Chris Baty @ Mon, 2010-03-08 18:41
One of the great things about the NaNoWriMo off-season is that we start getting emails from participants letting us know they've found publishers for their NaNo novels. We're trucking towards 50 novels sold to traditional print publishers, hundreds more in ebook form (which we're desperately overdue on coming up with a listing for), and tens of thousands have appeared as self-published works.
When we get emails about NaNoWriMo novels finding a publisher, we raise a mug of coffee to the author's follow-through, and then add their book to the published-NaNo-novels FAQ. Which is all well and good. But I thought it might be more interesting to celebrate the author's achievement by forcing them do an onerous Q&A for the NaNo blog.
And here's our first victim! Donna Gephart, who just wrote in to say that her 2009 NaNo novel was purchased by Delacorte Press/Random House.
Yes, I said 2009 NaNoWriMo novel.
How did she do it? Read on!
Donna, this past November was your first NaNoWriMo. What made you decide to take part?
Sheer terror! A new novel was long overdue to my agent and editor, but I couldn't seem to come up with anything worth pursuing. NaNoWriMo seemed the perfect opportunity to plunge forward and knock out a new novel.
You've published several novels previously. During the planning stage, how did you approach your NaNoWriMo first draft differently than previous first drafts you've written?
I didn't discover NaNoWriMo until two days before the start, so I had little time to prepare. Basically, the day before, at the 11th hour, I scrawled a title, OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN, in a notebook. The next day, I blindly started writing about a girl who loved trivia and the game show, Jeopardy! With other novels, I'd spend several days writing notes about characters, plot ideas, etc. With NaNoWriMo, I wrote some of the novel each day, then scratched out notes on character, plot, etc. at breakneck speed. In fact, my handy notebook sat beside me daily as I wrote in case I came up with a relevant idea, fact or question.
You kept friends and family updated on your word count (and life) through your blog in November. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a NaNoWriMo participant blogging their noveling progress?
My daily blogging during NaNoWriMo was personal insurance that I'd stay accountable. Nothing like public humiliation to keep one on track with one's writing goals! It also made me feel more connected during the solitary process of writing a novel.
I've always encouraged participants to avoid editing in November. On your blog, you took issue with this idea, and said that revising was an important part of your book-building process. You managed to hit 50K with time to spare, so you clearly were able to fine-tune without hurting your output. Do you have tips on how Wrimos can also build productive bouts of revision into November's creative process?
Sometimes while writing, I come to a mental roadblock. I can't move the book forward. When this happens, I revisit what came before to make sure I haven't veered off track. Sometimes I need to change direction. I can't imagine plunging forward along a path that might be entirely wrong for a character. So, those brief times of going back and revising assure that I stay on the right track. I do this backtracking often at the beginning of writing a novel because it helps me get a strong foothold. Near the end of writing a novel, it's like a rock rolling downhill -- the writing becomes fast and furious, picking up speed.
If you choose to revise as you go along, it's important not to linger on those revisions; don't use them as an excuse to keep from moving forward at a brisk pace. There will be plenty of time for revisions when the book is done and you can look at it as a whole.
What surprised you most about NaNoWriMo and your month-long novel?
It surprised me that we writers are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for. Writing a novel in a month despite obligations and a busy life is quite an accomplishment . . . and commitment.
If you could go back in time to November 1 and give yourself one bit of NaNoWriMo advice, what would it be?
Go for it with gusto! Unless you try, you'll never know what can happen. Sara Gruen's wonderful NaNoWriMo novel, Water for Elephants, kept me motivated to move forward on those days I absolutely didn't feel like writing. I hope my story will help spur you on to finish your novel!
What tips do you have for other NaNoWriMo participants who penned middle-grade novels and are now looking for agents or publishers?
Long version: Make sure you don't send your first draft to an agent or editor. The competition is too intense. Revise, revise, revise until your manuscript is the best you can make it. A good critique group can help you work wonders with your manuscript as well. It took me years and many rejections from both agents and editors before I honed the skills necessary to write and revise a novel to the point at which it was publishable.
Short version: Work hard. Don't quit. Good luck!!!
Donna Gephart wrote Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days during NaNoWriMo 2009 and sold it to Delacorte Press/Random House fewer than three months later. She blogged about her experience with NaNoWriMo here and the sale of her book here. Donna is also the author of How to Survive Middle School and As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President! (winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award). Learn more at www.donnagephart.com.