A Day Late and 1,668 Words Short

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The novel I’m writing has been gestating in my mind for the last three years. It’s a middle grade-ish novel about a girl who pretends to be her own identical cousin in 1965 because she feels so invisible. I’m itching to get it down on paper. I designated November as my month to do it and I joined NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month was created for November by a group of writer friends. It’s become a nonprofit organization with staff, sponsors, a fund-raising gala and nearly 120,000 participants. That’s not counting those who may not officially sign in. As I did for several years.
I never signed up because I knew I’d never do it. I was already involved in a project, either well into writing it or editing it. This year I’d just completed a final (yeah, right) of my middle grade novel, Alex Bullied and sent a round of twenty queries to agents.
I was ready for NaNoWriMo!
Each day the writer must produce 1,668 words in order to reach the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. I began writing this blog post on a flight home to San Diego from Maryland on November first. I was already a day behind on NaNoWriMo.
Yes, I know, as someone pointed out, you can write on an airplane. Well, I can’t. But I figured I could make those words up. I started the next day with eager enthusiasm. I knew how the story started, even had notes on the first few chapters. Had some pages that could be cut and pasted. I wasn’t sure if this was cheating, but I had those words to make up.
Dog concerns (was Bug going to need a vet? No, as it turned out), previous scheduled commitments, our son moving home, upcoming friend visits, and finally agreeing to attend a Thanksgiving dinner as well as the daily grunt work of shopping, errands, cooking , cleaning and caring for pets made for a lot of holes in my tight writing schedule. The word count did not multiply as quickly as I’d anticipated.
This doesn’t make sense. In spite of the distractions, I have most of every day to write. I have no excuses. And yet, maybe I do –
The November/December issue of Writer’s Digest has a section on NaNoWriMo. There is a section about how there’s a paradox of creativity in that is seems to benefit from pressures and boundaries. I have found this to be true for me. This blog entry, for instance. I would never post a blog without it having been read to my writers group and gotten critiqued. The group, The North County Writers Bloc, meets tomorrow morning. So I have to get this done – now. It’s amazing how the words flow when they have to.
The words that are going into this new book are pretty much crap. But that’s what editing and writers groups and meetings with agents at conferences are for. I think we have to figure that writing this fast is not going to produce publishable work without a lot of revision. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen started on NaNoWriMo. You can be sure it did not come out the best seller it was without a lot of editing.
And yet participants will send agents their first draft messes. Apparently agents shudder at the volume of queries they receive after November each year. “I have written this book in a month and here it is.” No book is written and ready in a month. So, slow down. But not until after November 30th.
This yearly challenge does seem needlessly masochistic. I feel a little like I’m drowning as I fall behind on word count. I’m sinking beneath those unwritten words.
But there are also positives to get from this exercise. I am building a habit of writing every day. My process has always been a slow one of outlines and first drafts on note paper with pencils. I want to train myself to have the ideas go directly from brain to keyboard to computer screen. While I still outline a little to help me when I’m stuck, figuring out how to go from A to B, I am getting more streamlined in my process.
Today is November 17, two days past the midway point. I am about 4,000 words short and expecting company for the weekend. I do not know if I will finish on time but I still maintain the delusion that I can.
Stay tuned.

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The Elevator Pitch. Or Not.

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On my first day of the SCBWI writers’ conference, going up to my room, a woman joined me in the elevator. We went through the usual conference greeting:

Me: Here for the conferrence?

Her: Yes. You?

Me: Yes, third time. Very exciting.

Her: Are you a writer or an illustrator?

Me: Writer. Middle grade. You?

Her: I’m an agent.

My mind went into conniptions. An agent! In an elevator no less. My brain could not access my “elevator pitch.” All I could blurt out was, “I have a great book for you!”

Then the door opened on my floor. Flushed, smiling like an idiot, I slipped out.

Yes, I said that. What an impression I must have made. Not. I didn’t get her name and, thankfully, she didn’t get mine.

When I reached my room and went through my conference packet, I came upon a couple of pages I wish I’d read before talking to anyone — a series of questions and answers and The Do’s and Don’t’s of Conference Etiquette. Apparently the better way to approach an agent or editor is not to talk about your work, but to show an interest in theirs. You don’t need to tell them about your work, unless they ask. Instead, ask them questions that give you more insight into their personal tastes. It’s likely the conversation will turn to your work.

Makes sense. You ask what they look for, what appeals to them, and not only do they like that, given that most people are pitching their books at them, but you learn whether they’d be a good fit for your manuscript. It’s a win win.

A good suggestion for that quick summary of your project: Be able to answer these two questions in one sentence. 1) What do you do? 2) What are you working on? One sentence.

Although we go to these conferences with the hope of connecting with an agent or editor, through our desperation, anxiety and momentary lapse in judgement, we often sabotage our own efforts. We need to keep calm and remember these are people. Mostly they are very nice people who want us to succeed. When we succeed, they do, too.

We were strongly advised not to pitch to editors or agents in the hallways, at lunch, between sessions, in the elevator (oops), or anywhere in between. Again, and I guess this cannot be stressed too much, editors and agents appreciate questions that allow you to get to know them and their house/agency so that you can submit to or query them once the conference is over, if they are a potential fit.

That’s another great thing about attending conferences. Most of the agents and editors on the faculty will be open to submissions just because you were at the conference. It cracks the door open a bit.

The best thing, of course, is to go prepared and to not act like you’ve seen your favorite movie star when someone introduces themselves as an agent.

There’s so much to learn about this business. Stay tuned.