Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNo, I Owe Ya

by Sophie Littlefield

National Novel Writing Month

This is the first year in four that I will not be officially participating in NaNoWriMo, but that is in its own way a tribute and a testament to this wonderful program.

Let me explain: before NaNo, I completed a number of novels. But I did it slowly, and the huge gaps between writing days contributed to the books' lack of cohesion and ultimately, their failure to be published. NaNo taught me dedication. I did not sell the first NaNo book I wrote, or the second. But the habits I picked up in the program made me the hard-working writer I am today.

the first time I ever saw my books in a window

NaNo taught me not just dedication but fierce dedication. Not just determination, but relentless determination. My first NaNo, in 2006, occurred while I was going through a difficult time. Motivation was scarce; I was struggling just to keep up with the demands of my house and children. But I made a commitment to myself to work every day and to really focus on increasing the word count a little at a time. I wasn't sure I could get to 50,000 words, but I promised myself I would try. I set aside my hobbies, turned off the TV, cut back on my social and volunteer commitments, and streamlined my to-do list.

To my amazement and delight, I wrote over 70,000 words. The pride I felt at that accomplishment was huge, but more importantly, it flipped a switch in my head. Before then I don't think I ever really believed I had what it took to be a working writer. Writing felt like a dream, or even a hobby; something I dabbled in, something that *other* people achieved. I was a sidelines sitter, an envier, an excuse maker.

70,000 words. That was a hell of a lot of words. I regarded this thing I had made and the new small voice in my head snapped "okay then, if you can do that, you can finish." So I did. I wrote at the same pace until I had amassed 170,000 words. Yes - you heard that right - 170,000. Now I know that the odds of selling such a brick of a book are about nil; then I was just so pleased with myself that I began a new book while I was sending out queries on that one.
The lobby at Random House, which I got to visit - as one of their authors! - this summer

And the rest is history. After that I can safely say that I've never looked back - only ahead, with gusto. I've outlined my post-NaNo writing history below just to show you what can happen when you decide to go for it. In short, I write a huge number of words, which turns into a very healthy number of manuscripts, which turn into published books. I've already contracted for two books next year and two the year after that, and I would not be able to keep up this pace if I hadn't learned - through NaNo - the discipline to make it happen.

My pace isn't for everyone. You have to set your own pace based on the time you have available to you. I could not write as much if my children were still small. I would write more slowly if I worked outside the home. But I would still be writing. While I don't have a day job, I still care for my house and my children and, like you, face a host of challenges large and small. But I get the words done. Every day, every week.
me and my son at my home-town signing for my first book

The reason I'm not officially doing NaNo this month is that in September and October I wrote a 90,000 word novel. This month I'm revising. I welcome the company of all my NaNo friends, and I intend to be right in there soaking up the enthusiasm and commitment and joy of creation. Good luck to all, and may your NaNo experience be as wonderful as mine has been!

November 2006 - I wrote 70,000 words of THE FIXER UPPER (unpublished).

December 2006 through August 2007 - I finished THE FIXER UPPER (100,000 more words), plus 75,000 words of a sequel (never finished).

September - November 2007 (including NaNo) I wrote a 75,000 word police procedural called HOLD FAST TO THIS (unpublished).

December 2008 - March 2008 I wrote A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, got an agent, and later sold the book.

April 2008-July 2008 I wrote A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY (will be out June '10).

August - mid-November 2008 I wrote BANISHED (will be out fall '10).

December 2008 I started A BAD DAY FOR FANCY.

January 2009 - July 2009 I rewrote BANISHED four times and finished A BAD DAY FOR FANCY.

August 2009 I took a month off to promote my book, but I was thinking about my current project and making notes.

September - November 2009 I will finish the current project and revise A BAD DAY FOR FANCY.

And then I get to write the BANISHED sequel and start thinking about the 4th BAD DAY mystery...

my critique group, The Cabal, including pens Lisa and L.G.C. (apron made for me by Cyndy!)

It's an ambitious schedule but one that I feel very privileged to have. Thanks, NaNo! You may not have made me into a woman of steel, but you've made me something even better, someone who wakes up in the morning looking forward to the best job on earth, that of being a working writer!


Gary Corby said...

Wow, I admire anyone who can write quality work at that pace!

I worry that most NaNoWriMo writers stop dead come December. Nor does NaNoWriMo reward revision, which is 90% of good writing for mortals like me, and 50K unrevised words is probably not going far unless you happen to be Shakespeare.

How did you manage to turn NaNoWriMo into long term good habits? I think few do.

My personal mantra btw is, "It's not going to happen by not doing it." (Sorry about the awful double negative...) Which I repeat to myself at least once an hour as I produce my remorseless 1,000 words a day.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Sophie, you've made spectacular use of a great tool. When we're unpublished, anything that gets us writing is worth doing. I've seen a number of excellent but unfocused writers use NaNoWriMo to create real careers.

That said, writing too much too fast remains a problem for a lot of popular fiction authors. Publishers want books on schedules dictated by marketing rather than writing goals. When I was writing reviews, I was extremely frustrated with the large number of books I read that had been written too fast to begin with, and not revised anywhere close to adequately. The premise may be brilliant. The basic story may be compelling. The execution is too often rushed and lacking. But this is a problem for multi-published authors well into their careers. NaNoWriMo seems to function best for the talented writer who needs a kick in the pants to learn that fierce determination you describe so well.

I'm revising this month, too. It will take every bit of tough I can find for me to quit dragging my heels and get on with it.

Rachael Herron said...

I love this post -- you took a tool and made it your own. I love that we're NaNo fangirls together.

Gary Corby said...

I've gotta add...

I sat down this morning and the first thing I thought was, "Sophie does 3,500 words a day. Get going Gary, you slacker."

So there you are Sophie, you're an inspiration.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh, my my - thank you gary for the kind compliment but i have you snowed. Today i mostly stared at my words and pushed them around, listlessly.

LGC - you are absolutely right, of course. I look forwrd to the day when I take a measured, contemplative approach to a book. I know that day is coming. I just know it's not here yet.

And R - yeah yeah yeah, my fangirl side is out in spirit!

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Oh Sophie, love this post and photos. You just kicked me in the pants and told me to stop making excuses.

As Gary mentioned, I'd do NaNoWriMo, write furiously and then stop Dec. 1 because the holiday craziness begins. I'm going to try and keep going because someday I want to see my books in the store window and maybe visit Random House, too!

Gigi Pandian said...

Sophie -- You have wonderfully summed up the brilliance of the NaNoWriMo challenge. It's the end of Day 2 and I've got 4,400 words of a story that didn't exist 3 days ago. Much of it isn't any good, but in less than a month I'll have the bones of a book that I can edit.

Sophie Littlefield said...

PCN, you *know* I believe in you, girl.

and Gigi - you've already proven you can do it, and then do it again and then once more for good measure. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this. I am over 22K into my nanowrimo novel. This is my third time out. I finished in 2007 and 2008 and expect to finish again with "Vanishing Daphne". I've been thinking that this will be the last nano I do until I get these 3 manuscripts edited and sent onward to their fates. This past July, I decided to devote myself to writing. I did a lot of the 'big edit' on my first nanovel July-October, cleaning up the issues born of writing quickly. It should be ready to send out in the spring. I, too, would like to offer a HUGE thank you to nano for showing me where my wings are and forcing me to use them!

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