NaNoWriMo Hangover: 2 Years, 2 Novels, 10 Lessons, 1 Agent


I’m proud to say that I’m part of the horde of writers who spent the last month pumping out word count in between working, trying to launch a book, and generally having some semblance of a life wrapped around 1,667 words a day.

I'd like to joyously proclaim that I made it! I validated my novel Sunday morning the 30th at 50,299 words. Well, I say novel, but it’s really more like half a novel. Either way, I logged 50,299 good words. “Good” meaning what I have on paper can be edited without too much pain or bloodshed.

After winning NaNo two years in a row, I think I’ve figured out a few things that might help others. Last year was crazy, I was on fire. Whole ‘nother ball of wax this year when I started from a full stop. I'd actually planned on working on a different project, then a story that didn’t exist called my name and I went running.

Both years I followed the same advice with the same pleasant result. So, take what you think might help you, and leave the rest…

  • Outline – I’m a pantser, so when I say ‘outline’, I’m talking 2-3 pages, not some maniacal twenty page tome. Ideally, have it ready before November 1st. Uh, yeah, that didn’t happen this year until the end of the first week of NaNo.
  • At least know your two main characters – After spending a full day meditating on “Who is <sexy male main character>?” A day later, I had an answer and was ready to go.
  • Pick a familiar setting – You won’t have time to research, so pick a setting you know. Do all your base research in October, and then put notes and placeholders in areas where you need more.
  • Liberal use of the word ZIBBIT – Thanks to one of the NaNo participant’s posts last year, I latched onto this brilliant use of a made up word for places I needed to come back to. Use FIND to pull up all instances when you are finally ready to edit.
  • I ignore the ‘no edit’ rule in favor of the ‘light edit' rule – This works for me, it may not work for you. I reread every scene 4-5 times before I move on to write the next one. If I’m stuck, I can usually ‘unstick’ myself as I reread it and solve for gaps. Otherwise, I resign to finish those parts later. Remember that I said I’ve written 50K good words, not perfect, only good.
  • Write the scenes burning a hole in your head – Momentum happens when you’re excited about what you’re writing. If a chapter or scene is leaving you dry, move on.
  • Scene writing – I followed very simple scene writing rules. You know that phrase, ‘skip the boring parts’? I start every chapter ‘in medius res’ with some sort of action or dialogue, have a goal / tension / conflict, and end on a hook. I also keep each chapter under 1500 words.
  • Experience is your friend – Last year’s NaNo novel was my third book, so I kind of knew the drill. It helps. Trust me.
  • Don’t stop to second guess yourself, just write – If it’s on the page, it can be edited.
  • Take breaks – You can accomplish a lot in even 15 minutes. I tend to write in 45 minute chunks before work, and then in one- and two-hour increments with breaks in between on weekends. If you’re stuck, get up and take a break. Walking the dogs helped me to jell my ideas and move on when I sat back down.

So what did you do that worked? I’d love to compare notes.

As far as the agent… I mentioned that I was on fire last year. The novel I produced in 8 weeks as part of NaNo was entered into the 2014 RWA Golden Heart Contest by December 10th last year. I missed making finalist in my category by one point. So close, yet so far!

Fast forward to August. I worked on a non-book project with a wonderful, visionary literary agent. Ironically, one year earlier before we met, she spoke at the Writer's Digest Conference as part of an agent panel on alternate publishing options. As a result of her presentation, I was inspired to pursue publishing my debut novel with She Writes Press.

So, this August, after a successful collaboration on a business project, I felt comfortable enough to ask for her advice on what I should do about my NaNo novel: self-pub, or try to go big. I thought maybe she’d read my 4 page synopsis and give me her opinion. Instead, she asked for the full manuscript and read it within one week. After a final professional proofread, she read it a second time and I signed with her in early November. The interesting part: she is the perfect agent for me, and I’m so excited to work with her on this project. I am proud to say that I'm now repped by April Eberhardt of AE Literary for my 2013 NaNo novel. The fun begins in January 🙂

Moral of the story: NaNo dreams do come true!