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National Novel Writing Month

The whole reason I’m doing Andrew vs. The Collective is because I wrote a book called The Collective. I wrote it, the first draft of it anyway, entirely in the month of November 2008. Why would I do such a thing? Because it was National Novel Writing Month!

I really credit NaNoWriMo (that’s the shortened version) with helping me to finish my first book. I am one of those people who really great at starting lots of projects but finds it difficult to bring them to a conclusion. Especially projects I’m doing on my accord, without threat of professional censure. That’s why, for me, NaNoWriMo was the perfect way to break through that “first novel” barrier.

So I wanted to offer two things in this post. My recommendation for first time writers who might be interested in undertaking a marathon November. And share what I learned about the process with any NaNoWriMo winners out there who might want to take their project all the way to printing.

November 2008: It was a crazy month. I work in news, so the election alone would have made it heady. Additionally it was the month everybody started laying off huge swaths of staff, and my company was no exception. In the midst of all that, I’d committed to write 50,000 words of fiction. How did I do it? I wrote all the time. Especially toward the end of the month when I felt like time was running out. I traveled a lot that month, so making it a part of a regular schedule, of my daily/weekly ritual, wasn’t an option. I was able, though, to write anytime I was in transit. (My favorite place to write the whole month was on the Amtrak from New York to DC. At sunrise.) They key to getting through it for me was just being determined to finish. I set a challenge for myself and goddamnit I was going to meet that challenge. The NaNoWriMo emails from other authors that kept bouncing up in my inbox helped motivate me too.

So what comes after 50K words? A lot of editing. A lot. I decided that if I could take a first draft all the way through, I might as well finish it completely. Edited and all. I thought it would take about 6 months. It took 12.

First draft to first readers: My first draft was a hot mess and I totally knew it. The end especially. When I was so close to 50,000 and it was November 30th and the conclusion to the story was fast approaching, my tapping fingers just started skipping crucial plot developments. I did a read-through a few weeks later, in January. But the real big next step was giving it to readers. I chose three close friends whose opinions I valued and gave them copies. Then I waited.

Notes!: My readers gave me good notes. Some were all along the same lines: It fell apart at the end. Others were just big brainstorms of ideas. The challenge at this stage was sifting through all these brilliant suggestions and then making some big changes out of them.

Here come the changes: It ended up that I had to re-write the whole back half of the book. I had this subplot that, at the end, became the main conclusion and the way it read it was really jarring. So, of 7 chapters, I had to throw out the final two (except for a few scenes here and there) and replace them with four new ones. Then I had to more or less graft those chapters onto the front of the book, sort of hand stitching the changes line-by-line into the middle two chapters.

Massive re-edit: Few things I’ve ever done in my life felt like they called for as much brainpower at one time as this process. You’re editing one line at a time and you’re watching your word choice, your punctuation, but also you’re watching the scene development, the chapter’s flow, and also you’re thinking about the whole story, the whole of each character, all of the big questions. Hard! But, also…a lot of fun and very rewarding.

And then it’s done: This might be the hardest part: saying it’s done. It’s over! Move on! Working with a NaNoWriMo book I think made this part easier. It wasn’t something I’d been working on for years. I hadn’t built it up in my head as my magnum opus. That made it easier to say “This is done, what’s next?”

Printing: I decided to not seek a publisher and to print it myself. I ended up going through Lulu, which is only one of several really great sites (Blurb, Createspace, etc). It costs money, so you’ll probably end up offering it for sale. I decided to do a Kickstarter to promote the book and to get it out there. (Which is going on right now).

Should you do NaNoWriMo? I’m going to go ahead and tack a “heck” onto that “yes”. If you’ve been telling yourself you had a novel in you for years, it’s time to get it out.

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