Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
Not only is Trish Doller the author of Something Like Normal (Bloomsbury, 2012) and Where The Stars Still Shine (Bloomsbury, 2013), but she’s also a longtime participant in NaNoWriMo, an annual writing event wherein writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in one month. After reading her story last month, I was so inspired that I invited her onto this blog to share a little bit about it with all of you, in hopes it will help your peace of mind during NaNoWriMo this year. For more on Trish, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her website.
I hereby confess: I am a NaNoWriMo loser.
I’ve made several attempts to write a novel in thirty days, but I just can’t write that way. I love the idea of banging out a first draft and then going back to revise, and I envy those of you who can. I am hopeless. However, what I have learned from my NaNo failures is that the important thing is finishing, even if you don’t do it in thirty days.
During NaNo 2006, I started a novel about a privileged high school girl who is sent on a cross-country teen tour as punishment for failing her U.S. History final. By a couple of weeks into NaNoWriMo, I knew there was no way I was going to finish by the end of the month, but I was onto something! All of the elements were there in my head: the characters, the settings, and most importantly a PLOT, something my previous scribblings had lacked. So when November ended, I kept writing. And writing. And writing. And when I typed “the end” in July 2007, it was the best feeling in the world. For the first time in my life, I had a finished manuscript.
I spent a couple months revising and polishing before I took the plunge and started querying agents. (I recommend that, by the way. Make it shine before you think about sending it out.) By Thanksgiving weekend, I had an offer of representation, and by early 2008, Random House had bought the manuscript. Then people started getting laid off in the publishing industry, including my editor. I was thick in the middle of edits when I was assigned to a new editor, one who decide she was not interested in my book and cut it loose.
I was still pretty devastated as I finished up revisions on my own, and I felt pretty hopeless when my agent sent the manuscript back out on another round of submissions. To take my mind off the wait, I started working on another project.
This one was wildly different from that first book. It was about a nineteen-year-old Marine dealing with life after war in Afghanistan. I wrote a few chapters and then started worrying that maybe the character was too old for YA. Maybe editors wouldn’t be interested. So I sent the chapters off to my agent, who suggested we show the sample to a few of her favorite editors. A few weeks later, we sold what would become Something Like Normal to Bloomsbury.
That first book didn’t sell. It’s in the “never to be heard from again” trunk. But I’m a firm believer in the theory that everything happens for a reason. Something Like Normal was a much stronger debut than the other book would have been. Something Like Normal pulls at my heart in a way that first one never quite did.
Anyway, the point of all this is not to share a sob story because Something Like Normal was published without any hiccups and my next book is coming next October. The point is this: you can’t really lose at NaNoWriMo.
Because if you’re writing, you’re winning.
Maybe you’ll finish in 30 days. Maybe it will take you 40 days, seven weeks, or (like me) eight months to finish, but you’re creating something that didn’t previously exist. That is a win. Maybe it will be published. Maybe you’ll put it away forever. But once you know you can finish one novel, you know that you can do it again. And again.
As many times as it takes to accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish with your writing.
Of course, NaNoWriMo is going on right now, so I’m here to cheer you on. Don’t give up! Keep going! But just remember that if you reach November 30th and you’re not finished, you’re the same kind of loser as me. Which isn’t a bad place to be.
Thank you so much for sharing, Trish!