Monday, January 28, 2013

In the Beginning

I adore NaNoWriMo. It’s exciting, it’s crazy, and it motivates more people to write than Saturday detention. Every year I support the madness via my blog by finding resources, encouraging those who commit, and otherwise behaving like a book-writing nag. This doesn’t endear me to the snobs, but I can make fun of them throughout November, which is a nice bonus.

Occasionally I also join in, as I did after finishing two novel series back in 2009. I love all my stories, but after a decade of writing medieval vampires, and SF surgeons I wanted to try something without fangs or scalpels. I settled on a story idea set in a nineteenth-century alternate universe, in which America loses the Revolutionary War and remains part of the British Empire. I could rewrite history and make my countrymen drink tea, wear fussy clothes and have exquisite manners while behaving badly. It would be like Masterpiece Theater on crack.

I mentioned my fabulous idea to some friends, who were nice enough to give me instant feedback:

“Sounds weird.”

“You’ll never sell that.”

“What about the vampires?”

“That world is impossible. Not to mention unpatriotic.”

“Tea? What happened to coffee? You can’t kill coffee.”

All their gloominess actually sealed the deal for me; I wouldn’t worry about selling it. I’d write simply for the joy of it, and what better time than with the rest of the planet during NaNoWriMo? When November 1 arrived I skipped into my office and went to work.

For the next thirty days I wrote like a maniac, and posted my stats and progress online. While my friends worried, my readers cheered me on. Once I hit the 50K mark I scared my dogs by shrieking and dancing before I went back to work. I could have stopped, but I was having too much fun. The magic on the page enchanted me so much it felt like the novel was writing itself. I had a blast, rediscovered my craft, fell in love with storytelling again, and finished NaNoWriMo 2009 with almost 60K.

The novel turned out so well that I went completely insane and decided to submit it. I sent it out to a dozen publishers, all of whom rejected it (several requested I send them some vampire fiction.) I kept at it, but after three years of rejections all my friends were saying “Told you so.”

I didn’t want to give up. I might have written the book on a lark, but it was some of my best work. Besides, the first novel I’d published was one I’d written for fun; it could happen again. I did get close to publication a couple of times. Once the novel went for approval to purchase, only to be vetoed by a senior editor. Another offer came in but didn’t survive contract negotiations.

So why should you try NaNoWriMo when an old pro like me couldn’t sell her NaNo novel? Well, this past summer my submission landed on the desk of the right editor, who loved it and made me an offer. Not only for the novel, but for a series—which makes me one of the rare writers to sell a novel series based on a NaNoWriMo book.

Writing a book in a month is madness, but a little crazy could be just what you need. I hope you’ll join me in November, offend the snobs, annoy your friends, and write something radical. It’ll be fun, and like me you may end up being the one to say “Told you so.”

(Originally posted during NaNoWriMo 2012 at The Office of Letters and Light blog)

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