Revision & the Post-Nanowrimo Reality Check

How many of you participated in Nanowrimo 2014? You know, the month of literary abandon where writers of all ilk try to pen at least 50,000 words into some coherent fashion – all during the month of November?

Thousands tried it. Thousands finished. You may be one of them!

And literary agents now cry during the month of December as their email in-boxes explode with submissions. Now, let’s give credit where credit is due: there could be a bestseller in there somewhere. Odds are against it. But it could happen.

And that’s why writers submit their Nano Novels.

Alas, the writer may be ready to be a bestselling author, but the story is not. Many (smarter?) writers use December to revise their draft. Good idea! But now it’s January. The revision must be ready to submit, right?

Here’s some advice from a long time Nano winner, me. I’m the one whose first novel is getting good reviews, but has yet to be traditionally published.





Wait some more.

Revise again.

Give your brain a chance to think about other stuff. I wrote a new novel (the sequel) while I was waiting. I put the first book up for critique on the online writer’s peer group, Book Country. I had a few beta readers offer me their opinion. All good feedback, even if not always what I wanted to hear.

The point is – good on you for writing a book in November. Most people could not do it. Ever. But don’t waste that effort. Revise it. Work it. Peer review it. Do something else and then come back and read it with fresh eyes. Trust me. It is worth it.

And eventually, you will find less and less to change. Finally, perhaps a year (or more) later, you will feel confident enough in the work to send it out.

And when you do, I send you my best wishes!

Now put down the draft and go read a book! Make a bucket list and check some things off! Go to the coffee shop and – gasp – talk to someone instead of hiding in the comfy chair typing away. You can do it, you know you can!

Give your book a chance to become as ready for the world as you are!


Nanowrimo Madness Begins

It’s the first of November, meaning thousands upon thousands of writers are now busy scribbling their first draft of the next best-selling novel to hit the bookshelves (or website, these days.) And I’m one of them.

And I wish us all the luck in the world. For finishing a project of this magnitude already separates you from 90 percent of those who claim the moniker writer. It’s one thing to write; it’s another to say you have a completed work. I’ve lost count as to how many agents have a statement on their submission page saying something akin to will only consider completed novels.

Shouldn’t that be a given?

And likewise, remember the Nanowrimo novel is just a first draft. And by that I mean it will not be ready to send to a publisher or agent on December 1st. Just don’t do it. And don’t wait and send on December 2nd, either.

It’s a first draft, people. There will be a second, probably a third. And more. Be ready to spend months possibly years tweaking, revising, scrapping, rewriting, scrapping again, and everything in between before your novel is actually good enough to publish. If you don’t want to put in this work, or don’t think you need to, then you are either a naturally gifted author or one of the tens of thousands of people who put crap up for sale on the Internet.

Don’t be that person.

So keep writing. Finish the draft. Get the cool Nanowrimo perks for being a 50k winner. Then give it a rest for a few weeks and come back later to read your book with fresh eyes. Do some revision. Get some beta readers. Revise some more. Heck, Stephen King gives his first draft about six weeks to rest before he even looks at it again. For an interesting read on his habits, along with other writers, check out Karen Woodward’s blog post on how many drafts it takes to write a novel.

And send a Christmas card to all of the agents you had originally wanted to query on December 1st. Don’t expect anything in return. Just be a nice person. Someday your kindness may come back to you ten-fold. Who knows?

But whatever you do, don’t begin your novel on a dark and stormy night. Which, looking outside, is exactly what I have going on here. Oh well, tomorrow’s a new day.

1,913 words down. Many, many more to go!

How did Dickens do it?


What if little Oliver Twist had crowd-sourced funding for better gruel at the workhouse? Such was the unlikely anachronism pondered as I sought (for a while) Internet access at the coffee shop this morning. After one large Americano, the connection finally ‘connected’ and the research of the day began. Of course, I soon became distracted and found myself reading. Is that so bad? And it involved Charles Dickens, not just any hack.

I had stumbled across The Dickens Fellowship. I know, I know, almost every famous author now long gone has some sort of fan club or society bent on preserving their literary works, so why wouldn’t Charles have one, too?

Thanks to server issues, though, I did not have much time to peruse. So sometime soon, in my spare time (ha) I will check out the website. It did seem to have a large amount of peer-reviewed information on a writer who is arguably one of the best we have seen. Not sure how if Charles Dickens will figure into my next novel, or the current sequel on renegade Samurai, but you never know.

Interesting to note, there are TDF chapters all over the world. Most of the major hubs have them. There are groups meeting in Sydney, Toronto, London (of course) and then there’s Tokyo. But wait? Denton, too? As in Denton, Texas?

If you are a jazz educator, or appreciate jazz education, you know about Denton, Texas and their local university (University of North Texas, formerly North Texas State University) home to the legendary One O’Clock Lab Band. If you have never heard the band play, in any of its iterations, you should. You’ll become a fan.

But a Dickens Fellowship chapter, too? Kudos, Dentonites. You are one up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

That may change eventually, but for now, I am happy to have found a good source of information on one of my favorite authors.

Cue segue to today’s teachable moment:

And as many of us prepare for November’s writer-slogfest called Nanowrimo, let me remind everyone that you may have a lot going on in your life, and these things take up a lot of your time. I know that. You know that. We all know that. But if you really want to write, you can do it. Take a minute, visit the Dickens Fellowship website and read about the environment Dickens grew up in, lived as an adult in, and wrote in.

And Charles Dickens did not have the help of the Internet.

How did he do it?

Americanos hadn’t been invented yet. He just buckled down and started writing.

And we can, too.

Okay, pep talk over. Back to the ink well, people. The outline for The Milk Chocolate Murders is coming along nicely. This weekend is another round of research for The 13th Samurai (posting on Sunday evening, hopefully) and I just queried a new lit agent about The Apple Pie Alibi. And bonus: I have already found a good killer for the third and final part of the Winnie Kepler series, working title The Wedding Cake Witness.

That’s enough for me. For now.

What are you doing?

What’s genre got to do with it?

You can't have too many books. No, you can't.

You can’t have too many books. No, you can’t.

This is the second in a series of posts written to motivate you and help you prepare for November’s National Novel Writing Month, or as it is called in the vernacular: Nanowrimo 2014!

Have you a favorite genre? If you look at your bookshelf, are the majority of the books of the same ilk? Nowadays, I guess a better question would be more concerned about the books on your tablet or eReader, but the concept is the same.

People tend to favor a few genres over all others. Some people love mysteries and romances, but will never entertain the thought of reading science fiction. I know one person who is a strict non-fiction’er. Hey, it works for them.

Me? I tend to go with mysteries, although I do like thrillers (and there is a difference.) I have read science fiction in the past, as well, enjoying the thought-provoking, fact-based drama created from the imaginations of the writers. I also appreciate non-fiction, as long as it is not slanted with the agenda of the writer. But romance books? Yes, they are a top seller, but still – not for me; and please don’t ask me to write any. It would suck be bad. Very bad.

As a writer, you don’t need to worry about genre – unless you want your readers to come back.

Genres come into being once someone creates a literary form to which the readers can relate. And by that, I mean they enjoy reading the form well enough to buy and read the books. Again and again.

Readers shop for whatever appeals to them. If they love to read romance novels, they might look at the Harlequin website, perhaps even the Carina Press site, since it is the eBook haven connected to Harlequin. If Carina puts out your book for sale, and people buy it thinking it is a romance novel, your protagonist (usually the girl, but not always) better end up with her knight in shining armor by the end of the story. If they aren’t getting married, they better be well on the way. End your tome with the boy skipping town with the protagonist’s best friend, leaving her a crying mess? Expect complaints. Expect sales for your second book to be lower.

But wait. Isn’t this blog series about preparing for Nanowrimo?

Yes, it is. And genre has a lot to do with it. As a writer, either new, old, “aspiring” or published, you must know the basic forms used in your chosen genre. I write mysteries. Cozy mysteries, in particular. If you are not familiar with the form, these are stories with a few essential rules. First, there must be a crime, preferably a murder, and it usually will have occurred either at the start of the story or just before the story begins. There also will not be any real graphic violence, cursing language, and most definitely no overt sexual themes and descriptions. Think Angela Landsbury and her television show, Murder She Wrote. Even better, it’s Agatha Christie. There, I think you get the picture.

If I were to write pages upon pages of forensic minutiae regarding Chef Pierre’s fatal knife wound from The Apple Pie Alibi, and then go on to give you a kiss by kiss commentary on Winnie and Parker’s activities when she discovered him sitting in his patrol car outside her house late one night, well, it might sell books, but it would not be correctly advertised as a cozy mystery. Publishers spend time (meaning money) on advertising, marketing, cover design, and more, trying to convince the general reading public to purchase a book. If the cozy mystery is really a contemporary adult-themed thriller, the money, more correctly stated: the publisher’s money will not have been used to the best extent possible. No one will be happy.

You are the author. You need to know what genre you are writing. Think of it this way. Would you go to a surgeon who doesn’t always know the names of the sharp tools at his disposal? “Excuse me, nurse, please hand me that pointy thing over there, you know, the one next to that shiny thing?” I don’t think so.

Pick a genre, read the genre, and know it inside and out. Preferably before you start writing!

I do not wish to say you have to choose one genre and never stray from it, but for Nanowrimo purposes you will need to write in just one genre.

Trust me, agents and publishers will look at you with a big, nasty stink-eye if you present them with your Regency Romance Steampunk Mystery Novel containing elements of paranormal western ninja themes.

How to learn about your genre?

This is the fun part. Go to the library. You know, it’s that old building with all the books in it? Since the Dewey Decimal System may be foreign to many of you, I will not bother with numbers such as 813.087, especially since the fiction section tends to be separated from the rest anyway. But, if all else fails, ask the person behind the desk. They are probably a librarian and they love questions like “Where can I find [insert name of author, title, subject]? “ And if you find a card catalogue? Now we’re talking! Browsing through the drawers is more fun than shopping for shoes. Of course, I hate shopping for shoes, but that’s not the point.

Okay, go ahead and do a search on the computer. Be that way.

Anyhow, check out a few dozen books in your chosen genre and start reading. After a while you will see a pattern of recurring themes. Make note of these and put them to use once you start outlining your Nano-novel.

The point is: you can’t write what you don’t know.

Of course, if you are brilliant, you may want to create your own genre. But that’s a story for another day.

Genres. Pick one – know one – write one!


Next up: Why the main character must be awesome – but never perfect.

Prepping for Nanowrimo 2014

Tip 1 in a series designed to assist you sprinting to the finish line this November as you type with abandon during Nanowrimo 2014.

Set aside time for your writing.”

Who has enough time? To do anything? And do it well? And still have friends and family speak to you when it’s all over?

You do, that’s who.

Let’s start with the basics. What is enough time to write?

For me, a productive writing session takes at least an hour. This includes the time needed to:

  • Find a secluded chair in a coffee shop, bookstore or library. A power source nearby is a bonus.
  • Think up polite responses to questions such as “Hey, are you writing something? Are you a writer, then? Have you been published? What are you writing now? Do you know [insert name of famous best-selling author here]?” It happens. I am polite; sometimes I get creative. They get used to me and leave me alone. Eventually.

It helps if I buy a cup of coffee every once in a while, assuming I am in a coffee shop. Hey, they gotta stay in business, too.

  • Set up the laptop and try to connect to a wireless network. Easier some days than others.

No network nearby? That’s okay. Less distraction; more writing.

  • Make sure whatever I write is saved to an online storage service, such as Dropbox. All it takes is one massive computer crash. I speak from painful experience.

Again, no network access? I’ll use a flash drive.

I reserve 5:30 – 6:30 am every weekday for writing. Saturday will often be a little more lenient, giving me a few hours to write. Sunday? Depends; it’s a long story.

With advanced planning, I can usually get a solid 45 minutes of actual writing during my hour.

Does this schedule work? It did for me; it may or may not for you. Working in this fashion, I finished Nanowrimo just under the November 30th deadline with a 52k word first draft. Here it is, six months later and my draft has changed numerous times, finally ending up as a 75k word completed novel.

“But I have responsibilities. I don’t have any spare time, not even an hour a day.”

Yes, many of us have children, spouses, and pets. Then there’s always the cooking/cleaning to do, and you can’t totally dismiss the job we use to earn money needed to pay rent. I hear you. I get you. I am with you.

So keeping in mind these other responsibilities, I found the best results come from having a regularly scheduled time for my writing. My family knows this time is reserved; and since it is so early in the morning, they are sleeping anyway. They don’t even miss me.

Support from family and friends is essential. Feed the pets. Be nice to your spouse. Help the kids with their homework. It’ll pay off when you need the extra time later checking for continuity errors, too many adverbs, the nefarious “that” and other grammar flotsam and jetsam.

I know one writer, a man with a six-book contract, who shuts himself in his basement for three months at a time to write. If you want a six-book deal, I guess this schedule might be worth it. But his method is not my choice. It must work for him. Not sure if he gets any Father’s Day cards, though.

Have a plan and hit the hour typing! This is your hour for all activities related to your project. This would include writing, research, plotting, outlining, reading, etc. We’re only talking an hour here so use it as efficiently as you can. The more actual typing, the better.

Maybe there are other times of the day where you could find five minutes here, ten minutes there to do a bit of research. You might be able to read a book from your chosen genre while eating lunch. While everyone else is watching television, you could perhaps scribble down thoughts of characters, story arcs, and plot points.

Speaking of reading, there is a great little book about finding available time when you have a super-busy schedule. It’s called Time to Write, by Kelly L. Stone. A quick read, this book gives plenty of examples of successful writers who overcame scheduling obstacles. If you can afford one of those giant, fancy coffee drinks at your local coffee shop, then you have enough money for the book. And the book will last longer.

Finally, avoid time-suckers. Well, if you think about it, you could read Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even blog posts at other times during the day. You can grab a bite to eat five minutes before your hour. You might even reward yourself with a dinner out, after your hour.

And there is no harm in holding a family meeting the day before you start. Explain your desire to write, with the caveat you won’t be abandoning anyone. All you want is one hour a day. They can have the other 23. Then promise the family you will take them on holiday once you are a rich and famous author. (Well, it could happen, you know.)

Bottom Line: Professional writers started out just like you. If they could find time to write, you can, too! It’s all about doing the “other stuff” before, or after your hour.

Now stop reading and go write!

Next up: What’s genre got to do with it?