Six smart steps after #NaNoWriMo

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Don’t bother with sending your novel around for beta readers to chew on, editors to edit and proofers to proof. You’ve got 50,000 golden words, right? THEY MUST BE SEEN AND PUBLISHED, TOMORROW, and you’ve already told the dealership to order a black BMW because the advance will be huge.

Forget sending queries to literary agents. Call them on the telephones, right now, or get their cell number and try dinner time, because they’ll be home.

If your novel is truly great, bypass those gatekeepers and fly to the Isle of Manhattan to hail a cab for the offices of Random House with the only copy of your manuscript in your locked briefcase. Make sure there are copyright notices all over the thing and a confidentiality agreement drafted by your attorney before anybody gets a peek, lest they steal it.

Do you have your plane ticket yet? Go get one, right now.

Okay, those folks should be busy on Travelocity while literary agents and editors are hiring a team of former Special Forces soldiers to greet them in the bowels of JFK’s parking garage.

Everybody else, let’s talk turkey, post-Turkey Day.

You may have 50,000 words and a spiffy badge, 34,000 words and a feeling of failure, 13,000 words and a newfound hatred of literature or 3,923 words and a pile of index cards that say things like, “The scene where Emily discovers that she hates her husband and wants to become a nun. Then he makes her ham and eggs. The eggs are soggy but the ham is delicious.”

Related: Six easy ways to improve NaNoWriMo and Do not look upon your #NaNoWriMo word count and despair, for there is hope

So what’s next? Six smart steps, that’s what:

1) Put your novel in a drawer.

Yeah, I know it’s probably a Word doc. Stick that thing in a virtual drawer. Don’t touch it, not even to fix that scene where Emily is at work and the serial killer is in the copier room, expertly printing his manifesto on both sides and making the machine staple that sucker in the upper left corner before he kills the CFO with an industrial three-hole punch.

Now go read five great books in your genre. Paperbacks. Popular stuff, nothing a professor would assign for a term paper. Not sure what genre your novel is? Find out. Want a shortcut? Read this: Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG

Writing a romance or a thriller? Read these: Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller and Out of fairness, I destroy my favorite genre: thrillers

2) Take the first page of those five great books in your genre and study them. Just the first page.

Now take your manuscript (mss if you’re a hipster) and print the first page. Only the first page.

Compare them all. Different authors have different styles, sure, but you shouldn’t be writing in second person, or first person plural, if all five of the bestsellers in your chosen genre of memoirs are say, first person. Just a guess. For giggles: Top 9 reasons to write in first-person plural

If you want a quick look at taking a red pen to the first pages of famous novels to rip them up, in a good way, check out these:

3) Step back from the writing of scenes and chapters and boil your story down.

Can you explain it to a random stranger at Starbucks in four sentences? How about one sentence?

Get it down to four words. Yeah, I’m serious. Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS and Writers: can you do it in FOUR WORDS? and Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt

4) Get your novel edited, and not by your mom, husband or best friend.

Because I truly believe this: The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

Tempted to join a traditional critique group instead? Don’t. Not the kind where you meet once a month, or once a week, and everybody reads a chapter. I’m serious: Why critique groups MUST DIE

5) Read up. A lot.

Read about the business of books, whether it’s traditional publishing, indie or zipping your manuscript to servers at Amazon to start selling it tomorrow.

Read great fiction in all sorts of genres while your manuscript simmers in the oven of that drawer. Learn about writing a query and synopsis, a little marketing and public relations and social media.

6) After a month, go back and crack open that NaNaWriMo manuscript again.

Listen to your editors. Use what you’ve learned about storytelling and from reading great books in your genre. Fix the ending. Fix the beginning. Kill off every character you can and combine their roles. 

Keep on working on it while you dream up the next novel, which should not be a sequel. Different characters, different setting.

Does the new idea feel like work, or would you happily burn a day off to crank out chapters? Toss ideas that feel like drudgery and hold fast to concepts that make you excited. Because this should not feel like punching a clock in a Ford factory or going to meetings in a cubicle farm about your TPS reports.

Writing it should make your heart beat faster while you smile. You may even cackle the evil cackle of glee. All those are Good Things, and should be encouraged.

Also: The thing about writers and editors is this: they’re friendly, and as long as you’re not a jerk, they’ll chat with you on Twitter and help you out a little. Great people. I LOVES THEM.

Also-also: If you want to know anything, check out The Writer’s Knowledge Base for a massive collection of articles and posts on every topic a writer could want. It’s like a mega-powered and secret google for writers and editors. Plus it’s free. This thing is a public service. Use it, and tell the folks who run it thanks. Send them tips when you spot great posts or stories and some good karma.

Because there’s a lot of good karma among the folks who love books. This isn’t a zero-sum game where somebody has to lose for somebody else to win. People who love books and writing also love fellow writers and editors. We’re brothers and sisters in arms, battling word counts and deadlines and plot bunnies. It shouldn’t be stressful. Because this is fun stuff, the making up of stories to entertain each other.

Six easy ways to improve NaNoWriMo

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Writer peeps tell me they’re doing NaNoWriMo, which is Esperanto for “I’m trying to write a novel in a single month, and I’m 10k behind already, so I’ve quit my job and divorced my husband. I vaguely remember that we had some kids. Ready for a sprint?”

God bless all who sign up for this. I believe a novel is the toughest thing a writer can tackle, and the most rewarding.

It’s just that 30 days is a bit insane, and I say that as somebody who writes insanely fast. Related post: Why are all writers lazy bums?

If a friend of mine said they were doing NaNoWriMo, I’d want them to have a good experience and not pull their hair out because they missed two days of writing at that wedding and now they need to write 3,000 words a day and IT’S NOT HAPPENING.

It’s great that there’s a national month encouraging folks to write a novel. I just don’t want new writers to bang their head against the wall and feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen. You’re not a failure. The math is stacked against you for NaNoWriMo.

So here is what I would say to that friend wrestling with word counts and freaking out, or to anyone considering doing NaNoWriMo next year.

1) Spend all of October training for this literary marathon

For writers, a novel is like running a marathon. You don’t pop up off the couch on Nov. 1 and bust out 26.1 miles. You’ve got to train and build up to it.

Ignore the veteran pantsers and their crazy “I never outline” ways. Anybody writing a novel for the first time on Nov. 1 should spend October doing this:

  • Read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder and STORY by Robert McKee
  • Figure out what primal story, per Blake the Snyder, you’re going to write—that’s your genre
  • Watch movies (hey, this homework stuff is tough) or read your favorite books in that genre, and see how those movies and books do setups and payoffs, reversals and revelations
  • Map out a three-act story, using Blake’s spiffy Beat Sheet, and if you want to get technical, he breaks Act 2 in half, so you’re really looking at four Acts
  • Figure out your story on that one-page Beat Sheet, and do whatever research you need for the Writing of Many Words

2) The goal is actually more than 50,000 words

You might say, “Hey, mister, fifty thousand words is a lot to write in a month. Don’t make this any harder.”

Sure, 50k is a lot. We’re talking about 1,667 words per day, every day. Except 50k is a novella, not a novel.

It’s more like half a novel.

Google it. Go on, I’ll wait.

Okay, not really. I’m over there, watching funny cat videos.

So: Literary agents, publishers and book peoples have all these standards for word counts when it comes to novels of different genres, and if you’re going to run a literary marathon, let’s make sure you hit 26.1 miles, not 14 miles and call it a marathon.

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor, author and expert on what agents and publishers want in different genres. Here’s a TL;DR version of his post about word counts for novels: “Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.”

Therefore: you’re really shooting for 80 to 90k. Which leads us to Number 3.

3) Make it NaNoDecemberO to stay sane and married

Trying to hit 50k in 30 days is hard. The math, it doesn’t add up.

I know full-time authors who write one book per year. Maybe two. If they wrote 50,000 words a month, they’d be cranking out six to ten books per year.

Which doesn’t happen.

Not even Stephen King puts out six books a year, and he (a) writes faster than anybody, (b) has decades of experience writing fiction and (c) has the money to spend all day doing nothing else, if he wants.

People doing NaNoWriMo typically are not independently wealthy, retired or able to call on decades of fiction writing experience. I bet most folks have full-time jobs and kids and life. So asking them to write at least 1,667 words a day is asking a lot.

Especially when the real finish line is really 80,000 or 90,000 words.

  • 80k words in 30 days is 2,667 words per day
  • 90k in 30 is 3k a day
  • People expect three bullets, except I don’t have another set of numbers on this point, so here’s the start of an infinite set, just for you: 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256 512 1024 2048

That’s crazy talk. Old school authors like Hemingway would count their words, words printed on these things called typewriters, doing it by hand with a pencil. And they’d call it a day when they hit 500 words, going off to drink bourbon and watch bullfights, because 500 words a day is roughly three books a year.

Let’s make it NaNoDecemberO and give you two months to write a full novel instead of a novella.

  • 80k words in 60 days is 1,334 words per day
  • If you go long at 90k, that’s still only 1,500 words a day, less of a workload than NaNoWriMo’s 1,667
  • That’s right: write fewer words per day and actually have a full novel instead of a novella

Therefore: go ahead and turn it into NaNoDecemberO.

It’s okay. The NaNoWriMo police won’t come to your door and take away your keyboard. You’ll get more sleep and your friends and family will thank you for doing something incredibly hard in 60 days instead of 30.

4) No matter what, don’t set a goal of more than 2k a day

You might think, “Hey, I’ve got a free Sunday coming up, and I’ll spend six hours writing, 2k an hour, so that’s 10 to 16k, easy.” Might happen. Probably not.

It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do or whether you write an hour a day in the morning or all day as your job. Reporters, screenwriters and authors all seem to hit the wall at 2k a day.

Though you can edit all day. Hmm. Interesting. Write 2k, then edit like a madman. There may be something to that.

HOWEVER: Let’s say you can go all out and hit 3k a day, every day. You’re going to miss days. Weddings, anniversaries, holidays, soccer practice, late nights at work. It’ll happen. If you need 3k a day, and miss a day, now you have to make up for it with 6k tomorrow. Ugh. Even spreading that out over a week would be tough.

Don’t be a literary tough guy and set yourself up for painful falls. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 2k a day or less is smart.

5) Don’t do it alone

Writers are friendly and helpful. Ask. There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

And find some people to trade chapters with and such. You don’t want vague happy nonsense like “it was great” or vague critical nonsense about how they hated chapter 2 and don’t know why.

Find a few fellow writers who need critique partners. Everybody needs beta readers.

Or omega readers. 🙂

Yes, that’s an inside joke. And a good one. I’d throw down a double-sized happy face, if I knew how.

6) Let’s turn January into NaNoEditMo

The secret to all writing is editing—and the longer a piece of writing is, the more editing love it needs.

Don’t bother with critique groups where people read chapters aloud. Are you really going to read 80,000 words to the group? Might take six days. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

There are all sorts of books, blogs, web sites and secret societies when it comes to editing fiction. Dive into it. Learn all about editing, and practice on things you steal from the Interwebs or pull down from your shelf.

Because you can’t edit yourself. Not at first. It takes experience bleeding on the pages of others before you can turn your own pages red.

The way to learn is from horrifically beautiful writing and amazingly bad prose. Mediocre stuff doesn’t teach you how to edit.

One thing will pop out fast: story and structure matter more, over the long term, than the quality of the writing. You’ll probably enjoy entertaining trash in the genre you’re writing far more than literary novels where every sentence is a poem, and this is true if the genre novels are insane stuff about a zombie pirate in love with a robot ninja from the future.

Also: Yes, somebody has probably written that exact book. Bonus points if anybody can point me to the cover of that novel. I’ll do a blog about this zombie-pirate/robot-ninja shebang.

Also-also: NaNoScriptMo would actually be fun and practical. A screenplay is about 15,000 words and that’s 500 words a day. Hemingway would approve. Then he’d drink a whiskey and watch a bullfight.

The Greatest Synopsis that Ever Lived

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Dear Agent Sir or Madam,

This is a follow-up to my querying letter about a million-word fictional novel trilogy. You can read that letter anywhere on the planet by firing up AOL and clicking on this World Wide Web thingy here: The Mother of All Query Letters.

Maybe you haven’t gotten to reading it yet, seeing how you’re busy selling my trilogy to Warner Brothers for one million dollars (I figure a dollar a word is fair). My niece Daisy has a library card and her nose in all kinds of books, not just Twilight, and when I told her about my fictional novel, she said I need to send every agent and editor in Manhattan a synopsis.

Now, “synopsis” sounded Latin and possibly dirty to me, so I asked whether that word involved sins, and Daisy said, “That’s a good way to look at it. List all the sins you commit in that book of yours.”

So here’s my list of the sinful things happening in each book of the trilogy, with each novel coming in at 333,333 and 1/3rd words apiece.

Book 1: I KNOW WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED, DARTH SAREK OF VULCAN

A grave-digger falls into a grave and hits his skull on a fat hunk of rock, then wakes up on an alien planet to find he’s six inches taller and half-ninja, half-Jedi, half-Vulcan.

First off, he’s bound for alien slavery on a pirate ship, and I believe slavery to be a sin, despite what Uncle Will says about the War of Northern Aggression.

Second, he kills bushels of aliens, and killing is a sin, though he does it to win his freedom from slavery, so I figure those sins cancel each other out.

Third, our hero does have relations outside of marriage with an alien princess or three, plus an android on a planet run by robots and an evil super-magneto computer made by Bill Gates himself after he bought up an entire Best Buy and started soldering stuff together.

Book 2: LOST IN SPACE AND TIME WITH A GREEN LASER SWORD AND A PURPLE ALIEN PRINCESS

The robot king and his super computer can plug you in, like that Matrix or that Tron video game they had at the 7-Eleven on third street until some pansy replaced it with Ms. Pac Man.

The robot king makes our hero think he’s waking up in that grave, and that nothing in the first book really happened, kinda like that season of Dallas before J.R. got shot and such, and let me tell you, I’d shoot that man myself with my grandpa’s Colt and proudly do whatever time a judge handed down with the bang of his mighty gavel.

Back to the story. After learning kung fu and how to bend more spoons than Yuri Geller, the hero busts out of the fake holodeck world of the robots and uses his laser sword to cut Bill Gates and his super-magneto computer clean in half. Murder is a sin, but he says his prayers and gets forgiveness from his maker while the aliens rejoice in their freedom and put him in charge of their army of spaceships and purple alien princesses.

Book 3: MASTER OF OUTER SPACE,INNER PEACE AND DESTROYER OF SUNS

There’s peace in the galaxy with the hero running things, so he studies his Jedi and his Vulcan to learn the secrets of immortality, raises generation after generation of his young ones with the purple alien princess who’s his queen, and teaches the purple alien army how to be kung fu ninjas — but a new threat arises.

See, suns are alive. That’s right — they’re born, they live, they evolve and they die, with new baby suns arising from the dusts of their supernova. And they see themselves as gods, seeing how they create all the elements in the universe and provide all the heat and light and such. They’re mad as tarnation and they’re not gonna take it one second longer.

I see this third book as a tale of redemption, seeing how the hero starts out committing all kinds of sins in books one and two. Now he’s married and living right, unlike my second cousin Nellie, who’s on her fourth divorce and odds are she’ll hit number seven before we wheel her into the Willapa Valley Nursing Home.

Back to this book: Our hero flies right up to the face of the biggest, maddest, meanest sun and finds a way to communicate, but the solar gods are hell-bent on war and destruction, and they start frying alien planets like eggs on a hot grill with a fine sheet of lard already melted on top.

As a last act of sacrifice at the age of 984, the hero mind-melds with the suns and hypnotizes them into calmness by bringing them into his memories and dreams, which lands himself into a coma for a spell until I figure out the next trilogy of 1 million words, which I figure has to involve the only thing bigger, badder and more amazing than killer suns: black holes with father issues not even Dr. Phil can solve.

So, that’s a full-on synopsis of the first trilogy, with book one attached as an encrypted WordStar document and also available on 5.25″ floppies. Though like I said in that querying letter, I’m running out of those floppies, so make it snappy.

Sincerely,

Sensei George Lucas King

P.S. This is my new pen name, guaranteeing my trilogy sits smack dab next to all those books by Stephen King while appealing to fans of Star Wars and all those kung fu movies, which I figure covers just about every man still breathing, then you got the alien princess love story thing for the women. To write me checks, you’ll need my full legal name, though I’d prefer cash on account of some trouble with the IRS that started in 1997.

The Mother of All Query Letters

Dear Agent Sir or Madam,

I am writing to you, or your agency, to acquire literary representation in Manhattan, Hollywood, London and wherever else such deals are made to publish books and turn them into movies.

Why? Because my 333,333 1/3rd-word fictional novel (Book One of a 1 million-word trilogy) is guaranteed to be bigger than Star Wars crossed with Fifty Shades of Gray with Oprah and Brad Pitt on top, like two cherries on a chocolate sundae instead of the single little cherry they give you at Dairy Queen over on 15th Avenue because those cherries, let me tell you, they taste like rubber mixed with corn syrup.

Now, I know the book world establishment is liable to pigeonhole books, and a person could say I KNOW WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED, DARTH SAREK OF VULCAN is a mystery about an ordinary gravedigger who’s secretly a half-ninja, half-Vulcan, half Jedi and only finds this out on account of him falling into a freshly dug grave on a Saturday night and waking up in a strange world where he’s six inches taller, has pointed ears and a sweet green laser sword.

And I suppose you could say it’s a romantic comedy set in a sci-fi action universe, since this hero gets more action than James Bond himself judging one of them Miss Universe contests, but that would be selling this story short. Who doesn’t want to see ninja Jedi adventuring through space and time with laser swords and starship battles? Also, instead of green alien women, I’ve got purple and orange ones.

It’s got fighting, cussing, dark deeds, giant space battles with starships way out in outer space and new life forms with their own languages and strange ways of fighting, cussing and doing dark deeds.

As for reviews and such, all five of my cousins, my momma and even Grandma Wilma, who hasn’t read a book since she stopped reading Archie’s Digest back in 1963, well, they all say this story sounds like a sure-fire winner, the kind they’d pay full price to see at the drive-in, long as the weather held up.

The full fictional novel is attached as an encrypted WordStar document. It’s also available on 5.25″ floppy disks, and I’m running out of those, so act now. I’ll give the winning agent the password to read it. Also, I’m fixing to finish the screenplay for the first two books before Christmas, so the best agent should also sell a lot of of movies.

Some agents want a synopsis, but reading the story is a lot better than reading about the story, especially the parts after the hero falls into that grave and wakes up.

My cousin has one of those internet phones and says agents want to know about my publishing credits. So listen: I’ve been a professional gravedigger for 23 years and have published 983 stories all over that world wide web on www.blogger.com, keeping my site set to private because I don’t want people stealing my ideas. See? That’s how VALUABLE they are.

The only question is this: are you gonna hop on this money train or are you gonna let it pass on by?

Sincerely,

Stefan Kingsley

P.S. This here is my pen name, guaranteeing my trilogy sits smack dab next to all those books by Stephen King, who I figure from looking at his photos is older than Roy Rogers’ uncle by now and fixing to retire or die, whichever comes first. To write me checks, you’ll need my full legal name, though I’d prefer cash on account of some trouble with the IRS that started in 1997.