So, now that National Novel Writing Month is over, I can say that it has been the most impactful NaNoWriMo to date for me. I’ve been having a lot of internal debate about the nature and true purpose of NaNo and it has led me to truly evaluate how I write and what aspects of my craft I really need to focus on. While I can’t say I’ve truly found any true resolutions so far -any ultimate answer- I have come to some realizations, some of which have caused a shift in how I plan to move forward.
You Win, You Lose
First and most importantly, I ‘won’ at NaNoWriMo with nearly 70,000 words written, but failed to reach my goal of finishing my novel. That might sound odd, but I’ve been saying over the last month that the arbitrary 50k benchmark the good folks at NaNo set is truly just a way of articulating how an aspiring writer can establish a reasonable goal and then have a clearly set word count for each day; in short, a way to learn how to write daily and produce work over a given month. For me, that goal was to finish my book and I failed. However, it was an ambitious goal and it’s not a loss in some respects. Yes, I would have liked to have all of the feels of finishing the book, but I’ve really learned a lot, so I’m taking away some craft-changing, even career-changing decisions.
First, I’m never, ever, ever going to work on an existing project during NaNoWriMo again. Beyond feeling a bit ‘cheaty’ (it’s not new and is almost always very plotted and outlined already), it lends itself to bloat and my novel is excessively bloated right now. I wrote over 70k words and didn’t finish? That’s insane and that’s because I continued a project during NaNo. There’s a dual desire to both continue your work and meet the NaNo word count and that means you might feel the urge to continue writing or force more prose into a chapter than is truly needed. I don’t regret working on it this year though; I want to finish this work. However, from this point on NaNo for me is always going to be the start of a new piece of fiction. No exceptions.
In a similar vein, I’ve been able to see the major flaw in my work that has caused the bloating and can now work to fix it in my second draft. I am considering just doing corrections and fleshing out my problem bits on this first pass and sending the novel as-is to my beta readers and seeing if they feel the same way. Even given me missing the mark, I think this is a step in the right directions. Anecdotally, writers being able to identify bloat and cut beloved content is one of the hardest lessons to learn, so I feel I’m ahead of the mark there.
Social Media Bias
In addition to writing, I’ve been stretching out into social media more. I’d recently been of the mind that as a writer I can just hide in my sanctum, creating work and then magically emerge and get myself published. While I know this may have been true decades ago, I do not think that it is really possible in today’s dual publishing and social worlds. So, I’ve really focused myself on digging deeper into Facebook and Twitter over the last few months, as well as pushing my blog to new places and what I’ve found has had a fundamental impact on my work. In particular, I’ve gained a lot of insight from three authors I’ve discovered in my explorations: Chuck Wendig, Ana Spoke and Steve Turnbull.
If you’ve not happened to interact with them or check out their blogs and you’re an aspiring writer, I encourage you to do so. Chuck Wendig is the author of the recently-published Star Wars: Aftermath (and a ton of other stuff) and is a frequent author of writer’s guides. His irreverent tone and insight make him both an informative and enjoyable read and his blog posts are an instant must-read when they hit must inbox. He has an honesty that lends itself to really encouraging you to evaluate your writerly process. In addition, his handling of recent events concerning Star Wars: Aftermath really illustrate how to gracefully manage unreasonable and vitriolic reviews and commentary.
Also a must-read is Ana Spoke, author of Shizzle, Inc. A self-published author, her posts are chock full of information about her efforts with promotion and marketing and have given me a very good idea of what is working (for her) and what doesn’t. Given that my research suggests that more and more writers are having to do their own promotion and marketing, even if they are traditionally published, having this type of information on hand, even at my current stage in the publishing process, is very important. One of the things I’ve realized is it’s never too soon to dip your toes in the social media/promotion/marketing pool. It’s deep and foreboding and if you wait to learn to swim in it, you’re likely to sink to the bottom.
Steve Turnbull is another author who has both been traditionally published and self-publishes. He is also a very prolific Steampunk author, writing a series of novels set in India, the Maliha Anderson Mysteries. This was one of the first things that truly excited me about having the opportunity to chat with him on Facebook, since around the time I encountered him, I had conceptualized basing one of my potential supporting characters in India, a precocious young Indian girl who is a brilliant mathematician. As important (and in many ways more important than) was his contributions to a discussion I started in the Facebook group to determine how many authors self-publish in the Steampunk genre. Answer: nearly everyone self-publishes their steampunk novels. Some have traditionally published other fiction, but not their steampunk manuscripts.
Needless to say, this was a shocking revelation, although not totally unexpected. Primarily, it reinforced a suspicion I already had. My previous plan with the Clockwork Wind Saga was to always try to traditionally publish first, then eventually pursue small press and self-publishing options; at this point, I do not think I’m going to do that. As a debut writer, I most likely won’t even merit their consideration. So, as long as my manuscript is tight and storyline compelling (and my drive to self-promote is strong) I should do fine pursuing a small press first and then moving to self-publishing after a few months if no one bites.
So, I’d like to thank Chuck, Ana and Steve for the unwitting insight and inspiration they’ve given me over the last month. I encourage you to check out their work (Chuck|Ana|Steve), as well as their blogs (Chuck|Ana|Steve). I really can’t think of a better combo of folks to have really discovered this month in terms of adding real motivation to my craft.
The last thing this month did (oddly enough) was give me ample fodder for my blog, so keep an eye out for that over the next month to six weeks. As I mentioned previously, I’ll be discussing my first brush with really digging into social media, discuss story-sharing apps like Wattpad and Penned (as well as others), discuss my ‘writerly mission’, and do a wad of reviews. Lots of eye- and mind-candy for the holiday season and beyond.
Most importantly though, I am going to work very very hard to finish this novel by Dec 31st. Anything other than a completed first draft is an excuse and a sad one at that. As always, if you like what you read, please ‘Like’ and subscribe. I’ll be creating a newsletter of sorts once I’ve finished my first draft, plus as publishing goes forward, I plan to start doing promotions to test the waters, so keep an eye out for that as well. For those of you who encouraged me this last month, you have my utmost thanks. Of course, my wife Jennifer is indisputably at the top of that list. Thank you, my love. Thank you, subscribers. Thank you, everyone.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~ Richard Bach