Friday, November 13, 2009

Carrie Ryan: One Month To Put Writing First

Today we welcome Carrie Ryan, author of the amazing young adult novel THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and its sequel, due out in 2010, THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES. MTV News calls The Forest of Hands and Teeth "a pretty freakin' amazing, empowering and absolutely thrilling young-adult post-apocalyptic zombie love story."

I’m convinced that it’s because of National Novel Writing Month that I sold my first book. When NaNo came around in 2006 I’d just had a partial rejected by an agent and I was stuck at 40k words on that project (long story how I ended up sending in a partial when the book wasn’t done - I don’t ever recommend doing that!). I’d also just started a new project for a class on writing YA novels but… the rules for NaNo were clear: you had to start day one with a zero word count. That meant, I couldn’t work on either of those two projects for NaNo.

And that was okay because really, I was having a hard time making the voice of my character from project 2 stand out from the voice of project 1. I needed something new to shake myself out of it -- cleanse the palate so to say. And I figured a month of playing with something new would be just the solution.

Of course, that meant coming up with something new. Which meant a lot of whingeing on my part as I complained about having to start something new AGAIN. This is when my fiancé uttered words that changed everything: Write what you love.

I said, “You mean the zombie apocalypse?” He smiled. I reminded him I’d been writing chick lit and he smiled wider (he loves it when he’s right). And so when a first line popped into my head on the way home from work in early November, I ran with it. It was just NaNo, after all, and I could afford to take a month to play with something new.

Unfortunately, I didn’t “win” NaNo that year, we adopted a special needs dog and I ended the month with only 20k words. But I loved the idea and I kept writing and in April I started revising. I queried in August, signed with an agent in September and sold the book in October. Just under a year from a first line to a two book contract.

I’m not sure I ever would have forced myself to risk trying something new if it hadn’t been for NaNo. I’d spent most of 2006 so wrapped up in one project, so tied to those words that I needed the forced break. I needed something to shove me out of my comfort zone and allow me to experiment.

To me, this is one of the best parts of NaNo, that we all take one month to put writing first, to focus on the basics: words on the page. And we all share that goal together, blogging and supporting and talking craft. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in life and work and other obligations that we move writing farther and farther down our list of priorities. Even writing full time it’s easy for me to put the actual writing last.

But not in November. NaNo is our chance to, for one month, indulge in the basics: writing. We send the internal editor on vacation, we tell doubts we don’t have time for them, we play and experiment and perhaps gnash our teeth a bit. And hopefully, we remind ourselves how much we really do love putting words on paper.

Hopefully, we end up with something great we can revise and work with. Hopefully we learn something about ourselves, our writing style, our worlds and characters. And hopefully we have fun, even if we don’t “win” because in the end, we’re all in this together.

Happy NaNo everyone!!

Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie Ryan is a graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Law. A former litigator, she now writes full time. She lives with her writer/lawyer fiancé, two fat cats and one large puppy in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are not at all prepared for the zombie apocalypse.


Rachael Herron said...

It seems like 2006 NaNo was a magical year for a lot of us - you, Sophie, me.... I wonder what they put in the water that year? And can 2009 be like that too, please? Happy NaNo!

Hailey.Juliet said...

Great post, Carrie. I especially like the bit about your fiance knowing that what you really loved, deep down, was the zombie apocalypse. Now that's love.
Thanks for such an inspiring tale!

Unknown said...

Carrie-thanks for visiting the Pens!! I remember reading your story about Nano when Forest of Hands and Teeth came out. Congratulations!

Perfect timing to remind everyone to keep putting writing first. This seems to be the point where many people (ahem, me, anyway) lose the enthusiasm and production starts to wane.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I'm so excited you're here today, Carrie. I love what Rachael said about how '06 was magic. But I think the real magic is in knowing we can do it once we get started. And how great is it that your fiance knows what's in your heart! I love that! I loved how you and he did your favorite zombie list together :)

Carrie Ryan said...

Thanks everyone for letting me visit! Yes, there def must have been something in the air during NaNo '06 :)

Martha Flynn said...

I've been obsessed with the idea of a possible zombie apocalypse for so long. Now, thanks to you, so is everyone else. YAY!!!!!

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