Friday, November 27, 2009

You finished NaNoWriMo, now what?

It’s revising time!

You’ve won NaNoWriMo. Wow. Now you have 50-70K words of...what?

Something...maybe something good; but rough, cluttered, inconsistent, even embarrassing in places--not something you can do much with...yet.

The next step is to revise. But where do you start? How do you do it? What do you focus on?

Here are three books that will help to answer these questions and more:

Revision And Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

This book rocks.

Scott begins with twelve chapters on core story elements you should check and enhance while editing, including Characters, Plot & Structure, Scenes, Dialogue, etc. He then offers three chapters of advice on the process, and finishes with “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” which runs 39 pages and provides a structured walkthrough of everything discussed previously.

This had the most influence on my revision process and has some really good advice, and a sound theory of fiction that can be used for plotting, outlining and writing in general.


The only downside: much of the info in this is duplicated in his other book Plot & Structure, so you really don’t need both.

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

This is a series of workshop-style exercises that can be used to revise a manuscript (and are also good in the formative stages to solidify an outline). It covers things like multidimensional characters, inner conflict, stakes, complications, subplots, fixing low tension scenes, and pitching your completed work among others.

These exercises are a good bridge between a 1st draft and a second draft, and most of them assume you have a finished manuscript to use in the exercise. They also compliment (and have a slightly different flavor from) his book: Writing the Breakout Novel, which I also recommend.


The downside? It will take while to get through the exercises, and another read-through and draft will be needed to pull the vivisected novel back together again, though it will be much stronger. Second, his other book: The Fire in Fiction is mostly redundant information.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

This book has some great tips and techniques for focusing in on character, layering in depth. Especially for NaNoWriMo works, going back and taking another pass to expand, enhance and evaluate the characters will make a rough story a strong novel. This book has good tools to make characters multidimensional, dynamic and to help portray emotions in more subtle, engaging ways.

This is also good for general theory, as well as a reference to use during the planning/outlining phase.

There you have it, three ways to turn your NaNoWriMo productivity into a novel you can be proud of.

Monday, November 9, 2009

If Not For the Day Job

I want to talk about Day Jobs. Day Jobbery as Mr. Lake likes to say. There are some sharp differences between Full Time Writers and Day Jobbers. Let’s examine some of those.

It’s hard watching full time writers through blogs and Twitter--they get so much done in just a few days...and they squander so many hours on silly crap. Often, I think to myself, “If only I had the luxury of that much time...I could draft a book in month. I could finish a book in three. A couple years of that pace and I would have at least a few successful books out there.”

The implicit assumption here is that I would be a more successful writer If Not For the Day Job. But is this true?

Basically, I spend the majority of my time and mental energy in a different field, trading time and talent for a paycheck. The money is nice. There are other benefits as well. But is it worth it?

Let’s examine the merit or lack thereof of writing full time, vs. writing in addition to another profession. I will look at several factors:
  • Writing/Productivity

  • Experience/Knowledge

  • Interesting Characters


Full Time Writers get to set their own schedule. They can spend hours, days, weeks researching. They can put in enough hours to finish any size project in a reasonable amount of time. They have the luxury (advantage?) of completing a project while the passion and the core of the idea are still fresh in their minds. Best of all, they can produce several books in a year.

As a part time writer, it takes weeks to get simple revisions done. Months to get a draft done. Years to finish a single book. At this point, it would appear that all the cards are stacked in favor of the full time writer.


Full Time Writers are versed in writing. Any other knowledge comes primarily from other books...research. For the most part they have little experience or in-depth knowledge outside of writing, especially those who wiled away their education on BFAs and MFAs (though sometimes those beloved souls can string pretty words together...all in a row).

Day Jobbers bring all the experience and knowhow of their profession to the table. Take my Day Job for example. I am versed in a profession, a culture, multiple technologies, and I am plugged into emerging trends and technologies as they happen...not months or years after the fact when it’s captured in a book. However, this depth will only be in one field, one facet of life. For the rest, Day Jobbers have to find time to do the research, and having less time available, the advantage seems to go to the FTW again.

Interesting Characters

Full time writers work alone. They may meet interesting people, but only the social butterflies really do much of this, and most writers tend to be a bit on the introverted side.

Day Jobbers are surrounded daily by fascinating, quirky, ridiculous, and sometimes ridiculously intelligent people. All of whom are fodder for characters and interesting studies in human nature and interaction.

Having a day job puts a writer into slow motion, but there appear to be many advantages to Day Jobbery. I don’t see either path as being the ‘best’ as both have advantages and disadvantages.

What do you think?