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.
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Query Letter Revisions

Hind sight is always 20/20 and I am very analytical, which seems to be the only way to determine if adjustments to your query letter are needed. Unless you have a friend in the business, there is no way to get additional review over the good and the bad of your first draft. The only guidance available without a paid consult are the instructional blogs written by agents themselves. Which is great (don’t get me wrong), but they only suggest how to craft it; there’s never a place to get feedback about your first draft. (Yes there is queryshark, but she is busy, and doesn’t critique everything). Plus every agent is different, and different agents also request query letters in different ways. For example, in an online form submission… Should the ‘summary of work’ section be written like a letter?

Additionally, I am now convinced that an author could read a bunch of Dos and Don’ts guidance, and still end up writing a query that lacks in certain areas, or says too much in others, etc. A solid query will require feedback to ensure a quality letter is written, but in the absence of feedback, one must analyze.

After not winning the Pitch A Palooza, I read the Book Doctor’s description of what constitutes a good query (here) followed by reading the winning query and realized what mine was missing: Character attachment. I needed to describe my protagonist (which went against some instruction I had received earlier) and make the agent connect with my character. Adding in my character to my query forced me to explain other detailed story elements, creating a much more focused and story-centric query.

I must also raise two important notes about my query: 1) my old version had too many superlative sales-pitch descriptions rather than focusing on content, so I removed those. 2) As a fantasy novel, my query is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to word count. Usually someone can just say “Johnny did this” and everyone already knows he is a human. No explanation required. In my case, I need to explain what an elkin is, and who the Soul Smith is.

EDIT: I used to have my query letter here, but I’ve found that it evolves so fast that posting them here seems pointless. The next query letter I post will be the one that lands me an agent! So in it’s place, here is a link to a successful query letter and the agent’s explanation of why she liked it so much: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries-agent-jenny-bent-and-oh-my-gods