Monday, January 10, 2011

NANO and What's Next

For those who have been living in a publishing bubble, November is otherwise known as NANO—National Novel Writing Month—in the writing world. Frankly, I never had much of an opinion of NANO, but I realize that a number of my publishing colleagues do, and for good reason.

For the month of November thousands of people, many whom have never done anything other than think of writing a novel, sit at their computers and pound one out, a novel that is. Then, inspired by their achievement, they quickly turn around on December 1 and query every agent whose name they can get their hands on. No research, no editing, and no real consideration for what this business is about.

Before you all start defending yourself, let me say that there is a good reason for NANO and it’s not all bad. For those of you who have been working hard at your craft it can be a good exercise and, let’s face it, anything that stretches us can be a good exercise. However, just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it’s ready to be submitted. So here’s what I propose:

NAREV—National Revisions Month. The month of December is slow in publishing anyway, so it’s a great time to spend rewriting, revising, and editing your NANO book.

NAQUY—National Query Month. Now that you’ve finished your book [skeptical that you can really “finish” in two months] it’s time to really learn the craft of the query, which means more than just writing the query. It means researching the business as well.

Once you’ve spent three months on your book and your query, I think you’ll really have the distance you need to see if your book is ready to be submitted, and hopefully the knowledge to be a wise investor in your own publishing career.



Jane Lebak said... is the website for NaNoEdMo, National Novel Editing Month, where people are supposed to spend a certain number of hours editing their manuscripts during March. That gives you time to finish your Nano novel and let it sit for a while before beginning to edit.

And based on previous comments, I was under the impression that every month was National Novel Querying Month. ;-)

Tim Roast said...

"...sit at their computers and pound one out, a novel that is."

Why, what else would it have been?

F. John Sharp said...

I've always wondered how many "masterpieces" were foisted upon poor agents and publishing houses in the beginning of December. I always wonder too if there's an uptick in the poems submitted to journals in May after April's NaPoWriMo.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I only half finished my Nano novel... but it's going to take a YEAR at least (and 10+ revisions) to make it what it needs to be.

While I let it fester a bit more (on the page and in my head, where I can develop a plot worth telling and make the main character memorable) I'm revising my first novel (of four) for the 18th time. Maybe after the 19th or 20th revision it will be worthy to query somewhere.

Thank God I'm patient!

A3Writer said...

Having done NaNoWriMo for four years running, I would say that more than three months' distance is necessary.

Also, those who have only just written a novel will need a lot of practice at writing a query.

Amy Tripp said...

It always makes me cringe when I hear of Wrimos thinking their book is ready for submission on December first.

I love National Novel Writing Month - I think it's a great catalyst for writing, as well as a fun social event - heck, this year I was even a Municipal Liason for Nano in my area, but I can fully understand why agents and publishers might not feel the love.

It only takes a small percentage of Wrimos foisting not-close-to-ready manuscripts on the literary world to give us all a bad name. :(

Sommer Leigh said...

I like NaNo because it gives me an excuse to step away from my current work to try something I've never done before. This year I tried writing in first person for the first time.

I would never even show my NaNo novel to anyone, let alone think it was publishable. Or an actual novel, for that matter. I wish the NaNoWriMo site did a better job of educating the writers participating.

Katt said...

no no no!
Like bread, that manuscript, is in the beginning, little more than the combination of the correct ingredients.... but bake it now and you've got an unedible lump.
You must leave it alone for a while, give it a chance to proof (rise).
Then take it out, punch it down (read and edit) and set it aside again.
Punch it down a second time, allow to rise again,
Punch down one more time, then put it in pans allow to rise and send it off to the baker... I mean agent!

jn said...

Thank you for posting this comment. I have often wondered if agents get slammed each January with NaNoMo efforts. I hadn't even considered December.

I'm too busy making my Christmas list, and checking it twice.

Heidi @ Decor & More said...

I'm a Nano winner (aka finisher) for two years, but have yet to query agents for either of my novels. They're both in editing/rewriting/revising stages and probably will be for a while. I'm amused that anyone in their right mind could think they're truly "finished" after pounding out 50k+ words in 30 days. Go figure!

Sarahlynn said...

I love NaNoWriMo for all the reasons others have mentioned, plus a few more, including: my sense of competitiveness, the joy of doing something intense with my spouse for a month at a time (he writes nonfiction and we work together at the dining room table one month a year), and the end date. It's a lot easier to meet deadlines when I tell myself that I'm only working this hard for 30 days . . . but then of course I've gotten into the habit of writing daily and it's not so hard to keep up a regular writing schedule afterward.

But I do admit that the very first year I did NaNoWriMo I got so excited about my story that I was ready to stop halfway through the month and start querying. I knew a fair amount about writing and craft but nothing about the business of publishing fiction today. Fortunately I did some internet research before embarking on an embarrassing path!

I've now completed NaNoWriMo four times, and have never let anyone read those four novels. I still love the community and discipline of the month-long challenge but find a complete rewrite necessary afterward. I consider my NaNo works practice novels.

And as a writer my biggest struggle is not to fall too in love with my babies. I have to love each project as I write it, but I am still learning to let go afterward. I hear all the time from agents that writers should put aside a finished piece and immediately start a new one. And I hear from published authors that they'd never want their early unpublished works to be read. That's a hard lesson, but one I'm beginning to learn.

Sarah J. MacManus said...

Honestly, I'd rather not see a Nano work until March 1st.

Let it sit for a while; then revise, get a third-party feedback, re-revise, re-review, copy edit and then proof.

For a substantial piece of work, this should take at least three months.

Johnnie Alexander said...

An agent offered me a contract on my 2008 Nano manuscript -- 18 months later. The polished novel she read bears only a slight resemblance to the 50,000 words I wrote in thirty days.

So I'm thankful for Nano and that initial draft which I wouldn't want ANYONE to read!

Kate Larkindale said...

It seems incredible to me that anyone could think a novel they raced through in a month could be ready for publication the day it's finished. My NaNo novel isn't even a first draft yet, in my opinion. I have only read through it once since finishing in November and still feel i need a little more time to muse on it before diving in for revisions.

Maybe by then end of 2011 or early 2012 I might be ready to start querying it. If I'm lucky...

Unknown said...

A very sensible sollution. Only I've never actually been able to finish a draft in a month. I might have to move the querying up to February or March

Scooter Carlyle said...

I'm not sure if anyone else has read the book The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, but the main focus of the book is to remove the roadblocks that stifle creativity.

I view Nano the same way. It's a great way to get around all of the reasons we give ourselves not to write in the first place. However, I've had several friends look back at their Nano novels and shudder.

It takes careful, deliberate practice to grow once one starts writing, but Nano is a great way to get out of the starting gate.

Dawn Embers said...

I have done nanowrimo 4/5 years with the first being 2006. However, every time in the forums I see people talking about submitting to agents/publishers right away or even after editing right away it makes me cringe. Sure, I can write 50k of a first draft in 15 days but I'm not about to send that out to an agent.

My NaNo novel I'm going to submit eventually was started in 2007 and I've been writing, rewriting, editing and will have beta readers look it over before I even try to submit. I think it's the people who didn't do any research into the industry and just do it because they think getting published is easy. My dad thinks I'm a perfectionist for even doing a second draft, so some people just don't know.

A.J. Cattapan said...

I think we need National Beta Reader Month. That's where my NaNo project currently sits.

February will be Writing Conference Month, during which the first 30 pages of my project will be critiqued by a professional.

That lines me up perfectly for NaNoEdMo in March. So I guess querying month is April for me. :)

Anonymous said...

July is the GYHOOYAM regarding ones results as per NANO.
July is just far enough away so one may ass-ertain the proclivity of said novel. That it is written on a 1000 sheet roll, perforated every few inches, in most cases about sums up its worth.

(Get your head out of your ass month.)

Anonymous said...

What about we try your plan right here on your blog but extend it over a year. Many of us have that nano manuscript.

Maybe each month your blog could focus on a specific area like January could be pull-out-that-nano manuscript and determine if it has any merit. Perhaps you have advice to help us assess this.

Feburary, we could focus on another facet of the writing process.

I do know the writing process, but the camaraderie would be nice. I bet a number of us would stick it out until the end. The best part is that you would get first dibs.

Just a suggestion. We could start next year (if you're interested) if you want to think about it for awhile. I do think we should be realistic about how fast average people can produce a book. One month, even three months, six months for me, is tough. God Bless everyone who can.

Me, not so much.

Just an idea. :-)

Jessica Peter said...

You've got a good point. I think NaNoWriMo is great for motivation (have I done it? No...), but perhaps there should be an education side of things. Maybe a post over on NaNoWriMo - "Never Written a Novel? Here's How the Publishing Industry Works". Though maybe that would be too discouraging! ;)

And the specfication of a novel in: "...sit at their computers and pound one out, a novel that is," actually made me choke with laughter.

Whirlochre said...

I understand the adrenaline surge of enthusiasm surrounding the Nano phenomenon — just hate it when it splashes over my own personal writing timetable.

So I'm currently debating whether to submit on, as planned, or wait a little while till the slush boil of zesty-but-crazy Nan-craft has been lanced.

Anonymous said...

Can't write a novel in 2 months?

Ummm.... exactly how slow does everyone around here type??

Let's do some math, shall we?

If I can type one page in an hour (assuming 250/words per page) I'd be slower than molasses. I would need 300 hours to finish my novel. 300 hours/8 weeks is a ~ 37 hours per week or a little over 5 hours per day.

So if you are committed and have free time, exactly why can someone not finish a novel in 2 months?

Now I can already hear the 'edit! polish! rewrite!' calls from here. I think at a 250 words/hour pace I pretty much built some time in for some tinkering.

Now to use more realistic numbers, if you can type 1000 words an hour, and you want to write a 90,000 work novel, you need to do 90 hours of work. Obviously if you are holding down a 50/hour week job and raising 4 kids, this is going to take some time. If you are single and work 40/hours per week and have few commitments, exactly what are you doing for the other 15 hours every day (8hours working, 1 hour writing subtracted from 24 hours in a day)?

Ok, I'll give you sleep!)

I'm not criticizing here, but I think people WANT this to be hard. Having done this for a few years now, I can honestly say I have to agree with writer Dean Wesley Smith here - sitting down in a chair everyday for an hour and making stuff up is not hard.

Glynis Peters said...

So far, so good. I am abiding by your list. ;0

My first NaNo(2010)manuscript was not polished enough to turn out in December. Gosh, I cannot believe folk do such a thing. Shows how green I am! LOL

The lesson I learned from NaNo is discipline in my writing. I proved to myself I could meet a deadline.

Scooter Carlyle said...

@Anonymous at 10:34:

It's not just about the amount of time in front of your computer and how fast you can type. Theoretically, your numbers work, but sometimes Fate has a difference of opinion over your timetable.

Things that mess it up:

1. Family. Not only does your family deserve your undivided attention at times, but I had a family situation last month so severe that I couldn't even think about my story line. My niece got a death threat from my ex-sister-in-law, and I was spending all of my time trying to wrestle with social services. Even when I wasn't actively working on my niece's situation, you could say my mind wasn't on what I was doing.

2. Authors need to step away from their writing. I read a blog recently that suggested one leaves a first draft novel unread and unedited for at least 6 weeks. (Sorry, I can't remember where I found that.) It's a good idea. It allows you to see what's actually on the page, instead of having your mind fill in the enormous plot holes that you didn't perceive earlier.

3. Writer's block. It takes simmering time away from your manuscript to work around plot problems, character issues, etc. Sometimes you can't see a way around them. It takes time.

Long story short, your writing is far more than what you can bang out per hour.

Unknown said...

The vast majority of people I've met through NaNoWriMo understand that their NaNo efforts need further work. Many new writers are too embarrassed to even reread their own draft until a few months have passed -- never mind the terrifying thought of showing their flawed work to someone else. And my career-minded writer friends talk about their NaNo works like pieces of ore: it's mostly junk, but there's some good content they might figure out how to refine someday.

It's unfortunate that people see the term "NaNoWriMo" and immediately think of the misguided minority. Not all first-time NaNo participants start harassing agents as soon as their 50k are done. I bet it's hard to believe after reading bad NaNo queries, but it's still true.

Sarahlynn said...

"If I can type one page in an hour (assuming 250/words per page) I'd be slower than molasses."

It's not just about editing and polishing. For many writers the process is about more than simply story. (And that's assuming that the writer knows the entire story when she sits down to write.) Perhaps she spends time thinking about how best to express what she wants to say. It's not just "tinkering," it can be craftsmanship.

Writing for an hour a day might not be so hard. Having at least 250 words worth keeping every day might be much harder.

LivelyClamor said...

I'll be the first one to say that the 165 pages I wound up with at the end of NaNo 2009 (my first and only) suck. But I now have two fascinating characters to play with plus the experience of being able to shove distraction, the real world and excuses aside just enough to show myself what I could do.
But I expect ten years before it's ready to submit.

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Hi Jessica--

Loved the post on Nanowrimo and how appropriate. No one has suggested this yet, but it is the logical next step in the cycle and wouldn't hurt for writers to be continuing in this direction. Love your blog. It has been an invaluable resource to be an my fellow bloggers.