Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: editing

NaNo, NaNo, What Next?

Some of you may be in the lovely, warm, glowy position of having “won” your NaNoWriMo, i.e. having written 50,000 words for fun and/or profit over the course of November. You may have written only a few thousand words, but hey, that’s more words than you had at the beginning of the month. If you wrote all 50K and won NaNo, doubleplusgood, because now you have access to the array of delicious winner goodies that NaNo’s sponsors provide.

I won! I did the thing!

I won! I did the thing!

If you wrote 50,000 (or fewer) words for fun, awesome! Well done, you. It is possible that you may have no desire to touch your manuscript ever again, and that’s fine.

 

But if you want to turn your lovingly vomited word-pile into a fully-functional novel, let’s talk. You’re probably in one of two boats: you have an actually complete story, or you’re like me, and in 50,000 words have about 85% of your story and perhaps an outline for the rest.

If you finished your story, hooray! I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is that you’re ready to begin the soul-crushing process of revision! The bad news is the same as the good news! And also, sitting at 50K, you’re going to have to make a choice about form. Because 50K is not a full novel. Most commercial adult novels run between 70-115K. Here’s what agent Bree Ogden had to say about word counts on Litreactor.com:

Adult Fiction:

Anything above 70k but less than 115k (science fiction and fantasy tend to run up around 100k-115k words). The sweet spot for adult is about 90k.

Middle Grade:

With fun, lighthearted, simple middle grade you’ll want to stay around the 20k-30k word count range. The average middle grade is 30k-40k.

Upper middle grade can hit in the 50k word count range (possibly longer, if it’s something really special).

Young Adult:

Young adult fiction allows for a lot of flexibility in word count. And as you’ve probably guessed… it is sitting pretty right in between middle grade and adult.

YA manuscripts can have a word count anywhere from 55k to 90k.

Picture Books:

Picture books are generally less than 1000 words. About 500-700 words is perfect.

Also remember (because there are a bunch of new novel imprints opening their doors), a novella is 40k or less.

Pro tip: Try not to completely tether yourself to word counts. Let your writing take you where you need to go.

But use good intuition and follow some of the rules.

 

Hopefully you are not filled with despair at this point, or if you are, it’s the good despair that gets you to do feats of might like write 11K words in a single day. (I saw it happen November 30th, and I was most impressed.)  In general, though, if drafting is a sprint, editing is distance running. You’ve gotta pace yourself and go a loooong way.

 

But how, cries the novice novelist, how does one go about editing a whole huge novel?

  1. If you’re not done, finish a draft. The end of the year is a healthy-ish goal, unless you only wrote 10K last month and have an epic fantasy novel planned.
  2. Do not try to tailor what you’re writing to a particular market. If you’re not writing what you love to write, then an agent will be able to tell that really, really quickly. The only exception to this rule is erotica. Apparently you can make bank off that action, especially if you write really weird niche stuff like some hot girl-on-dinosaur action. (I really wish I was kidding.) So, assuming that this novel is not actually a get-rich-quick scheme, let’s continue.
  3. Re-read your draft. I’m a fan of reading though stuff multiple times, once without notes, once with lots of notes.
  4. Find some poor sap who’s also wrestling with a NaNo manuscript and do a manuscript exchange. At least lightly proofread your manuscript first so that your buddy can make it through successfully. A manuscript exchange will be more effective than trying to get relatives to read your work over the winter holidays unless you have some really cool and patient relatives. Remember, the NaNo forums can help you.
  5. When you have a complete second draft (having dealt with issues of content, style, and mechanics, which I’ll get to in a further post), send it out to all those friends who were like “so when do we get to read it?” upon hearing you were drafting a novel. They are your beta readers. Send it to enough to get a decent feedback sample, ’cause of the 20 or so folks I sent my Goddard thesis, only about three got back to me with any detail.
  6. Incorporate reader feedback (ignore your one friend whose ideas of what your novel should be have no resemblance to what you actually wrote), go through your editing checklist again, and proofread the living heck out of your manuscript.
  7. Rinse and repeat steps 3-6 until you are so sick of your novel that you could scream. Intersperse other writing and creative practice so that you don’t rage-quit the whole process and light your computer on fire in a dumpster.
  8. After all that, a) start querying agents and/or small publishers that accept direct submissions, or b) start on a track to self-publishing. But that is, as they say, another tale to be told another time.

 

If all of this seems overwhelming, well, it is. Sorry. That being said, you do not need to go down this weary path alone. Even them’s fancy early 20th century novelists we so like to idolize hung out with each other and talked about what they were writing.

***

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, particularly about what that whole “editing for content, style, and mechanics” bit was earlier, then consider hiring someone who has, say, an MFA and is really obsessed with story structure and loves working with larger manuscripts to talk it out and do an editorial consultation. Yes, I mean me.

Yes, I would love to talk to you about your NaNo! Yes, I would love to talk anything from “how does plot go” to “where can I sell this” to “how do you sentence.” Yes, you.

Yes, I will charge you money. I am a freelance wordsmith, and stuff like this is how I buy groceries. My NaNo Winner Special is $16.67 for a half-hour manuscript consultation, $33.33 for a one-hour manuscript consultation, and $166.70 if you want me to read your entire manuscript first (and then chat for an hour). That is stupidly cheap; even the editors at a print-on-demand service charge $200 or more to read through and give you basic editorial feedback. I’m happy to meet with you via chat or Skype (or in person if I know you and you’re local), whichever feels more comfy. I also offer proofreading services and line-editing. Even if money is an issue, contact me; let’s talk.

Email me: a (dot) g (dot) bean (at) gmail (dot) com, or use my contact form on the site.

Every damn day.

A dear friend of mine once had Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman sign inside a blank book for me. I don’t know if she asked them to do writing advice, but that’s what they did, and it’s become a nice little mantra for me:

every damn day

“To Anne- 30 minutes every day. Every damn day! -Terry Pratchett”

Of course, with NaNoWriMo it’s more like 90 minutes every day, every damn day, but still. Once you’ve done NaNo and know what a mostly-daily practice feels like, it becomes a lot…easier is the wrong word. You become more likely to sit down for 30 minutes every damn day, because it’s less than 90 minutes. And you can get a lot done with just 30 minutes a day. Really. I was at a NaNo write-in, and a man near me commented something about “someday I’ll be a real writer and spend hours every day writing.” Aah, the Mythic Real Writer, who is always inspired and spends all their time composing thing after thing at a large, romantic mahogany desk, and totally somehow also has health insurance. Some real writers do spend hours a day writing, sure. But some real writers do half an hour in the morning before anyone else is up. Or squeeze in two hand-written pages per day in between taking care of five kids (Carol Shields). Or write in the afternoon before their night shift (William Faulkner). Or write poems on their prescription pads at work (William Carlos Williams). Author Joanna Penn (who has four published books and a day job and a podcast and…) talks about the “first draft binge writing phase” followed by small daily doses of writing until stuff gets finished. She also talks about the pre-writing idea-gathering phase, which she calls the “composting” phase. I think that’s delightful. I also think sometimes stuff composts for years before it gets written, but if you have a small steady stream of word outflow, it shall indeed get written eventually.

Point is, you can do a lot with just a little each day. That being said, it’s still hard as heck and sometimes you end up petering out on whatever plot you thought you had going and then realizing that you’ve just been writing sort of pointless exposition parties in lieu of actual scenes where something happens for the past three days and you’d better sort something out quick or else get very, very bored. *cough* So what I did was, I wrote a quick summary of each scene and/or exposition party that I had, in the order that I had them. This helped. I knew there was this “midpoint” thing approaching, and I needed to have a really coherent test of my protagonist’s mettle. And what that test was became clear once I’d written an “outline” of what was actually there. (“Oh, yeah, my protagonist hasn’t properly met the main antagonist yet,” I realized, among other things.)

Now, at the end of the month, I’m going to need to buckle down on Neil Gaiman’s advice:

every damn day01

“To Anne- And finish things. Then start new things. Then finish them… -Neil Gaiman”

Yes, finishing things. With NaNo, sometimes the tragic thing is that you get maybe 75% or 80% of the way through your story in 50,000 words…but the month is over. You’re done, right? You don’t want to keep going at such a frantic pace. You need a break. Yes, those things are true. But you can still finish, and after you do take some time off you can come back for the joys of editing a novel. And by the “joys” I mean the “tedious and frustrating cage match” that is editing a novel. But you’ll see more of that from me in 2014.

For now, want to watch me struggle with word count? You totally can, here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/annebean

Soundtracks.

November Girls seems to have come with a soundtrack. Sometimes stories do, sometimes they really, really don’t. Chris Bachelder, my undergrad fiction teacher, used to advise us to “enfold ourselves in silence” in order to write. A lot of time that works best for me. Sometimes music comes of its own accord.

I’d spend a lot of time last November when I drafted this sucker listening to Steeleye Span and related bands on Pandora: Fairport Convention, Pentangle, other British folk. I was looking for bands that sung Childs’ Ballad-based songs. I found out that The White Stripes did a rad cover of “Black Jack Davey”.

At some point, while Pandora-ing, I wandering into the land of sixties Brit-rock. The Beatles. The Zombies. Turns out my novel’s soundtrack goes from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies.

Every writer is composed of three parts: The writer, the editor, and the looney. My inner madwoman says “Hey, since it has a 1970ish soundtrack, let’s set it in the 70s!” My editor points all the plot holes that would happen: cell phones, the look and feel of Colorado Springs, etc. My writer says, “Damn it, Anne, you already changed the TENSE and PERSON of a bunch of scenes, don’t change the dang time period!” Sigh. Turns out editing novels is hard. 🙂

I’ve decided that a good anthem for my novel, aside from “Seagull” as mentioned previously, is “She’s Not There” by the Zombies. Who’s the “she”? Could be either sister.

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