Chris Baty's Blog
February 8, 2016
It’s February of our “Now What?” Months, which means the Book Doctors are returning for NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza 2016! Read on for more details:
You wrote your 50,000 words (or got pretty close!). You’re a winner. You felt the high. Now what are you going to do with your precious manuscript? That’s where we, The Book Doctors, come in.What is Pitchapalooza?
You get 250 words to pitch your book. Twenty-five pitches will be randomly selected from all submissions. We will then critique the pitches online so you get to see what makes a great pitch.
We will then choose one winner from the group. The winner will receive an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her manuscript. We will also crown a fan favorite who will receive a free one-hour consult with us (worth $250).
Beginning February 1, 2016, you can email your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not attach your pitch; just embed it in the email. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PST on February 29, 2016. The 25 random pitches will be posted on March 14, 2016. Winners will be announced on April 1, 2016. Anyone can vote for fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up!
Like last year, we’re offering free 20-minute consultations (worth $100) to anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll set up your consultation.
Cari Noga, our 2011 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winner had her book, Sparrow Migrations, published this summer by Lake Union Publishing, a division of Amazon Publishing. Stacy McAnulty, our 2013 NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winner, got a three-book deal from Random House for The Dino Files. Her first book, The Dino Files: A Mysterious Egg, was released this January! Then there’s Pitchapalooza winner and NaNoWriMo veteran, Gennifer Albin. After she won Pitchapalooza, one of New York’s top agents sold her dystopian novel in a three-book, six-figure deal. Her third book, Unraveled, just came out in paperback. And these are just a very few of our many success stories!
Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch?10 Tips for Pitching:A great pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.Make us fall in love with your hero. Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.Make us hate your villain. Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, it has to be the very best of your writing.Don’t make your pitch a book report. Make it sing and soar and amaze.
8. A pitch is like a movie trailer. You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.Leave us with a cliffhanger. The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.
February 5, 2016
During the second month of our “Now What?” Months, we’re shifting our focus to publishing in all its myriad forms. Today, Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors kicks things off and focuses on helping you make sure your manuscript is ready for the publishing process :
This is the first in a series of four blog posts in association with The Alliance of Independent Authors, leading novelists through the process of self-publishing, from first draft to reaching readers. Over the coming weeks, we will coverdesign and formatting
production and distribution
marketing and promotion
Today, we’re talking about deepening and editing the first drafts you completed during NaNoWriMo.
Writing a book (indeed any creative project) has seven stages:IntentionIncubationInvestigationCompositionAmplificationClarificationCompletion
Expressed as actions these are:ChoosingGerminatingResearchingDraftingDeepeningCorrecting (Editing) Finishing / Publishing
By the time you’ve completed NaNoWriMo, you’ve been through the first four stages. After that comes a rest.
The next stage is Deepening, also known as amplification. You’re making sure your novel actually does say what you wanted it to say. This stage requires the ability to read between the lines and expand on meaning, metaphor and form.
It is characterised by deep care and attention to your own words, both what has and has not been said.Stage 5: How do you deepen your novel?
Before you start on cutting and curing, you first need to amplify what the draft is saying.
This is generally a most satisfying stage in the creative process, so long as sufficient time is set aside for it. Unfortunately, it is also the phase that beginner writers are most likely to skip or hurry. Wanting it to be over, to get on to editing and to the holy grail of publication, can shortchange the process.
In the deepening draft, you think about how you can enlarge upon, elaborate, add to, supplement, develop, flesh out and add detail in ways that will make your work higher, deeper, larger and more expressive of you.
Take A Rest: Once you’ve completed a first draft to your satisfaction, you need to get away from it and the longer you can stay away from it the better.
Engage An Expansive Attitude: The deepening stage is all about expanding your sense of the novel and your sense of yourself as a writer. Think about how you can enlarge upon your novel in ways that will make your work deeper.
Before You Edit, Do An “Anti-Edit”: Look for what is good and put aside any negative judgement. When you find something that works well—a chapter, a passage, a page, a paragraph, a phrase, a sentence, a word, even—circle it. These become your touchstones.
As you read and search for the good, be alert to the emotions you are feeling. Name them in your notes. Every book is primarily an act of self-discovery, and this is where you develop your book’s heart.
Ask Open Questions: Ask yourself questions during this phase. Keep your attitude open to possibilities. Answer your questions in writing, quickly but expansively.
Think About The Reader: The best question that encompasses all the others is: How do I help the reader to see more clearly?
Once you’ve finished the Anti-Edit, you’ll know what parts of the draft you are almost certainly keeping. Everything you’ve circled now becomes the standard by which the in-between bits will be evaluated. Some of these in-between bits will be discarded completely, others will be altered, others shifted about.
You’re moving now towards being ready, finally, for the editing process. Just before that starts, give yourself a another break from your manuscript to ask more questions and mull the answers.Stage 6: How do you edit your novel?
The editorial phase is handled by the writer and then by others. It begins with self-editing, moves on to beta readers, and then to professional editors.
Aim for four qualities in your writing: brevity, clarity, simplicity and unity.
Remove / move / improve: anything that interferes with the reader’s appreciation of what your book is saying and how it is being said.
Do the removing first, then the moving and improving, so you don’t waste writing hours doing small edits on a paragraph or page or chapter that is destined for the trashcan.
Take it slowly. Give yourself lots of time. Work in 90-minute bursts with breaks in between.
Don’t edit on a computer. Print off a copy of your book with wide margins and double spacing.
Keep in mind what you’re trying to effect with each chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, and word—what point you’re trying to establish, what sort of mood you’re trying to create, what background you’re trying to suggest.
Read it aloud as you go. Preferably in front of somebody else, or into a recording device so you can play it back.
Keep an editing notebook by your side and make regular notes to self. Make an editing to-do list and tick off each task as you do it.Beta Readers
When you’ve done all you can, give your book to some trusted others for feedback before sending it to an editor. If there’s something particular you’d like a reader to comment on, be sure to ask, but this isn’t essential. Sometimes it’s nice to see what different readers pick up on, instead of guiding them
Finally comes professional editing. Every writer you’ve ever read in book form has been edited, so there is no way that you can skip this process. Editing comes in a variety of forms, and your book may require some or all of them, even after a great deal of self-editing and feedback from beta readers:
Structural Editing looks at the big picture, analysing how well a book’s constituent parts contribute to the central message or narrative.
Line Editing focuses on how you use language to communicate your story to the reader. Is your language clear, flowing and enjoyable to read? Does it create the appropriate atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Where have you slipped (we all do) into broad generalizations fuzzy language or clichés?
Copyediting is making sure your book abides by the “five c’s”: that it is clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.
Proofreading is the final stage, making sure that no errors remain from the manuscript or have been introduced in the editing.
ALLi’s Author Advice Centre has a section on finding and working with editors. We also have a vetted directory of editors, all qualified with good testimonials from our members.
Once all this is done, you now have a publishable manuscript. In the next post in this series, we’ll be covering the two publishing processes that follow on from editorial: design and formatting.
Orna Ross writes and publishes poetry and fiction as well as creative guides, and is greatly excited by the democratising and empowering potential of author-publishing. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 Most Influential People in Publishing” since 2013. ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) is a non-profit professional association for authors who self-publish. Our motto is "Working together to help each other”.
February 3, 2016
Every year, we’re lucky to have great sponsors for our nonprofit events. Scribophile, a NaNoWriMo 2015 sponsor, is offering all NaNoWriMo participants free basic membership. They asked writer Sid Jain to share his experience with their critique community:
I discovered Scribophile through NaNoWriMo 2015, after my novel limped to 15,000 words before the month ended. I realized I couldn’t finish it in a vacuum. I had been sending my writing to friends, who mostly ignored my messages, but sometimes replied with a quick “nice work.” It became clear I needed to look elsewhere to get feedback on my writing.
I joined a story-exchange site, posted a chapter, and waited. A “like” trickled in. Somebody put my chapter on their to-read list. Crickets chirped. My morale slumped. I knew my story had potential, but I also knew I needed other writers to read it first. I needed someone to tell me how to improve my work.
What I needed was Scribophile. Scribophile promises critiques of your writing by other writers. At first, I was skeptical. Having been involved in a critique group for music composition, I knew the concepts of “crit for crit” and of forming mutually beneficial relationships. But I had also seen them devolve into back-scratching fawn-fests with few gainful responses. Scribophile claimed otherwise: “Scribophile is famous for the detailed and helpful critiques our members exchange.” I dove in.
I immediately felt Scribophile was unique. The karma point system that drives the process of giving and receiving feedback, in a nutshell, works. You get enough of a head start to ensure that only a few critiques of others’ writings will allow you to post your first piece. That piece will immediately appear on a highly visible main page, and you’ll get a quick evaluation from at least three other writers.
The feedback on my first work was so overwhelmingly useful and so unexpectedly quick that the first bit of writing I did after reading those critiques was orders of magnitude better than the work I had posted. The feedback was an excellent mix of praise and criticism. This reinforced my belief in my ability while also showing a glimpse of the technical skills I needed to master to improve my work. To show you the level of detail critiques at Scribophile provide, I, on average, received an eight-hundred-word critique for a three-thousand-word chapter.
Receiving helpful criticism on my writing was what brought me to Scribophile, but interacting with other members outside of the critique-write paradigm is what keeps me there. Networking with writers at various stages of their journey has been a humbling and encouraging experience. While I’ve only been here a few months, I’ve already forged bonds between like-minded writers on similar writing journeys.
Getting feedback has been invaluable, but providing feedback has been an educational experience all on its own. Finding ways to improve someone’s writing allows me to reflect on what I think good writing is, and being able to articulate that in words is extremely educational.
If you, like me, have been finding it difficult to get someone to read your work and provide useful feedback, then you owe it to yourself to give Scribophile a try!
Sid Jain is a biotechnologist at a biopharma company in North Carolina. His science-fiction mosaic novel, in the vein of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, follows five characters on a future Earth colony in a transformative age of their planet’s history. The novel is tentatively titled Monolith, and a sample chapter is available on Scribophile to preview.
February 1, 2016
During January of our “Now What?” Months, we’re talking to Wrimos who’ve published their NaNoWriMo projects and asking them how they got there. Today,
, author of
The Art of Crash Landing
, encourages you not to take a shortcut to the book you really want to write:
Once upon a time, I gave up writing for seven years. But then I heard about NaNoWriMo, decided to participate, and ended that November with a smile on my face. Not because I could do anything with the 50,000 craptastic words I’d produced, but because I now understood that I never should have given up writing. It was chasing publication that had made me miserable.
So, I started another novel, this time writing solely to amuse myself and my critique group. That book became The Art of Crash Landing.
Which brings me to you, my fellow veterans of NaNoWriMo. Here are two things I’ve learned between November 30, 2009 and today:Don’t give up.
Don’t give in.
NaNoWriMo is a great tool that helped me rediscover my writing-smile, and for that I will always be grateful. But the very thing that makes the November challenge so great can be a liability the rest of the year. NaNoWriMo is all about speed and quantity over quality. Yet in my experience, being an author is about mastering the long game.
When I queried an agent with The Art of Crash Landing, I’d sent him what I thought was a finished novel. He disagreed. Calling my submission a “good first draft,” he said he liked the voice, but the story was weak. Ouch! And yet… I knew he was right.
There was a difference between my favorite books and the one I’d written, but I didn’t know how to bridge that gap. Luckily, the agent encouraged me to try and offered to take another look if I did. So, I rewrote. For over two years I deleted scenes, wrote new ones, rearranged them… until finally I knew it was ready, and my agent knew it, too. He sent it out, and it sold.
I am, by nature, an impatient person, and if I hadn’t been so dead-set on traditional publication, I’m sure that, rather than tackle a daunting, extensive rewrite, I would’ve given in and indie-published that “good first draft.” In doing so, I would’ve not only missed out on the vastly-improved book waiting for me on the other side, I would’ve missed out on everything those two-and-a-half years taught me.
If you haven’t yet heard this snippet about the creative process, you need to. Ira Glass discusses the importance of not giving up when the gap between what we love and what we produce looks insurmountable. Not only is this absolutely true, I think we writers have an additional temptation, and that’s giving in to the urge to publish work before it’s ready.
June 2010 to September 2015—that’s the amount of time between typing the first word of my first draft and the day my novel appeared in bookstores. There are plenty of faster writers, and if you’re one, good for you. But whether you’re fast or slow, plan to publish traditionally or indie, watch for the gap between your own “good first draft” and the novel you meant for it to be. Don’t let the gap make you give up on writing or give in to the urge to publish prematurely. Get to work instead. Build that bridge.
Melissa DeCarlo was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and has worked as an artist, graphic designer, grant writer and computer programmer. The Art of Crash Landing is her first novel. Melissa now lives in East Texas with her husband and a motley crew of rescue animals.
January 29, 2016
You wrote a novel! Now what? NaNoWriMo’s “Now What?” Months are here—this January and February, we’ll be helping you guide your novel through the revision and publishing process. Today, Sonali Dev, author of books including The Bollywood Bride , shares her beta-reading guidelines:
I think of my critique partners and beta readers as my lifeblood. Or at least the lifeblood of my books. The bulk of my writing happens during revisions, and comments from my readers help me identify exactly what I need to be focusing on to tell my story the way I want to.
Consequently, I try and apply the same rules when I critique work as I expect my readers to apply to my work. And they are:
Critiquing someone’s work can be intimidating. And it should be. Someone put their heart into what you’re reading, and they had the courage and the trust to give it to you to help them make it better.
So first and foremost, be intimidated, this is important. Take it seriously and be kind and helpful. Nothing you say in your comments should ever make someone give up on their writing, or even consider it. All writing can be revised into beauty. Trust me, hideous first drafts are a specialty of mine. So dial down the snark and keep it helpful and kind.Specific Comments are Helpful Comments
Always ask the writer if they’re looking for feedback on something specific. These are generally the things writers look for:Formatting/Grammar
The more specific you are in your comments the better. Nothing is more confusing and frustrating than a reader who says she hates something and then doesn’t tell you why.
Examples are a beautiful thing. Telling someone their heroine is a spineless nitwit is not helpful. It does nothing but hurt the writer and maybe even make them throw your comments out without consideration. Instead, telling them that their heroine needs to be more active and needs to make harder choices might actually help make their story stronger. That is your job here, to help make their stories and writing stronger.Personal Taste Is for the Books You Buy
It is perfectly natural to have strong preferences in what you read. But if you have a strong personal response to material you’re critiquing, it is your responsibility to be honest and let the author know and recuse yourself.
Tearing down a story because it does not fit your personal value system is not okay. Once you take on the responsibility, commit to critiquing the writing and to separate it from your morality and political choices.
Award winning author, Sonali Dev, writes Bollywood-style love stories that explore issues faced by women around the world. Sonali’s novels have been on Library Journal, NPR, Washington Post, and Kirkus Best Books lists. She won the American Library Association’s award for best romance in 2014, is a RITA Finalist, RT Reviewer Choice Award Nominee, and winner of the RT Seal of Excellence. Find out more at sonalidev.com.
Top photo by Flickr user Daniel Y. Go.
January 27, 2016
You wrote a novel! Now what? NaNoWriMo’s “Now What?” Months are here—this January and February, we’ll be helping you guide your novel through the revision and publishing process. Today, Joshua Mohr, author and editor at Decant Editorial , shares why you should choose a revision focus:
Revision will be the driving force that shapes your narrative. Especially because all of our rough drafts are terrible. Even your own family members who have to like your writing will only be pretending to have enjoyed this “literary” experience; once you walk away, they’ll purse their lips and silently pity you.
But that’s okay. We were ready for the rough draft to be sloppy and incoherent at times, with characterizations oscillating all over the place and plot points contradicting one another. We anticipated rushing through some sequences and rendering others at such a glacial pace we almost nod off ourselves.
None of that matters because we know the most important detail: that our true goal with the rough draft was simply to finish it.
Now the really exciting part starts… like sculptors, we have our masses of clay and now we start to carve out the art.
First thing, the book needs to rest/steep. I let my drafts sit for two months between revisions. Get busy with something else: do your best to forget about the book for a bit. Write some short stories. Flirt with an attractive neighbor. Milk a goat. Whatever. Just stay out of the story for awhile.
A lot of novelists get frustrated during the revision process and abandon their projects. The best way that we can avoid falling into this pitfall is going into the process with a plan.
Pick your battles. Don’t try to edit every aspect of storytelling at once. Who can try and tackle plot, character, setting, imagery, etc. simultaneously? It can be overwhelming and make you want to run away from the book, pull the covers over your head, and ignore the novel for months.
One way to avoid this, then, is to pick an element of craft and focus your attentions on that. For me, I always emphasize character/ characterization in draft two. Literary fiction is always about characters, the main players; great fiction is about the connection between reader and protagonist(s). So I spend a whole draft teasing their identities to the surface.
Of course, draft two doesn’t have to be about character. That’s just what works for me. You can focus on any element of storytelling you’d like. Just make sure and narrow the avenues of intimidation, keep yourself making progress.
Don’t try to do too many things at once or you’ll get frustrated. And I don’t want that. I want you to finish your novel. I can’t wait to see what your imagination cooks up!
Joshua Mohr is the author of five novels, including Damascus, which the New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He teaches in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and edits private clients’ novels through Decant Editorial. Visit him at decanteditorial.com.
January 25, 2016
During January of our “Now What?” Months, we’re talking to Wrimos who’ve published their NaNoWriMo projects and asking them how they got there. Today, Kat Yeh, author of The Truth about Twinkie Pie , shares how she followed up NaNo’s sprint with a revision marathon:
On December 1st, 2010, I had just finished NaNoWriMo and was in possession of my first completed novel. It had some good moments, but it was a first draft. And a rough one, too. I had gone into NaNoWriMo with a pretty clear idea of my main character’s voice and, even though I wasn’t sure of the entire plot, I had a strong sense of the heart and theme of the story.
I had heard the stories of editors and agents who dreaded December 1 for the flood of unpolished manuscripts that would hit them. I did not want to be one of the dreaded. This is what I did:1. I hit save and put it away.
For several months.2. I wrote a letter to myself about the story I wanted to tell.
I wrote about my intention and what the heart of my story was.3. When enough time had passed that I could barely remember it, I printed out the whole manuscript and read it straight through.
It was a mess. I put it away again and ruminated.4. I reread the letter I had written and then read my manuscript again.
I made quick, instinctive notes, keeping the letter in mind. Checking to see if what I intended was happening on the page.5. Then I began cutting and stapling, slashing sections, moving scenes.
I restapled and refitted everything together into three Acts a la Syd Field.6. I did a new read through.
This time, I made sure to keep taking notes on what was still needed.7. Only after I felt the structure, timeline, and big picture of the story was set up properly, was I ready.
I wrote these words on an index card and kept it taped above my workspace:
“Everyone and everything in your story has a purpose that either propels or illustrates the path of your main character’s journey.” And I began to write.8. When I finished that first set of revisions, I put it away again.
NaNoWriMo was a fantastic sprint. But turning my manuscript into a novel—that was a marathon. It took almost two years after finishing NaNoWriMo before I sent my manuscript out. And half of the time, it was hidden away. For me, that time away was just as valuable as the time writing.
I wish you all luck! You’ve done the sprint—now comes the marathon.
Kat grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing, while writing children’s books in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water every day and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. She is the author of picture books, You’re Lovable to Me and The Magic Brush. The Truth About Twinkie Pie is her debut middle grade novel.
January 22, 2016
You wrote a novel! Now what? NaNoWriMo’s “Now What?” Months are here—this January and February, we’ll be helping you guide your novel through the revision and publishing process. Today, Danielle Paige, author of Dorothy Must Die , shares her thoughts on finding good readers… and being one:
The scene: You’re at a party with a friend and she asks you to do a teeth check before going over to meet the potential love of her life, or maybe to take a once-in-a-lifetime selfie with Taylor Swift. You see a giant piece of spinach between her two front teeth. Do you:a. tell her, or b. hope Photoshop will handle it.
Clearly, the answer is to tell her. Reading a writer’s manuscript is the teeth-check moment but on a much bigger scale. You may very well be the writer’s last defense before sending his or her work out to agents and editors.
So before you pull out your red pen or start filling those multicolored note bubbles in Word, here are a few thoughts on being a good reader…Be Honest.
If you see something, say something. Whether you’re asked to do a line edit or offer general notes, tell the writer what you really think about the manuscript.Be Kind.
Respect the work. The writer has no doubt poured her heart and soul and at least a month’s worth of work into this manuscript so approach your critique with that in mind. I always start by telling the writer what I loved before I dive into what I think could be improved. And remember, it is the writer’s story, not yours, so don’t be offended if he or she doesn’t take all your notes.Be specific.
Character, plot, dialogue, conflict, world-building, description, pacing, action, dialogue… these are the things that I look at when I am critiquing a friend’s work. Be able to pinpoint what you think isn’t working and why.Be Constructive.
I make a list of questions along with my comments. Why is the character doing this? What is his/her motivation? You do not have to have a fix for the manuscript, but just by raising these questions, the writer might come upon a solution of his or her own.
But if you do have a suggestion, make it. As a writer I am open to good suggestions wherever they come from.Did I mention, Be Honest.
This might be your writer friend’s big moment—do not let them go anywhere without telling them the truth.Now, who do you ask to read?
Not all of us are lucky enough to have Kami Garcia’s email address, so when you are looking for a reader, who do you go to?
I personally have three types of readers.The Pro
This reader is someone whose work you respect—who knows structure and plot and dialogue and can see the thing that you can’t see anymore because you have gotten too close.
It doesn’t have to be a professional writer. But it has to be someone who knows the ins and outs of storytelling.The Fan
This reader is someone who reads a lot in your genre but may not be a student of writing. Still, they know when something feels off. And fans do not hold back on telling you the truth.
Does your book have “the feels” and what I call “the thinks?” This reader will tell you whether or not the book tore at their heart strings and left them thinking about it hours and days and years after. They might not be able to tell you about hanging participles or close-third-person narratives, but knowing whether your book strikes a chord in the the “everyman or everywoman” reader is just as important for your work.The Proofreader
I am the worst typist in the world. So before I send out a manuscript, I need someone to read for all the autocorrects and missing punctuation. Have someone who is an expert at dotting i’s and crossing t’s do a final read for you.
And to close, I just want to say good luck! If you are ready for a reader then you are almost at the finish line!
Danielle Paige is the New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die, its upcoming sequel The Wicked Will Rise, and the upcoming Stealing Snow series (Bloomsbury, 2016). In addition to writing young adult books, she works in the television industry, where she’s received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She is a graduate of Columbia University and currently lives in New York City. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.
Top photo by Flickr user hapticflapjack.
January 20, 2016
During January of our “Now What?” Months, we’re talking to Wrimos who’ve published their NaNoWriMo projects and asking them how they got there. Today, Selden Edwards, author of The Lost Prince , shares how he beat procrastination and finished his second novel:
I found the relentless discipline of NaNoWriMo a great boon for starting a project and finishing a draft, a great antidote to the writers’ block that afflicts all of us. Sticking with the daily exercise of writing (religiously!) is a daunting task.
Actually, I did it with a friend, and we reported in every day or so by email, he in Maine and I in California. Daunting, yes, but the payoff by month’s end is a completed manuscript of considerable length—a great starting point. The daily 1,700 words for me was about six manuscript pages—a 200-page manuscript by month’s end. Not bad.
After November, the equally daunting task of rewrite, rewrite, rewrite begins. But at least you know most of the arc of your story, which makes it easier. It is surprising to me, as I look at the published Lost Prince, how much of the finished product actually came out of that frantic month of daily writing.
In my case, I have an editor-for-hire in NY named Pat LoBrutto who helped me invaluably on my first novel and who read and critiqued my NaNoWriMo manuscript of my second. My wife and my college roommate also do read-throughs and make suggestions (invaluable!). Having good helpers is essential in any hero’s journey.
An added wrinkle is that I wrote most days long-hand and then at day’s end dictated into my Apple computer, which now has voice recognition built in—a godsend! You can also invest in Dragon software.
When my agent submitted the much-revised manuscript to Dutton, they accepted it immediately, largely on the strength of my first novel, granted. There is a lot of luck involved, I realize, but there is also Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of work—there’s no substitute for that. Remember, I wrote for 30 years unrequited before my first score.
I am grateful to the NaNoWriMo project for kick starting my second effort and getting me past my natural inclination to procrastinate. A significant 200-page manuscript is nothing to scoff at, and at least you have a rough-cut beginning-middle-end to work with. A lot of great ideas and character and plot twists come to you during the frantic month of November, that’s for sure. But you have to do the drill—every day, religiously.
My advice: take on the NaNoWriMo challenge and do it, every day, with a friend if possible. Take the NaNoWriMo challenge, put your butt in the chair every day (every goddamn day, as some famous writer said), and you’ll be amazed by what comes out in 30 day’s time.
Selden Edwards (born 1941) grew up in the Sacramento Valley of California, attending Princeton (BA) and Stanford (MA). He has a PhD in Mythology and Depth Psychology. He had a long career in education, first as an English teacher, then 25 years as a private school headmaster. His first novel The Little Book (2008), a 30-year project, was a New York Times bestseller. His second novel The Lost Prince , a sequel, began as a NaNoWriMo project. Both novels were published by Dutton.
January 19, 2016
You wrote a novel! Now what? NaNoWriMo’s “Now What?” Months are here—this January and February, we’ll be helping you guide your novel through the revision and publishing process. Today, Michelle Hodkin, author of The Mara Dyer Trilogy, shares her revision structure… and why revision involves thinking about the treasures you’re storing away for your future reader:
I say ‘novelist’ because you are, in fact, a novelist now. You put one word after the other, created page after page, and you wrote 50,000 words in one month. It’s incredible, what you’ve done—I have three books under my belt, but I’ve never achieved what you have. Because here’s my dirty little secret: the act of drafting, of putting words on a page where none existed before? It’s my least favorite thing about writing.
Which, given that that is writing, probably makes you wonder what I’m doing writing books anyway and where I get off Telling You How to Do it. That is a valid question. Here’s my honest answer: my first novel just poured out of me. I didn’t think before I sat down to do it—my big idea was literally, “Something happens to someone.” But for whatever reason, some strange alchemical compound of compulsion mixed with ignorance and confidence, I ended up with 80,000 words in four months.
That was the first, and only, time that a book ever happened to me. Now, I have to happen to my books. And when I’m faced with a blinking cursor and blank space, I panic. There are so many words in the world, so many ideas, so many characters and plots and subplots to choose from, I freeze. Every day I’m confronted with infinite possibilities for what could happen, and having to choose is paralyzing.
But somehow, I pass that point. I’m astounded when it happens, and I’m not sure I completely understand how it happens. But it does. And the result is a document full of words and ideas and feelings—a mess of them. The document resembles word soup more strongly than it resembles a book.
But that’s when my favorite part of writing kicks in: revision.
One thing I’m not going to do here is Tell You How to Revise. Because writing happens differently for everybody—some writers need a windowless room and a typewriter and nine interrupted hours a day to do it. Other people need wine. The point is, like writing, the revision process is going to be different for you than it is for me, because we are different people, and our first drafts are different beasts. So what I’m going to tell you is How I Do It. YMMV.
When I face off against the first blank page of a new novel, I create two documents—one is called Sh*t I Like, the other is called Sh*t I Want. Since I don’t want to keep repeating the word sh*t, let’s just call them bins. In the Like Bin, I’d put in everything I wanted my embryonic book to feel like, or in some cases, just things I was thinking about when I wrote it. Examples include: Jurassic Park (I’m always thinking about Jurassic Park). SAW. The Little Prince. Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov. Magneto and Professor X. Hey Dude. Lorde. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. Ronin. Horns by Joe Hill. The Ring. Adventure Time (the Jake vs. Me-Mow episode specifically). When I write, I’m like a magpie—I read books and watch movies and eavesdrop on conversations on the subway and when I hear or see or feel something new or interesting or shiny, I snatch it.
In the Want Bin, I’d put in stuff I knew I wanted to write into the book. I wanted a subway tunnel. I wanted the No Name Pub on No Name Key, FL (real place, BTW). I wanted a vivisection, didn’t care whose, didn’t care why. I wanted an accountant named Ira Ginsberg. I wanted some hitchhiking and some auto-theft. I wanted a mannequin factory. I wanted to put in a sex scene I wrote in November 2012 and had been dying to use ever since.
And when my draft was finished, I would feel relief so powerful that I would actually shed tears. And then I’d get to work, the work I love, the work of fixing it.
Make no mistake: it’s hard work. Novelist Sara Zarr said, “Revision is where you earn your money, and if you haven’t earned any money yet, revision is where you pay your dues.” And because the way I write is so chaotic, my revision process tends to be pretty structured.
The first thing I do when I begin my revisions is create another document. Before even reading over the draft, I make a list of all of the things that I know I’ll need to fix. I label this document BIG PROBLEMS. As I read through the draft, I’ll create another list, and call it “small problems.” Easy enough, right?
Then I read through the draft and I add to the lists. But while I’m adding Problems, I’m also looking at the two bin documents where I put all the thoughts, feelings, ideas, and general crap that I originally hoped the book would feel like, and all of the things I wanted to write into the book. I think about my draft, and I think about my readers. This is important to me—I think about whether the things I’ve written are going to produce the feelings I want my readers to experience. Which leads me to the next step.
As a novelist, before anything else, I want my books to be fun and entertaining. But you can’t please everybody, so what I did, and do, is think about who my audience is. Who my Dream Reader is. In my case, that is fifteen-year-old me. Then I check the bins to see if any bits in there would make her bored enough to abandon the book to play Donkey Kong Country instead, or would make Teen Me roll her eyes when I was hoping she would genuinely laugh. If I can recognize those bits myself, I add them to my “Problems To Be Dealt With At Some Future Date, Not Today,” list. But inevitably, there are bits in those bins that I might love, but aren’t serving my story, and I’m too close to my draft to recognize that. And that’s where my Readers come in.
Readers, beta readers, critique partners—it doesn’t matter what you call them. These are people who are going to examine your minimally clothed, badly dressed, possibly malodorous draft and tell you what they like and what they hate about it. They are people you need to trust. If that trust isn’t there, you might honestly be better off going it alone—I’ve had a bad critique partner experience, and it was nothing less than scarring. I don’t know any writers who go it alone by choice, and I’m lucky to have moved past my crappy experience to have found some truly incredible people who have taught me incredible things.
There’s my First Reader, who sees my draft before I’ve even attempted to fix any of its Problems, which is like taking off your clothes and saying, “Now, please inspect my body with a magnifying glass and point out each and every flaw.”
I trust her to tell me the hard truths in a way that won’t break my spirit to hear them. After I get her notes, I add them to my lists of Problems, and then, finally, I start to address them. I fix as many as I can in the best way I know how. But there are always going to be times when the best way I know how is not good enough.
So I send the book to my Second Readers, a small group of two or three people who are extra excellent at the novel-writing skills I’m least confident in. In my case, those are structure and plot. I also give these readers my lists and my bins and ask them, if I’m struggling with something specific, if they can help me think of how to write my way out of it. Sometimes that way involves changing which characters are in a scene. Sometimes that way involves cutting a scene entirely. And sometimes, after I read their notes, I’ll realize that to turn the draft into the book I want it to be, I need to rewrite the whole thing.
It could happen to you. I’m not saying this to scare you, I’m saying this because it’s happened to me one, two…four times, maybe, if not more. I’ve scrapped all but a few thousand words and started over completely, blowing deadlines and disappointing readers. It was painful, but my book rose out of the ashes sleeker and sharper and just better in every way than it was before. And ultimately, what people remember is how good your book is—not the date it came out.
But that is an In Case of Emergency Break Glass move, and you shouldn’t attempt it before you spend some time away from your book. Don’t break up with it—just, you know, go on a break. Read some other books. Spend time with your kids/pets/friends so you can recognize them in a crowd again. Then, after two weeks, or two months, or as long as you can afford to stay away—take your book back.
When I read mine for the last time, I look at those documents I started with, the lists and the bins, and I see what made the cut, what didn’t, and whether the book is better for each of the changes I made. Some novelists at this stage are able to decide for themselves whether the pages they hold are from the book they meant to write. I’m not one of them. I’ve finished three books, but I still don’t have that kind of confidence. I second guess myself all the way through.
Which is why I also have a Last Reader. When I send my final, final draft to her, it’s like stripping naked again—I’m even more nervous and vulnerable than I was in the beginning, because I’ve invested so much time and effort trying to make my book beautiful. When she tells me it is, I truly believe her, and I can finally let it go.
You will make your book beautiful, too. And if you can’t quite believe that yet, your first step is to find someone who will.
See you on the other side,
Michelle Hodkin is the author of the New York Times bestselling Mara Dyer Trilogy, which includes The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer , The Evolution of Mara Dyer , and The Retribution of Mara Dyer , one of TIME.com’s Top 10 YA Books of 2014. Michelle grew up in Florida, went to college in New York, and studied law in Michigan before finally settling in Brooklyn. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found prying strange objects from the mouths of her two rescued pets. You can visit her online at michellehodkin.com.
Top photo by Flickr user Mike Shaheen.