Sunday, November 26, 2006

National Novel Writing Month

Yeah, damn straight. Actually I hit 50K on the 23rd, but they wouldn't let me validate it until the 25th. Now of course I have to go finish the novel, which has another 10-15k to it. 65k is still fairly short for novel length, but I did it with very little historical research or detail, so I could easily pad it another 10k in revisions.

Recently a website interviewed me about my feelings as someone who works in publishing on the program. I'll repost it here. The website that contacted me can be found here.

I'm compiling a series of articles on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the website 101 Reasons to Stop Writing. I'm interested in getting the literary agent's perspective on this, especially the perspectiveof one who filters the submissions from overly keen Nano participants, and would appreciate youresponses to the questions below.

How did NaNoWriMo first appear on your radar?

I'm a writer myself and 2005 was the first year I participated because I heard about it through fellow unpublished writers. I have never heard of it at work and when I mention it, honestly, very few people know what it is.

NaNoWriMo, to my knowledge, has not hit the cultural consciousness of agents and the publishing industry yet, despite the publication of Chris Baty's (founder of NaNoWriMo) book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. In the book he discusses how 50,000 words is not actually an acceptable length for an adult book, but he chose it because it was a more reasonable goal for people achieve. Most literary agents are looking for first -time novelists to keep their work in the 70k-100k range.

Have you received queries or submissions that have mentioned NaNoWriMo? If so, have any of these submissions been accepted for representation, or at least passed up the ladder?

If the agent would recognize it, they would actually probably pass on it, for a number of reasons. First of all, 50k is just too low unless it's YA or a children's book. Second, only the fastest writers can write a quality full-length novel in a month - most authors need a year. The speed at which it was written is an indication against it. Third, if they wrote it in November and they submit it in December or January, they obviously haven't done the heavy polishing any manuscript needs before it's ready to be submitted.

What are the most common errors made by participants when submitting to you
(assuming any have)?

I honestly haven't seen anyone who has said they did the novel for NaNoWriMo, but as the program gains in popularity, I have no doubt that it will eventually start showing up in query letters and the agency world will collectively groan.

Is there a noticeable "spike" in queries or submissions, particularly for
50,000 word novels, in November to February?

Most people do NaNoWriMo for fun, and not everyone finishes. Serious writers who do it realize that they need time to revise and polish it - at least a few months. Besides, if a few extra queries come in during this time, we wouldn't notice. Query letters tend to spike in the fall, get heavy up until Christmas time, and then drop off again until about mid-January. This is because writers, like agents, are on vacation in the summer (August is notoriously the slowest month) and during the last week of December. They pick up again in February and March. Agencies review dozens, maybe hundreds of query letters a day. They're not going to notice a few more.

Do you believe that participation in NaNoWriMo is a "good thing" for
inexperienced writers?

Yes. I have been writing all my life, but I found it to be a useful exercise, which is why I'm repeating it this year. To start blank on November 1st with only the vaguest book idea and then to try and produce massive amounts of material by November 30th is an experience that builds stamina and quick-thinking. I am always surprised how much the plot I might have planned will change as I go along.

Do you believe it creates unrealistic expectations for participants?

I don't think 1667 words a day (or something like that) is particularly crazy, but it's asking a lot of someone who doesn't want to write for a living and hasn't been writing for many years. Many people don't hit 50K, but the point is, they tried, and they learned. Also, November is generally a very busy month for just about everyone, with the school cycle being what it is and the holidays approaching. In his book, Baty discusses why he put it in November instead of a month like June or July. I don't remember precisely what he said off-hand and my copy of his book is not at-hand, but I think it was something about how the program teaches you how to make time for writing despite your schedule. If you have lots of time, you may not actually be as productive as if you have to set aside an hour a day and you sit down at the computer knowing you can't waste that hour sitting at the screen or you're screwed for the day.

If you were in charge of NaNoWriMo, what rules would you set or change?

I would give people a little star next to their username on the lists for every year they've succeeded in "winning" NaNoWriMo. That would make of my friends who have been hitting 50K every year more accomplished - because it is an accomplishment.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on "winning"! I didn't participate this year, as the two toddlers that dominate my days might have staged a coup. However, my weekly goal of 1000 good words a week as done me well, and since I know what work it is to consistently make that, I am impressed to an exponential degree to anyone who can write more than 1000 words a day for a month! Props to you!

Anonymous said...

The key word is "good". I'm not going to make 50,000, but I have consistently written 1000 a day, and trust me, they're not good. But they will provide the raw material for a very heavy revision, which is what I was aiming for, so I'm satisfied. The main thing NaNoWriMo has taught me is to stop trying to write something publishable for a first draft - which I desperately needed to learn - and to work at it daily. For that alone, it was more than worth it.


Simon Haynes said...

Good to see Sean Lindsay got to you. He interviewed me about Nano for the 101reasons site a couple of days back, and it was fun to share an opinion or two.

I'm just 4500 words from my 50k goal - not sure whether to go crazy today or spread it out over today and tomorrow. I'm having a word war with a writer on the other side of the planet, and it's very close right now ...

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I'm currently at 65k and my goal is 75k for this first draft, so I'm not done sweating... It's amazing to see the way the plot shapes itself when you mustmustmust write, no time to plan everything! I'll spend the next eleven months reworking this thing, and maybe I'll like it enough to submit it, who knows?

Anonymous said...

I tend to write all my first drafts in a month or less, so this isn't that different -- however, this time (my first Nano attempt), I'm doing an historical fiction...all the research takes so much more time. I love it, but there are definitely moments when I can't write a single word without doing some research first (which is frustrating). My novel is YA, so it probably won't even be 50K at completion...more like 45 or 47...I'm within 10K, I think, at 35K. But it's been fun to do this with so many others!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your 50K!

Cam, from NaNo

Heather Dudley said...

Congrats. :) I'm also a Sean Lindsay Interviewee (Heather Dudley). It's a fun exercise, and fun being interviewed.

However, I did want to let you know: there is a place to indicate what years you've won NaNo... It appears in your profile. :)

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Congratulations on your Nano-win from yet another Sean (101 Reasons to Stop Writing) interviewee. Nano has been scads of fun, and I know I'll be there again next year.

Katie said...

congrats on your win. and even just participating, I knew I couldn't get it done so I didn't. But I admire those who did.

a friend told me about your blog and I had to check it out.