Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How I Won NaNoWriMo

By Sandy Wright

National Novel Writing Month

If you're a working author, you either embrace the phenomenon, and let it sweep you to bigger word counts by Thanksgiving. Or, you sneer at the amateurs and scoff at their absurd and unrealistic hope to write a novel in one month.

I'm an embracer.

Seven years ago, I eagerly signed up for my first NaNo contest. I retired that year and took a couple of online novel writing classes to jump into my third career. I had the first half of a detailed story outline finished by October and thought I was going to write the Great American…well, you know.

I got through 22,000 words that year before I ran out of outline--and ideas.
If you've never written a book, that's about 90 pages. Not bad for a month, actually, but I wasn't going to make the 50,000-word magic number needed to get the "Winner!" banner on my page.

Discouraged, I didn't finish the last week of the event. Ninety pages in in the first twenty days of November days wore me out, especially the last week, when my family began to grumble about dust on the furniture and ask, "what about Thanksgiving, and Black Friday sales?"

But the next year, undaunted, I signed up again. The challenge was addicting. But my youngest son had just gone off to college, and then the oldest one decided to get married out of state on New Year's Eve. And my elderly father needed attention. And…well, you know.

I only wrote 7,000 words and quit.

But during those two years, I edited and polished the 22,000 words I had, and added another 20,000 thousand more. I'd written and polished enough, in fact, that I started entering the first chapters in writing contests, and got enough positive feedback to feel encouraged.

The summer of the third year, my budding book, Song of the Ancients, won first place in the prestigious Pacific Northwest Writers Contest. I attended the conference in Seattle, pitched my book to agents and editors in attendance, and got a request for a full manuscript. "Is it done?" The agent asked. "Sure is, just over ninety-five thousand words," I lied.
That fall is when I learned what it's really like to be an author.

I came home from Seattle that July in a panic. I had just committed to send a full manuscript to an agent, when in reality it was barely half-finished. I wrung my hands. I cried. I berated myself for not telling the truth. For one day, while I unpacked.

Then I went into my home office and started writing. I mean, really writing. I wrote all morning, took a break to eat and shower, then wrote again. Some nights, when the words flowed, I'd write until 3:00am. Then I'd get up in thee morning, spend some time with the family, do the breakfast dishes and a load of laundry, and start again.

I wrote the second half of the book, a little over 50,000 words, in four weeks.

And that, folks, is the same thing people commit to do each year for NaNo.

Granted, you don't have to turn your NaNo manuscript in to an agent. In fact, please don't. Editors and agents cringe at the increase of manuscripts they experience after NaNo ends.

None of those books are ready for publication. In fact, mine wasn't ready either, and that agent rejected it. But she did make enough comments that I decided to send it to a professional content editor, The Word Doctor.

Armed with his 40-pages of content comments (yes, he gave me a lot of feedback. He suggested some major POV consolidation, pointed out places where the action sagged, some passive voice, and, most importantly, showed me the places where he, "was tempted to skim.") I was positively rearing to get to re-writes during NaNo Year Four. 

But…according to Nano's website, you aren't supposed to do that. You're supposed to start fresh on a brand-new story for your thirty days of literary abandon, not work on an existing piece.

Screw that! I had a novel I had sweated over for nearly four years, on the brink of becoming something publishable. I wasn't about to switch storylines in mid-stream.
Note: Even though the NaNo mods tell us to play by the rules, they also say that the main objective of NaNo is to encourage people to follow their dream and write. They shake their finger at you with one hand, and nod their blessing with the other. It's a game, for heaven's sake.
So I rode the Nano wave of enthusiasm and re-wrote all November. It was glorious. I knew in my bones the book was improving. I also realized during re-writes, that my antagonist was all wrong, and completely revised him as well.

I only counted brand-new passages in my word count that year, so I didn't come anywhere close to the 50,000 goal. I just wrote. Tightened. Re-read and wrote more. Continued through December and January and February.

By March, the book was ready.

I contracted Kim Killion at Hot Damn Designs, and she concocted this beautiful cover.

Song of the Ancients published in May.

So, yes, I embrace the National Novel Writing month experience, and I encourage you to do the same. When it seems like life is piling obstacles in front of your Nano goal, put your head down and power through anyway. And, never, never stop writing when the contest ends, just set new goals.

Five months after Song of the Ancients was published, I suffered a stroke in my left front lobe, the part of the brain that controls speech, creative thinking, and all the functions grouped under the category of "higher level cognitive reasoning."

In the hospital I showed the neurologist my book. "I don't know what I'll do if I can't read or write," I told him. "It's such a big part of my life and who I am."

He told me that might be exactly what would save me. "A non-writer might be using this much…" He held his palms apart six inches…"for vocabulary and creative thought. But you use this much." He extended his palms another ten inches.

First, I will always love that doctor. I thought about his words often during my six months of recovery and therapy. By Valentines' I was writing emails. By March I could compose a blog, re-learn my passwords, and figure out how to post the damn thing (although, to be honest, I can't blame all of my technology fumbling on the stroke).

For the last five months I've been back to work on my next novel (working title is Crescent Moon Crossing), and once again, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo as extra incentive to get it finished. I've given myself a goal of December 27 for a completed first draft.

I would love to have you join me on my noveling journey this year. I'm posting excerpts from the novel-in-progress on this website under Tuesday Teaser.  And FRIEND ME on NaNo also.  We will support each other!

Happy writing!
Sandy Wright loves to take ordinary characters and thrust them into extraordinary situations.
In her debut novel, Song of the Ancients, a Midwestern woman moves west for a fresh start. Instead, she becomes the prey in an ancient war to open an underworld portal buried in Sedona, Arizona's magical red rocks.
Readers interested in the dark side of our supernatural world will enjoy of this paranormal suspense series, written by a real-life Wiccan high priestess.

Song of the Ancients is available on Amazon in print and Ebook.


CJ Burright said...

Way to go, Sandy! I can only imagine being REQUIRED to write 50,000 words in a month. Talk about stress. :) I do like the push of NaNo (I try to do camp Nano in April, just to finish up whatever project I'm working on at the time). It's great to be connected to like-minded writers, keeping each other accountable. Having that support system really helps.

Maureen said...

Sandy- congrats on winning NaNo! I love it! It took me years to 'win' the first time as well, and when I did the first time at the last minute, I was so excited that I forgot to submit it before Dec 1 to get credit, lol. I'm mmmmmm6 on NaNo :)

Sandy Wright said...

Thanks CJ. I'm waaay behind this year, but am still writing 800-1800 words a day, so who can be disappointed? I mean, really, if I can write even 30,000 words for three months, that's two full books a year with plenty of time to edit and pre-promo. Heck yes!!

Diane Burton said...

First, Sandy, congrats on your comeback from a stroke. Wow. Re: NaNo. I neither embrace it nor sneer at it. I think it works for some people. More power to them. But it's not right for me. I'm totally amazed at what the participants can accomplish in those 30 days. Congrats on winning. No matter how much a person writes during NaNo, they're that much farther ahead on their story and that is wonderful. Best wishes to you and all the participants.

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Congratulations on your valiant efforts both in real life and in the world of your imagination, which in your case may be the same place! Inspiring story! Thanks for sharing and good luck with NaNo!