I was 33 when I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo in 2004. I needed something to distract me from the longest November in the history of Novembers–before my daughter Ruby was born on December 8th that year. As November gets close, again, I thought I’d share my Nano story with you today, and give you some NaNoWriMo tips.
So, in 2004, I did it. I wrote like a fiend every day for a month and I finished a first draft. It really sucked. Like, really, really, really sucked. But I did it. And doing it was magical for me, because once I knew I could write a novel, I knew I could learn to write one well.
But all that mattered to me on November 30, 2004 was . . .
I wrote my first novel!
Then I gave it an edit and I was so proud of myself. To celebrate, I sent out a round of agent query letters. This was in the olden days of the early aughties, when you still had to send an actual letter with photocopied pages and a SASE.
I expected a long wait time, while these agents read the sample of my masterpiece and considered how they might best help me to become a bestselling super star.
What actually happened was that my mailbox filled, rather quickly, with a flurry of little slips of paper (agents didn’t even give a whole sheet to queries they insta-bounced) that said something along the lines of:
Thanks for sending in your work. It’s not for me, but keep trying.
What that sounded like to me was more like this:
Hey, Shaunta! You suck. Give it up now. Don’t make me, or any other agent, read another word of your incompetent attempts at being a writer.
Best of luck finding some other career. May I suggest being a teacher? That’s your Plan B, right? Right.
What I’m saying is, its hard to write your story. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It sucks to write something that you know is crap. It’s miserable, sometimes, to keep working and keep pushing and keep trying, when there isn’t any real outward sign that success is imminent.
You might finish your first draft this November, but it takes a lot longer than that to produce a work of fiction that’s fit for public consumption. In fact, it took me longer to make that first book readable because I rushed it out.
NaNoWriMo was worth it, because knowing I could write a novel at all was a game changer for me. But it’s not a sustainable method for creating a writing career. In reality, it takes closer to a year to write and revise a book. And that’s why just about every writer (Nanite or not) out there has a file or a drawer full of half-finished good starts.
We are the collectors of good starts, when what we need to be is the perpetrators of strong finishes.
NaNoWriMo is great for pushing writers past the start, through the middle, straight to the end. To the finish.
And that’s the only real secret to being a successful writer: You have to finish. And you have to be willing to keep finishing and keep finishing.
A few years after that NaNoWriMo, I’d studied Creative Writing at the university level. I’d written four more books. None of them were publishable, but each one was better than the last.
Then, in 2010, I finished another story. And I sent out another round of query letters (electronic this time.) And instead of a shower of ‘dear author’ form letters, I found an agent. Actually, in addition to a shower of ‘dear author’ form letters, I found an agent. And she found me a publisher. That publisher was an imprint of Penguin and they bought two of my books.
Learning to be a finisher took me from being someone who wrote ‘write a novel’ at the top of every New Year’s Resolution list to being a Writer.
My mission is to help you make that leap from being someone who wants to write, to someone who is a writer. I’m so happy to be on this journey with you. I truly believe that a good story, well told, can change the world. In fact, very little else ever has. I can’t wait to see yours do its thing.
If you’re getting ready to give NaNoWriMo a shot, I want to teach you some things I wish I’d known that first time around. These things would have helped me get from that first terrible first draft to being a published author faster.
These things also would have helped me realize the one-word secret to going from being someone who wants to write to being a writer. They would have helped me FINISH a first draft a lot sooner. Even years sooner.
Start with a plan (I made you a workbook!)
I can’t stress this one enough. If you’re going to try to write as fast as NaNoWriMo requires, having a road map through that story will make all the difference. My favorite way of doing that is with a system we call How to Develop + Test a Story Idea, or H2DSI.
I’ve created a H2DSI Workbook just for you! Download it now and use it to help plan your story before you start to write it. (Just put your email in the form below.)
H2DSI: The Workbook
Leave your email address here and I'll get you your copy of the workbook that will help you to Develop + Test your awesome idea.
Don’t edit until you’re finished with your first draft
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of trying to edit while you’re writing a first draft.
I have this theory: writing is so hard that the writer’s brain will go to any length to make the writer feel like they’re writing, when really, they are not. Editing is the number one culprit. Because it makes so much sense to think that you can’t move forward if what you’ve already written sucks.
Lock your Inner Editor in a cage until you’re ready for her to do her thing. Just keep moving forward.
Remember that you’re the boss of this thing
Writing is your job. It’s your work.
Pull out a calendar and write down your writing schedule for this week. In ink. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo next month, know that you’re going to need two or three hours a day, every day, and find them. Commit to them.
FRED (the Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft) is the best tool I know for managing your writing time. You can download your FRED by clicking right here.
This is your job, Ninja Writer, long after November is over. You don’t have to have hours a day to dedicate to it, though. Just remember that whatever time you set aside for writing is as important as hours you’re scheduled to work at a day job.
Come on over to Facebook today and let’s talk about what it takes to finish your story.