A week into National Novel Writing Month, it's right about the time when a lot of participating writers hit a wall and start to see their word count slip behind pace. Suddenly, 50,000 words seems like a monumental undertaking, and certainly one that can wait until next year.
Though it might seem daunting at times, it's OK. If you aren't just a little scared when you’re writing, chances are you're not doing it right. It’s that kind of concern that drives us writers to put so much of ourselves into what ends up on the page. If you don’t care about your text, it will show in the end. Embrace the emotions and let them run high.
However, you should never let the fear grow so great that it gets the best of you and stops your progress. And there are plenty of reasons why that shouldn’t happen with your NaNo novel. First of all, if you look over on your bookshelf and see Twilight (or Wuthering Heights, depending upon your taste), realize that you’re not expected to recreate that in a month. The word count alone is well over double what you’re being asked to produce. Depending upon how it is packaged, a book of around 50,000 words would end up about as thick as my index finger, not even the chunkiest of my thin, little bird fingers. It’s an attainable length.
But even more toxic of a misconception than the required end word count is the common belief that you are expected to churn out a market-ready novel in thirty days. Unless your name is Stephen King, that notion is absurd (and even with him, I kid). At this point, I must refer to one of the most useful books on writing in existence, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Within the first part of the book is a chapter that really sums up the NaNoWriMo experience: Shitty First Drafts. Lamott states that “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” Sure, you'll be working hard to get your 50,000 words out, but after that, you'll be able to revise.
And this is where you breathe easily.
Just focus on getting the words out onto the page for now.
At the end of the month, you can go back and fix things. And you should. As an agent, I can always tell when something comes across my desk whether someone has spent a month on it or whether they’ve spent longer. And I highly recommend putting in the time. If you think about it, you’re putting forth way too much effort this month to ultimately try to rush your novel out into the publishing world when it’s just not ready.
There are several things you can do to get the most out of what you will create this month. I always recommend, when you’ve spent a good deal of time working intensely on one piece, to put it away for a month. Let it sit long enough for you to stop thinking about it. And then take it out and look at it again. Chances are, you will change so much once you look upon it with fresh eyes.
Even more important is the need to share your work. Share it with friends and family, yes. But you should be sure to share it with people who have no personal bias toward or against you. Honest feedback is key in moving your novel to the next level. And let’s face it, if your mother is anything like mine, you could fingerpaint something, call it a novel, and she would give you a glowing review.
You have to show it to someone who will give you honest, informed feedback. One way is to form a critique group. When the right writers get together to critique each others’ works in progress, the results can be phenomenal. When forming such a group, it is ideal to have talented writers who are familiar with your genre and gel with your personality.
If you want to go straight to the horse’s mouth, you can seek out coaching or a manuscript critique from a publishing professional. To really get your money’s worth there, make sure that you work with a qualified individual, such as an agent, a bestselling author or an acquisitions editor. You can generally find them at writers’ conferences. I have worked at a dozen of them this year, from DC to SF, and they are wonderful resources.
If you don’t want to pay several hundred dollars to attend a conference that will usually charge you an additional fee to meet with an agent or have your manuscript critiqued, you can find plenty of qualified professionals right here at EME. One thing I like about this group is that everyone utilizes their own specialty, rather than stretching into genres and formats that they aren’t really familiar with. If you write poetry, you will get a poetry editor. If you write memoir, you will get a memoir editor. And yes, if you’re writing a novel, you will get the assistance of someone who knows what it takes for a novel to succeed in today’s changing market. Our coaches and editors have worked in all facets of acquisitions and editing in Big Six publishers, top agencies and literary magazines. When the time comes, we can help you make sure your novel stands out from the 120,000+ NaNo novels currently being written.
Until then, keep your fingers flying and your word count growing. NaNoWriMo makes me giddy as an agent and editor because so many good stories are being created. I hope to soon have the pleasure of reading yours.
This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.