Sunday, December 2, 2012

Answering the "What Do I Do Now?" Question

Now that NaNoWriMo is successfully behind me, I was pleased to gloat my way into the Thank God It's Over party for my region's NaNoGroup.  It was actually a lot of fun, all gloating aside, meeting the folks once again.  Nearly every one of them had won, one young lady even having put out 110K words! And then the question came up--what to do now?  I fled, not because I didn't want to answer the question based on my own experience, but because I didn't want to answer the question twenty times when I could just blog about what's clearly an important topic.  Write once, read many--a good system, no?

So you finished NaNoWriMo.  What to do?  Well, first, I'll join everybody else who's written on the topic by advising you to pat yourself on the back.  Take a day or two off.  You deserve it.  DON'T allow your momentum to slip away; you're a writer, now if not before, and the thing that makes you a writer is that you write.  Trust me, it's easy to slip back into the casual affairs of the day, sliding into the bedsheets without a single word committed to paper.  Sure, relax a little, but don't stop writing for more than a day or two.  Not now, not ever. 

Another, probably more important, don't to keep in mind: don't push your now-finished manuscript in front of anybody.  Not critique groups.  Not your parents.  Not your spouse, at least not unless your relationship is solid enough that you can tolerate being the recipient of hysterical laughter from someone you care about.  Especially not an agent.  No, I'm serious--I've been following many agents' blogs and writings for a while now.  Most, if not all, literary agents hate December.  It's not because of the guy in the big red suit or the huge lines at the mall, either.  Well, not just because of that.  No, it's because December follows NaNoWriMo.  December is when their mailboxes light up with 30-day crappy manuscripts of crappiness.

I know, yours is really pretty good.  I know, some very famous novels started as NaNos.  I know, I know.  But listen, I'm really serious on this one.  Don't submit your NaNo project to an agent.  If you're experienced enough as a writer that you stand a chance in hell of pulling it off, you're also experienced enough to know it's a horribad idea.  If you're not--well, do this instead.  Take your manuscript and print it out.  Save it, yes, and back it up, yes, but also print it, on both sides of the paper if you wish to conserve.  Then take that sheaf and stuff it into a brown paper bag, or at least a plastic Kroger bag--two, one inside the other, is even better.  Write "Do NOT open till after Christmas" on it and stuff it behind the tree.

Why?  Because that's how writing works.  Most of us, when we're learning to draw, craft a beautiful picture of an apple--intending, unfortunately, to have drawn a face.  But we don't expect the first attempt to be that good, because drawing is hard, right?  Keep at it, recognizing where you need improvement, and some day your drawing of a face will look like a face--or not, if you're an impressionist, but whatever trips your trigger.  By the same token, most of us, when we're learning to bicycle, look at falling down as part of the game.  It hurts, but it's the only way to learn, right?

Why is it then that people crafting a novel think the first draft is going to be anything but a mushy pile of smelly literary crap?

But don't just believe me.  Leave that manuscript behind the tree till you take the tree down sometime in late December or early January (or June, if you're like me).  Then read it.  You'll be shocked at how bad it really is.  But since you wrote it, and the story came from inside your head, you'll also probably know what you need to do to fix it.  Then leave the second draft aside for another few weeks and do it again.  It'll take several drafts, and even then it may never serve as anything beyond your greatest learning exercise--but then again, that's valuable, right?  The only way to get better at writing is to write, but that's not enough.  You also have to find your mistakes and revise.

So anyway, I'm done beating on the manuscript.  What else can you do after finishing NaNoWriMo?  Besides, of course, the obvious answer: "write more."  There are a ton of different things you can do, though.

First, if you haven't already, get yourself habituated to following agents' and other authors' blogs.  Rachelle Gardner is a key agent to follow, but there are many others out there.  Some represent your genre, while others don't; you'll want to find agents that represent your genre if you can, but don't ignore those who don't.  Also, find some authors whose books you like and follow them.  You'll see that some are active while others aren't; some are interesting while others aren't, and so on.  Over time you'll winnow out the ones that aren't valuable, but don't expect to recognize what's valuable at first.  Follow it all, read it all, and enjoy it as much as you can.

Join Facebook.  No, really.  It is a colossal time-waste opportunity, granted.  But there are a ton of good writers on there to follow (I got to wish Tracy Hickman a happy birthday the other day!), and there are a great many writers groups.  I'm in the Indie Author Group, for one.  Also Novelspot, and Book Junkies.  Those are all at or over 1000 members, and the discussions on them are fairly well moderated.  You should just be able to search by name and request membership--none are hidden, as far as I know.  But pay attention to the rules; nothing annoys a group more than someone joining it and immediately posting about a book he wants them all to buy.  Outside of marketing, though, get active with the groups.  Lurk, read discussions, but also ask questions.

If you're local to Richmond, VA, you're in a great town to be a writer.  I recommend the following:

James River Writers - my #1 recommendation.  Several reasons:
  • Writers Wednesdays, on the second Wednesday of every month at one of the Capital Alehouse facilities in town (aka Beer Mecca in my book).  It costs nothing, and you don't have to be a member.  It's a meet and greet, with published and unpublished writers and poets and screenwriters.  And beer, by the way.  If you expect an agenda you'll be disappointed, but it's a great way to meet people and start friendships.
  • The Writing Show, last Thursday of every month from January to August.  There is a fee for this, but it's not huge and the ones I've been to have been worth every penny.  And if you go to Writers Wednesday first, you'll already know somebody at the Writing Show to sit beside!
  • The Conference.  There's a fee for this too, but you've got till next fall to save up the couple of hundred bucks, which really isn't all that much for a writers conference.  I blogged a bunch about it in 2011--look at my October blog entries.  Would have done the same in 2012 had my shoulder injury not kept me at home that weekend.  The sessions are great, but the three things you must do are a) submit a first page for the critique (a panel of agents will critique a series of anonymous first pages of novels), b) sign up to spend a few minutes of personal one-on-one time with an agent of your choice, and c) Pitchapalooza (assuming my friends at The Book Doctors make it again in 2013).  Yes, you're going to learn a lot by watching others, but the only way to get better at pitching your work of literary genius is by pitching your work of literary genius.  Just.  Do.  It. 
  • The Unpublished Novel contest.  Deadline is December 17.  Go ahead and send the first 50 pages of your NaNo--I dare ya.
Other writers groups are here in town, too, I must say.  I know Greg, from Agile Writers--find them on  Good guy, and probably a great group, but I don't have time to do more than one writing group, myself. 

Richmond is a great place to be if you're a sci fi/fantasy/horror/spooky fiction type too, by the way. My favorite (though I'm admittedly biased because I work for the group) is RavenCon.  We're a fairly moderately-sized convention every year in the spring; we've gotten national praise for what we do, though, and we're pretty proud of it.  There are a lot of local and national writers who come out; I'm still kicking myself for missing the year when Jim Butcher was the author Guest of Honor.  At $35 a person (if you sign up by the end of December) or $40 a person in 2013, it's a reasonably-priced weekend event.

MarsCon is coming up quick!  It's in January in Williamsburg, and with David B. Coe as the author Guest of Honor, it looks like this will be on my must-attend list.  I haven't actually been to a MarsCon before, but the folks I work with at RavenCon tell me it's a great show.

SheVaCon is nearly here too!  It's a bit of a road trip to Roanoke, but it's worth it.  I attended last year and enjoyed the heck out of myself.  Bought a print there that made the framers at Michael's turn green with envy. 

So go.  Talk to people.  If you're not in Richmond, look up conventions in your own area.  You'll run into authors who've been working the craft for ten, twenty, even forty or fifty years.

Oh, and keep writing.  Did I mention that?


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