice is never rewrite during NaNoWriMo. I won't even backspace to fix spelling. I run spell check at the end of every day instead. If I decide my story has wandered too far off its path I write {NOTE: Delete last scene} and keep going. These are easy to find in rewrites and I try to forget about them during the initial draft.

    Reading Bird by Bird was extremely helpful in ditching the "must fix it now" mindset. Before I read the book and did my first NaNoWriMo I had a lot of trouble finishing long projects. I would rewrite everything I had before writing any new words, which meant the further into the story I was the slower I got until I ran out of steam.

    I am also somewhat scatterbrained and after working at my publishing job all day I have a hard time working in long chunks of time so I try to write one hundred words, do something else (kill zombies, wash dishes, take dog out, read a chapter of whatever I'm reading, etc.), write another hundred words, repeat. Of course when I try for one hundred I usually do more so hitting my daily goal is not ridiculously hard.

    Good luck to everyone trying it. It's a great feeling to get a lot of words done in a short time.

  13. Amie Kaufman Says:

    I'll be participating in my second NaNo this year. My first was fantastic. I came out the end with quite a mess, and have subsequently realised it was a MG plot and idea that I tried to write as YA, but the thing is, I finished. So after that first NaNo, I knew I could finish a book. Even if a heap of editing came later, I couldn't have learned a more valuable experience than that.

  14. Johnnie Says:

    This is my fifth time to participate in NaNo, so just to make it interesting, I'm handwriting the novel. So far, so good! My 2008 NaNo project, after several major revisions, is now in the hands of a capable agent. The final version has little in common with the NaNo draft, but that draft gave me a foundation for my story.

  15. Becka (Fie Eoin) Says:

    Johnnie and everyone else handwriting – I recommend typing up what you've written every day if you can! I find if I put it off for even a few days I get overwhelmed with all the typing (I still have handwritten pages from several years ago that I'm working on typing up). This will be my eighth handwritten novel, so trust me on this (unless you like to spend a whole weekend typing the 10,000 words you wrote all week :P).

  16. A.L. Sonnichsen Says:

    I'm not participating in NaNo this year. I'm still working on editing my most recent ms and I don't have time to take a break from that to work on something new (because then I'd feel torn about which to edit afterward!).

    But good luck to everyone who's in for the big challenge. So exciting. And Daphne, your challenge sounds very challenging, too. Good luck with it! 🙂

    Amy

  17. Kater Says:

    I've never participated in NaNoWriMo. Almost every year it's come up, I've already been in the middle of writing another novel, and I didn't want to set it aside to do something that no one would want to read afterwards. One year I happened to be at a rare lull between writing projects. Egged on by my fellow Clarion alums, I signed up, but quit a few days in because I needed to take a break and revise a novel that an agent was interested in looking at (hi Kate!)

    I think of NaNoWriMo as being similar to that book DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN. I've heard that both are amazing tools for people who tend to get in their own way when it comes to creation. There are people who love these tools and tricks, and people who swear by them. They aren't for everyone. I don't think they are for me.

    DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN drove me insane because by the time I encountered it, I had already been in art classes for four years, and what I wanted and needed was a classical education to hone what I'd already learned. I already knew I could draw, and I didn't need silly games to 'trick' me into it. NaNoWriMo drove me crazy because while I have, on occasion, written very swiftly (I once wrote a 90,000 word novel in three weeks), that was during a rather introverted and obsessive point in my life and I never seek to repeat it. Writing is great. Balance is also great.

    I know a lot of people get camaraderie out of NaNoWriMo, and I know a lot of people love the feeling of satisfaction they get from winning. If you hardly write all year, and partaking in NaNoWriMo doubles (or more) your yearly word count, then it's probably a good exercise to keep your hand in.

    But I think NaNoWriMo is like hiking a hundred miles in one day. On one hand, you're doing it with friends, and everyone's with you cheering you on. On the other hand, doesn't that make you feel kind of burned out on hiking afterward? Especially if you don't hike that much during the rest of the year? If it's a choice between NaNoWriMo and hardly any writing at all, then yes! Sign up and chart your word count! But if you already have good writing "habits" (ie. write every day), then NaNoWriMo seems kind of arbitrary and superfluous.

    I think "let the first draft suck" can be a nice catch phrase, but another great phrase is "quality work has no fear of time." If you want to have fun with your friends and challenge yourself, NaNoWriMo sounds great. But if you want to write a good novel, you are probably going to need more than a month.

  18. Becka (Fie Eoin) Says:

    In response to part of Kater's reply, I think if hiking a hundred miles in one day shows you that you can hike that much in one day, you are more apt to continue hiking (perhaps not quite as far every day) because you know that you can do it 🙂 I think that's what most people get out of NaNo, especially first-time Wrimos. They start to believe that Yes, they can write an entire book. I think breaking through that "but I'm not good enough" stage is a huge part of NaNo. Until you break through that you will never write a bad *or* good first draft, much less go on to revise and eventually publish.

    This year I am trying to write a Good first draft to challenge myself even more. No word padding, no dialogue for miles. That's my favorite part about NaNo – you can make it work for what you need to do 🙂

    But yeah, I know it doesn't work for everyone. My husband (the actual English major of the two of us) tried it once, got twenty words in, and proclaimed it crap 😛 Now November is his least favorite month!

  19. Maureen Johnson Books » Blog Archive » YOUR NANOWRIMO QUESTIONS ANSWERED Says:

    […] I’ve seen it. My agent, Daphne Unfeasible (a.k.a. Kate Schafer-Testerman of kt literary) has written a post on this very subject, highlighting this very problem and explaining why you should not submit a book right after […]

  20. kt literary » Blog Archive » NaNoWriMo Once Again! Says:

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