October 24, 2006

it's a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer

In eight days I will be starting something that may change the course of my life.

Ok, maybe that's an overstatement. But I'm going to be participating in National Novel Writing Month. During the month of November, it will be my goal, along with about 60,000 other people, to write a 50,000-word novel, or at least 50,000 words of a novel. Here's how it works. Starting Nov. 1, you begin writing a brand-new novel from scratch. By Nov. 30, the goal is to have 50,000 words. Pretty simple. Once you're done, you send them your submission electronically. They tally the words, and if you've got 50,000, you're a winner.

It sounds kind of crazy, but what the hell? What have I got to lose? "There is nothing there is risk," right? The worst that can happen is I start and don't finish (which is highly likely). But if I finish, I may come up with something good enough to get me into a creative writing MFA program somewhere. Or maybe even good enough to get published.

Think that's crazy? Well several NaNoWriMo writers have gone on to have their books published, or so the Web site tells me:

Quite a few! Jon F. Merz was one of Team 2001's winners; his NaNo book The Destructor was published by Pinnacle Books in March 2003. Lani Diane Rich, sold her 2002 NaNo-penned manuscript, Time Off For Good Behavior to Warner Books, and it came out to great reviews in October 2004, and won the Romance Writers of America RITA award for Best Debut Novel eight months later. Her 2003 NaNoWriMo novel was published by Warner Books as Maybe Baby in 2005.

We had several sales of NaNoWriMo novels in 2004 and 2005. Sarah Gruen's Flying Changes began as a NaNoWriMo novel. RebeccaAgiewich sold her 2003 NaNoWriMo book, Breakup Babe to Ballantine in 2004; it'll be hitting stores in May of 2006. Dave Wilson sold his 2004 NaNoWriMo Manuscript, The Mote in Andrea's Eye, to Five Star/Gale; it'll come out in June 2006. In fall of 2005, Gayle Brandeis sold her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Self Storage, to Ballantine in a two-book deal. Around the same time, Kimberly Llewellyn found a home for her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Cashmere Boulevard, at Berkley Books. It's due out in summer 2007.

Francesca Segre sold her 2003 NaNo manuscript Daughter of the Bride to Berkley Books; it came out in March, 2006. Also out this year, Jenna Bayley-Burke's NaNoWriMo novel Just One Spark came out with Mills and Boon in May.

So people have done it before. Granted, the odds aren't very good, but I think I have a leg up on the competition. Last year, of the approximately 60,000 who entered, slightly less than 10,000 finished. If I finish, that puts me ahead of the game.

Also, I'm remind of some advice I got from an article by Stephen King that Kordik emailed me a while back. King talks about talent being necessary to succeed as a writer. It might seem conceited for me to consider myself talented. Of all people, I probably have the most doubt about my own talent. But King says,"If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented." I've never actually paid a light bill with money I've gotten from writing, but I have paid credit card bills, so I say that qualifies.

In eight days, I'll set my pen to paper and try for the first time to write a novel from the beginning. As reluctant as I am to admit it, I already have one novel started. But it's pieced together from a few semi-(or mostly)-autobiographical short stories I wrote in college. This will be something different. A new story, written from beginning to end.

Here's what I'm thinking: A young man (a writer or journalist?) returns to Chicago after living in London to find that his family is coming unhinged. (As you can see, I have trouble shedding the autobiography. The London and Chicago stuff, not the family coming apart.) It sounds generic, I know. But I think it will give me a lot of latitude to develop interesting characters.

So anyway, here's my NaNoWriMo profile. I'll try to post sections in the other blog as I finish them. Wish me luck.

And by the way, thanks to Ryan Holler for telling me about NaNoWriMo in the first place.

And So It Goes - No Strings Attached

Posted by dpetrella at October 24, 2006 11:21 AM | TrackBack

I looked at your author's profile online. I'm so proud of you for attempting this! If there's anything I can do to help you (or not-do to help you, like not making you talk to me on the phone for 2 hours every night, haha), let me know! I love you and I hope that you get something out of this experience! : )

Posted by: Julia at October 24, 2006 2:01 PM

put me down for one, no make that two copies of your novel. Hopefully two copies will pay for a water bill :)

Posted by: Jon at October 24, 2006 9:31 PM

I had heard about this last year I think - don't know why I didn't think to mention it to you. I realllly wanted to do it last time. And I REALLY want to do it this time too. The problem comes when you have to stop wanting to do it and have the capacity to actually do doing it. I don't have that... yet.

I've tried to write a few short stories. But I'm an 8th grader trying to write a song about love for his girlfriend - I am just too immature a writer to handle that topic without being blinded by possibilities. Can't finish a short story, can't finish a novel, for sure. Anyway, much support, I'm anxious to read what you come up with.

Oh, and go with the autobiographical stuff while you can. To sumarize Paul Simon, once your rich you can't write so autobiographically anymore. "'I live in a big house, I have a lot of money' doesn't resonate."

Posted by: matty at October 24, 2006 10:18 PM

hrmm.. I'm not sure I qualify as talented by King's definition... poop.

Posted by: matty at October 24, 2006 10:20 PM

Well, I think his statement only applies to writers, not so much songwriters. It's much harder to make money writing song because there aren't outlets like newspapers and ad agencies for songwriters. That's my opinion. Anyway, Matt, I think you're talented, so who cares what Stephen King thinks?

And I see what you're saying about the 8th-grader-short-story thing. I've had that problem the few times I've tried to write song lyrics. It takes a lot of talent to write songs and not be overly cliche, a lot of talent I'm not sure I have.

Posted by: Dan at October 25, 2006 9:50 AM

The first thing I did after I learned a few chords on the guitar was to fill a whole notebook with really really bad songs. The second thing I did was to throw the notebook out. And even then I had trouble. I've had songs that I never finished because the songs were truthfully bigger than me - not in the sense that they were important songs that the world will remember on into infinity, but in the sense that I was not yet mature enough in the medium to be able to finish what I started. I think its like that when you begin any creative pursuit.

Song lyrics do have some unique challenges, I think. If you don't want to be immediantely labeled as pretentious, you have to stick to some basic rhyme schemes, number of syllables per word, etc. You have options when it comes to subject matter, due in equal part to the sheer amount of brilliant madness in rock music (think Sgt. Pepper "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite"), and the sheer amount of abysmal lyrical failure out there (think "sk8r boi"). But a lot of other things are prescribed for you.

Anyway, there's two kinds of talent... immediately obvious and... not-so-immediately obvious. You can tell if its you have immediately obvious talent, but you can only tell if you have the other kind after a lot of hard work. All that to say, if you want to try something new creatively, try it ALL the way. It seems like everything there is to do has already been done - but that mostly applies to only the easy things, I think.

And with that, I should go practice my guitar, and take some lessons.

Posted by: matty at October 25, 2006 7:31 PM

You can't sell a book that isn't finished :) Good luck on your NaNo quest. I now drag romance authors kicking and screaming across the NaNo finish line with groups on eHarlequin and Romance Divas. Three of my finishers have their NaNo manuscripts with editors now...

Posted by: Jenna Bayley-Burke at October 26, 2006 2:42 PM

Dan I just read your comment on my blog about the opal fruits... I think i've heard of that punctuation book, as WIERD as that seems. Was it on NPR ever?

Posted by: matty at December 5, 2006 5:54 PM
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