by Tina LeCount Myers
I used to be someone who lived for summer adventures until I discovered National Novel Writing Month and November’s creative potential. National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo is a free, online annual event that encourages writers to start that novel they’ve always talked about, by challenging participants to write 50,000 words during the month of November. (In addition, you can check out Camp NaNoWriMo, the April workshop version of NaNo for aspiring authors.) Last year, hundreds of thousands of people on six continents participated in NaNoWriMo. A total of 34,000 participants reached the 50,000 word goal. Over the years, fewer than 500 participants have gone on to be traditionally published.
Before my first NaNoWriMo I had barely written anything longer than journal entries. A little over a decade later, I’ve written over a million words as part of NaNoWriMo. Approximately 118,000 of them were just published in my debut fantasy novel, The Song of All (Night Shade Books, 2018). Here are five habits that I cultivated along the way to go from NaNoWriMo to published author.
The organizers of NaNoWriMo know that writing 50,000 words in 30 days takes commitment. That’s why they offer a great structure, a community, and daily encouragement. Writing 50,000 words without that structure is even harder. There are no certificates, no high fives from fellow participants. You need to find your own way to keep yourself on track the other eleven months out of the year.
One way to keep motivated that has worked for me is to have an accountability partner. Find someone to share your goals with, then report back to them your daily or weekly accomplishments. My accountability partner and I text each morning with our goals and check back in the evening to see how close we’ve come. Even when we don’t make our goals, we’ve made some headway. Slow progress is still progress.
Take the time to make your writing the best it can be. Not all of us need or want to pursue an MFA, but we all need to develop our writing skills before submitting work for publication. Even if you have 50,000 words of a novel already, you can still work on craft. Read articles on topics relevant to you work. Writer’s Digest is filled with great advice on voice, character, POV, pacing, etc. Attend talks by authors and ask questions about their process. Join a writers’ group where you can get and give feedback. You can find writer’s groups online through Facebook and Goodreads. Your local library and bookstore may also have writer’s groups to join. I used the comments from my writer’s group to identify areas that needed work and then took classes in person and online to address those areas. My novel then went through seven edits and five beta readers. With each edit, my writing improved. Give your novel the best chance of succeeding by making sure it’s your best effort.
While writing takes commitment, publishing takes persistence. Rejection is a given for writers. What you do with that rejection is another matter. I recall a letter from an agent who, though sure of my success, told me she did not love my book enough to take it on. Her response was more devastating than the non-replies or stock rejections I’d previously received. But it also made me determined to find an agent who would be passionate about my story.
Keep revising and refining your queries, synopses, and pitches. One of my favorite go-to sites for query letters is queryshark.com, where literary agent, Janet Reid, provides a wealth of information in her analysis of submitted queries. Want to know what agents are looking for right now? Try mswishlist.com, where agents tell you what’s on their manuscript wish list. If querying agents feels like it’s going nowhere, try pitching your book in person at a writer’s conference. Can’t attend a writer’s conference? Try participating in a Twitter pitch, where you pitch your book in a tweet. Some hashtags to follow on Twitter are #RevPit #SFFPit #PitMad #Pit2Pit. Don’t let rejection stop you, let it fuel your perseverance and your creativity.
Writing can be isolating. Working with others or in a community of writers has helped me stay focused and provided invaluable feedback. NaNoWriMo is one example of a community that’s tremendously supportive. Writers’ associations also have online forums as well local chapters to join. There are Meet-up groups for writing marathons and groups for writing critiques.
Like dating, it might take you a few tries to find the right community for you. But if you can’t find just the right group, you can always start your own. Early on, two friends and I formed what we called the First Writer’s Club. Rather than critique each other’s work, we treat ourselves to a nice lunch and discuss our goals, challenges, and achievements. For me, it’s vital to surround myself with people, both in person and online, who share my love of writing.
As important as the practical aspects of writing are, positivity can play a significant role in the path to publication. When dealing with the inevitable rejection that comes with submitting work for review, having an optimistic outlook has been crucial for me.
But positivity isn’t only about dealing with setbacks, it’s also about envisioning the success of your project, whatever that might look like. For example, from the moment I committed to finishing my novel, I set affirming intentions for the project. I visualized the novel completed. I wrote myself acceptance letters from agents and editors and tacked them on the wall. I designed cover art down to the ISBN and wrapped it around another book. I kept all these signs and symbols of success where I could see them, a consistent reminder of what I was working toward.
Now when I sit down for NaNoWriMo each November, I know the draft I create is just the beginning. But I’ve put in place some helpful habits to support myself on the road to publication, and so can you.
Tina LeCount Myers is a writer, artist, independent historian, and surfer. Born in Mexico to expat-bohemian parents, she grew up on Southern California tennis courts with a prophecy hanging over her head; her parents hoped she’d one day be an author. The Song of All is her debut novel. tinalecountmyers.com