Posted in Writing

NaNoWriMo!

So November is National Novel Writing Month and I imagine that a lot of you who read this blog are lost in worlds of your own creation, aiming to have at least 50,000 words on the page (or the screen) by the end of month. I’d love to hear about any stories you’re working on! Share a link to your NaNoWriMo profile if you like.

I’m also curious to hear about NaNoWriMo success stories. Who’s reached the word count goal in the past? Did you go on to finish the novel? Did you query, publish or self-publish or move on to a new work? (Or both?)

I’m asking a lot of questions and would like to share my own NaNoWriMo experience, but I don’t have a proper tale to tell! I’ve never officially participated in NaNoWriMo. This year I’m too busy with work writing and I’m juggling three WIPs (one YA, one MG and one “classified” short project) and don’t want to start yet another new work.

In the past, though, I sort of participated twice–I’m thinking 2007 and 2009 (but don’t quote me on that). I didn’t think I could officially participate because you’re supposed to write something brand new, if I understand correctly, and I was in the midst of my never-ending first draft for a YA book (120,000 words in the end and still not half way finished, ha) that took me nine years to finally abandon once and for all, after I mined the very best 5000 words or so and melded it into my first completed novel. So both of my unofficial NaNoWriMo experiences I worked on that manuscript, only I didn’t follow the rules in another way: I wasn’t aiming for 50,000 words. I was just determined to write half an hour a day at minimum in honor of the occasion, and that’s what I did. I even kept that up for some time into December.

I did also have similar experiences earlier this year. For one, I wrote 58,000 words in nine days early in the year when I had the inspiration for what would become my first completed draft of a book. In August of this year, I eked out almost another 50,000 words on a WIP because I had less work than usual. This time, it took me the whole month, and not every day of writing went smoothly.

And of course, I write tens or even hundreds of thousands of words each month for work, but that’s not quite the same!

Posted in Writing

Product/Pop Culture References in Writing

The work in progress that’s been getting the bulk of my attention lately is contemporary. Or should I say “roughly contemporary.” I don’t plan on explicitly stating what the year is, but I do date it unintentionally because I describe events that took place recently as having taken place “last year.” I also drop product names like I would in everyday conversation whenever I feel it’s appropriate. I even mention celebrity names.

It’s a strange feeling for me. My finished manuscript is fantasy (yay for making up a world from scratch!) and my other WIP doesn’t feel like it needs any particular setting other than “roughly about whenever you’re reading it,” so there aren’t any product or pop culture references. In this one, I just felt like the characters needed to discuss things like a real person would. But then again, whenever I read these things in other books, I can’t help but feel like the book is dated.

When I take a look at my other stab at contemporary YA fiction (part of the mess that eventually morphed into the finished manuscript, which I love–and there’s no contemporary in the final product), I cringe for more reasons than one, but one passage in particular stood out. I had the narrator commenting on a iPhone like it was a brand-new thing. Now it’s several years old, and the character’s response to it seems outdated. By the time this WIP sees the light of day (which I hope it does!), will I be left with a similar feeling?

Do you think peppering a contemporary manuscript with product names or pop culture references is acceptable or distracting? Do you think it dates the action too much?

Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

Ending at the Beginning

It’s no secret that the beginning of a manuscript has to entice people to keep reading or the rest of your manuscript may never see the light of day, no matter how wonderful and exciting it becomes later on. Actually crafting that compelling opening is easier said than done, though–at least for me.

When I sat down to write the manuscript that got me an agent, I wrote the scenes that my brain told me came first. Meanwhile, I was also incorporating a little bit of an old manuscript I’d been working on for years. (See this entry.) The result was an odd mishmash of chronology for the first four chapters or so. One of my beta readers thought the jumps odd and wanted more clarification, particularly when it came to worldbuilding. (The manuscript is fantasy.) I thought about it and added a few more passages I thought clarified things and I was ready to go.

Of course, most (but not all) agents ask for a sample of the manuscript along with the query. I only had 5 or 10 (sometimes a bit more) pages to grab their attention. Partial and full requests came in… And the vast majority were only from agents who had requested queries only (no sample pages) for the first e-mail. I started wondering if that meant my concept was enticing enough but not my first few pages…

And then I got an R&R on a full request. The problem? The beginning, of course! The agent agreed with my beta reader (maybe they’re really in tune–that agent was my beta reader’s agent by then!): I needed to fix up the beginning and work on clearly worldbuilding. So that was two people who thought my beginning needed work–and maybe more, and the others who rejected it didn’t have time to tell me.

I took a time out from sending queries and spent a slow three weeks reshaping the beginning. I cut long scenes, rearranged ones I wanted to keep and cut, cut, cut passages. Then I drafted a new first chapter–twice. I didn’t much like my first attempt at a new beginning. Then I was struck with a different idea, and I wound up writing two completely new chapters. This version started with action, and I used that action to worldbuild. At first I was wary about re-doing the beginning, but I loved the final result!

I sent out the revision and continued to query other agents with my brand new beginning. Material requests rolled in, and this time they were from agents who saw sample pages at the start! I got a few passes, but of those who took the time to detail their reasons, all were complimentary–particularly about my worldbuilding! And, of course, it was this beginning (10 pages with the query) that netted the full request and then my first offer of representation.

I’m learning. Both of the beginnings of my two WIPs start with action. I like them–but at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to go back and tweak the beginning at the very end!

How do you write beginnings? Do you fix the beginning later or think of a compelling image to start the book before you start?