NaNoWriMo

How better to start my first blog post in November than to share my experience joining NaNoWriMo?! National Novel Writing Month is the talk of the town, and it sets a great goal for any author of writing 50,000 words in one month. Now, that is a bit steep for me given my current situation of a full time job, grad school at night (plus homework), and my wife is due to give birth to our second daughter in a matter of days. With all that on my plate, my participation would be minimal, at best. But, even with such a large goal of 50,000 words, I realized that joining the movement couldn’t hurt. After all, it’s free!

After signing up at www.NaNoWriMo.org I began filling out my profile. They even allowed me to claim participation in NaNoWriMo for previous years, so I logged THE SOUL SMITH as my composition for 2011. They asked for my synopsis, a sample of my work, and the book cover, all of which I copied over from my website. Then it asked me the same questions for the book I plan on writing for the 2012 NaNoWriMo. Fortunately, I knew I would be writing THE CHROMIUM SMITH, book 2 of my fantasy series. However, I found that the simple, yet complex question of asking for the synopsis of my unwritten book was profound. Trying to convert the story concept from my head into words really helped shape my character motivations, and I found this simple exercise as a very helpful tool for planning my novel.

Another benefit of joining NaNoWriMo.org are the forums and Regions which help you connect with other local authors. I have already found fellow SDSU students to meet up with and organize write-ins, etc. Connecting with other writers keeps you motivated, and it’s not just on the forum boards either. The authors I follow on Facebook and Twitter are constantly asking for everyone’s current word count. The peer pressure keeps you motivated toward writing more.

In addition, the website has a Word Tracker tool (shown below), that helps you visualize your progress and easily calculate your daily writing average to help you meet the goal of 50,000 words.

Upon becoming a fresh, new member of NaNoWriMo, they shared a few tips toward achieving the 50,000 word goal. For those of you that do not have a plan in place, or a story concept in mind, I’ve written a brief summary of their main points below:

  1. Just wing it. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Write every day and soon enough, a story will appear.
  2. Do not edit, just write. Get your 50,000 words on the page and use the rest of the year to edit it.
  3. Tell people that you’re writing a novel. Sure enough, they’ll ask you about your progress. Use that peer pressure of “not wanting to look like a failure in front of your friends” as something to motivate you to keep writing.
  4. It’s okay to feel the urge to quit; just know that it gets easier as time goes on.

Questions For A Literary Agent

An agency has requested to read my full manuscript. After I had submitted it, I had been waiting to hear from them for about two weeks. Those two weeks were nerve racking. I began rereading my book and noticed so much more that needed editing. They were small things, but they were imperfections, so I did another round of editing. I took the liberty to send the revised manuscript to them just in case they hadn’t received my original submission (they never confirmed with me that they got it). 

The lady that I was in contact with informed me that she was 100 pages in and did not want to switch to a new file. I learned that she was an intern at the agency and it was her job to review my manuscript and then write a report to submit to her boss. As far as I can tell, this report is going to be the deciding factor in whether the agent chooses to offer me representation or not.She also informed me that whatever her boss’ decision is, he will let me read her report verbatim. While that is very comforting, this chance to communicate with an agent about my novel and my future as an author is monumental. It is also a critical opportunity for learning any information that can help me to succeed if, *knocks on wood*, he chooses to pass.

I can only hope that they can look past any minor errors that may have existed in the version of my manuscript that she read. I’m hoping that they can say, “With editing, this book would be great!” What I don’t want to hear is, “I’m sorry, while your story is compelling, your writing isn’t strong enough.” (Or something of that sort). So, in during the wait for their response, I have prepared a great many questions. When I get that phone call, I want to be ready.

  1. (The BIG question) What did you think of the story of The Soul Smith?
  2. What criteria was I being evaluated against?
  3. As an agent, what are you looking for in a book? (e.g. marketability, story, characters, originality, length?)
  4. What are you looking for from the author? (e.g. commitment, motivation, coach-able, long term relationship?)
  5. What was I doing well in my book?
  6. What is my greatest area that needs improvement?
  7. (If necessary) Am I worthy of a second chance?
  8. What did he like about my query letter? What caught his eye when I submitted?
  9. (Assuming he offers me representation) What are the next steps? (e.g. professional editing? submitting to publishers? getting it translated for international submission?)
  10. What services do you provide as a boutique agency?
  11. What could a full agency provide that a boutique agency cannot?
  12. What are the terms you are offering me? (% for international and national sales)

What Good Writing Is

I had the pleasure of reading On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King over the weekend and it really slapped me awake. It is a highly recommended read for any and all aspiring fiction authors. In my writing, I had to overcome one large hurdle to change my style and now I’ve found that I need to overcome another. So, as I perform some last minute revisions to my manuscript, I thought I would offer up some of the advice that Stephen King had provided (this is a summary of only a select few of his points and the examples are my own).

1) Show, don’t tell. This was my first obstacle that I had to overcome, however this weakness in my writing was brought to my attention by my most trusted friends early on, and I was able to adapt to reveal information to the reader in a more scenic way. I’ve encountered a lot of this in my readings on Critters Writer’s Workshop, so it does warrant mentioning. Telling is required, but only up to a point. Mr. King emphasizes the fact that you should always show the reader, rather than tell the reader.

Example of tell: The hag makes a foul and putrid mead that many rumor to taste like swine’s piss.

Example of show: Eric watched as the hag swirled her broomstick to stir the bubbling stew that filled her bathtub. She threw in a honeycomb speckled with dead bees into the mixture. The hag bent low to retrieve a stein from the mudded floor as she pat her pet pig. She dipped the stein into the bath and scooped up some fluid.

“Here’s your mead,” she said as she plopped the iron stein onto the counter.

2) Adverbs are the devil. Anything that ends in -ly should be removed. This is my second hurdle that I am now addressing in my manuscript. Adverbs are a clear sign of a new writer. It’s lazy. Describing scenes and actions without them promotes and fosters more detailed writing. Mr. King emphasizes that they should especially never be used to describe how a character says something. “He or She said” is all that is required.

Example: “I love you,” he said passionately.

Alternate Example: The candle light shone in his eyes as he held her hands in his. “I love you,” he said.

3) No fluff. No Redundancies. Often times simple scenes can be over explained, or you describe the obvious. Plain and simple, Mr. King’s recommendation is to follow this formula to tighten up your writing. It increases pace and matures your work.

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

4) Don’t stop reading, and don’t stop writing. Getting better at the craft requires both. There has never been a successful author that doesn’t have the time to read. Additionally, Mr. King suggests setting a goal for yourself: Set aside a block of time each day and try to write at least 1,000 words a day. Sticking to a regimented schedule is important, even if you don’t meet that goal every day.