[Guest Post] Hit Fast Forward

It’s now December 1st and you’ve got a spanking new 50,000 word novel (or at least a substantial part of a novel).  What are you doing to do?

If the novel’s not complete, finish it.  You’ve got momentum coming out of NaNo, really good writing habits, and the ideas are still sunshiny fresh.  Besides, your friends haven’t seen you for a whole month.  They won’t miss you if you’re absent for several more days.

Then when the novel’s done, toss it into the bottom of your literal or figurative drawer and ignore it for at least a month.  Call your parents, remind your friends you’re still alive, apologize to your significant other for ignoring him/her/it for so long, and wrangle up a date for the Christmas party.

And then what?  What can you really do with that tangle of words conjured up in a single heady, highly-caffeinated month?

First, read it (and yes, it’s perfectly normal to cringe.)  In spite of all the tricks you used to inflate the word count, do you see in it the glimmer of a great story?  Do you want to go further with it?

Of course you do!

Last year, I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time.  My 70,000-word partially complete NaNo novel hit 120,000 words by the time the first draft was done.  Seven major revisions later, it has 91,000 words.  The novel recently placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards for Science Fiction (unpublished), and the full manuscript is currently sitting on the desks of several literary agents, where I’m hopeful it will go further.

The key to getting your NaNo out of that bottom drawer is to edit, edit, edit.  Compared to writing, editing is slow and laborious.  The rewards aren’t immediately obvious; instead of seeing that word count climb, you’re likely to see it fall.  But it’s the only way that NaNo novel is going to go anywhere.

Join a critique group and find the guts to read your novel in front of other people.  (I’ll confess, I’m still trying to work up the nerve for this one.)  Beg your friends to read your novel.  Score double points if that friend is also a writer – they provide better feedback.  Take part in NaNoEdMo and commit to 50 hours of editing.  Invest in yourself.  ‘Writing the breakout novel’, by Maass, provides fantastic tips on creating a story that’s worth telling.   ‘Self-editing for fiction writers: How to edit yourself into print’ by Brown and King teaches you how to identify and correct stylistic problems.

Don’t be afraid to substantially edit your novel.  It’s not a baby (really, truly). Think of it as a bonsai.  Regular pruning is absolutely required for growth.  My writer friend told me that the last third of my novel sucked (yes, that is a technical term).  So, I ripped out about 40,000 words, and eventually replaced it with something much better.

Are you done editing?

Do it again.

Do it until it’s the absolute best you are sure you can do on your own.  And then, if you’re not the archetypal poor college student and can find $1,000 – $3,000 to spare, seek out a good professional editor (the key word here is ‘good’, not just ‘professional’), and get them to look over your work.  (Full disclosure: I didn’t even consider going down this path until after my novel won the award.  I figured a winner was probably worth a larger financial investment.)

Finding an agent and getting published is a whole other story, and it’s a path I’m just embarking on.  But you’ll never get there unless you edit that NaNo novel.  Good luck, happy writing and merry editing!

Jade Kerrion is a Science Fiction author.  GENESIS, the first book in her DOUBLE HELIX series, placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards, Science Fiction (unpublished) category.  Find her online at JadeKerrion.com.

[Guest Post] Eradicating Excuses and Silencing the Inner Critic

I hear a lot of excuses for not participating in National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. That sounds like something a tired novelist says at the end of a month-long, novel-writing marathon: “Naaah, no wri’ mo’…” just before conking out over the keyboard.

The only valid excuses, really, are “I have no desire to write a novel right now,” and being quadriplegic. With today’s assistive technologies, even the latter is questionable in its validity, provided you really want to write a novel.

In fact, this year marks my tenth NaNoWriMo. I’ve only “won” once, and that’s fine by me. I had something to prove – to myself. Until then, the longest story I’d ever written fell just short of 6000 words. I was still making excuses – “I’m busy” being one of the big ones. It was true, too. I had a full-time job, and the company I work for had just gone through a major merger. My kids were thirteen and five, and though loathe to admit in public, needed me. My mom was critically ill, in the hospital, a thousand miles from her home or mine. I traveled a lot that year. And then, there was September. 9/11. Need I say more?

They tell us, “Write what you know.” And we have to live, to experience, to get out into the world to have things to write about. But sometimes, it all seems too too real and somehow taboo to write about our own experiences or to say out loud the things we know.

I’d suggest that you edit “Write what you know” to “Write from what you know” – draw from the well of reality to craft fiction. You don’t have to know and certainly don’t have to understand  everything. Sometimes, by writing from what you know, a new sort of clarity begins to emerge and it starts to make more sense to you and, if you’re lucky, to your readers. It’s all grist for the mill; the trick to writing entertaining fiction, I think, lies in the ability to lie like a rug and be scrupulously honest, all at the same time.

I’m the first to debunk the notion that artists’ and writers’ creativity demands the infertile soil of hardship and deprivation to thrive. I don’t write well at all when I’m worried about things like paying the bills or feeding my kids. But the truth is, we writers do seem to have two gears: procrastination mode and deadline mode. And at no time is the old adage “If you want something done quickly, ask a busy person to do it” truer than during November and NaNoWriMo.

Besides the artificial deadline pressure, there was another factor driving me: A desperate need to escape reality. Most people would read a book, watch a movie, or veg out in front of the TV. But all of those activities were too passive to still the small, panicked voices in my head. We writers have learned to sublimate our craziness and call those clamoring cranial voices “characters.” It’s both frightening and exhilarating to realize, when you’re really in the writing groove, that you have given up trying to control those characters and have begun to simply take dictation as they tell you their stories.

There are other characters who must be silenced. I’m not talking about the victims in our murder mysteries – I’m talking about our inner critics.

Those insidious demons left over from our insecure, prepubescent years when we began to realize writing was work that involved skills we didn’t yet possess and somehow got the notion that our fantasies weren’t good enough to pass literary muster. The whole premise behind NaNoWriMo is to write so fast those characters can’t get a word in edgewise. But what if they do? What if, somehow, they manage to harangue us into believing their petty-minded nonsense? What else – we torment them on the page for fun and profit. One year, my half-finished NaNoNovel, Eradicating Edna, featured the inner critic as a character. Try it, if you feel your well of inspiration’s all tapped out. It’s wicked fun – and it might just serve as free therapy.

Eradicating Edna (Prologue)

“What was I thinking, to put such expectations on myself at a time like this, when all the  world’s gone mad around me?” I cried, throwing a forearm dramatically over my forehead and letting out a piteous wail. “I’ll do it!” I sprang to my feet, energized. It took less than a NaNoSecond forreality to sink in. “But I’m so far behind. All I have so far is three death scenes and an aborted suicide.”

You can imagine the withering look my Muse gave me. “That’s the spirit.”

My Inner Editor foamed at the mouth. Only, the foam came out her nose, since my Muse had had the foresight to bind up her mouth with duct tape.

“Look, you’re an overachiever, but you’re a burnt-out overachiever seriously in danger of looking like she’s got a bug up her butt. So write this one just for fun. And if you must compete, consider it your entry into the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest next year.” The Muse shrugged.

“That’s just supposed to be one sentence,” I said. I was pouting. I had my heart set on writing great lit-rah-chure.

“So write a novel that gives you nothing but hard choices as to which sentence you should enter.”

“There are multiple categories,” I said, warming to the idea. “I could have ’em all covered, by the time I’m done.”

“There you go. Enter in every category. Just be sure to win a ‘Dishonorable Mention’ for me.”

“I know that, Dear. It’s pretty pathetic, if you ask me.” She picked up my daughter’s TI-83 calculator and pushed some buttons at random. “Don’t think of it as ‘behind.’ Think of it as an adjustment, from 1667 words a day to 2800 words a day. You can do that, can’t you? I mean…if you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Can I use this conversation?” I asked. I was reluctant to admit it; it seemed so…puerile. But I was beginning to enjoy myself. Guilty pleasures are always the best kind.

“No.”

“Will you take that thing away?” I asked, pointing at the Inner Editor. The IE growled and struggled against the ropes that bound her to her ergonomically-correct office chair. Gleefully, I smacked her over the head with an ergonomic keyboard, breaking the device in two. I dumped it into her lap.

“Absolutely.” My Muse poured two glasses of cheap cream sherry and we raised them in a toast. “To fingering Bulwer-Lytton’s proboscis in April!”

“Here, here.”

“Isn’t that ‘hear, hear’?” squeaked the Inner Editor, who had managed to bite through the duct tape with her jagged fangs.

“Good lord. Does ‘anal-retentive’ have a hyphen?” sneered my Muse. Grabbing She-Who-Inspires-Writers-to-Write-Heinous-Scenes-of-Gruesome-Torture by the neck, my Muse saluted me and disappeared. The Evil One vanished, too, and I could breathe again.

Holly Jahangiri is a technical communicator, social media analyticator, children’s book author, blogger, happy wife and mom living in Houston, Texas. She would really appreciate it if you would read her post, Good Goals Gone Bad, on TheNextGoal.com.