November is nigh, and a few aspiring writists (if someone who makes art is an artist, why is someone who makes writing not a writist?) asked me for some advice on writing a novel for NaNoWriMo and what comes after, and though I assured them that I wasn't an expert, they still stuck around as I blabbered through some thoughts. Apparently what I said was helpful, because they didn't say, "Okay, I'll just go ask my other writer friend." Instead they said, "you should write these down. I think people would find it helpful." To which I said, "not incredibly depressing?" To which they said, "Possibly both."
So, in honor of the start NaNoWriMo, let's talk about its end.
4 Things You Need To Know If You Wanna Get Serious
1. Finishing a draft of a book is GREAT, but...
In the elation of FINALLY finishing a book and winning the war against art that Stephen Mansfield warned you about, you will feel like a young Viking who's just vanquished the last of his enemy tribe. Viking you is standing on sandy shores coated red with the blood of everything that distracted you from writing in the first place. Your sword is hot in your hands. You're probably looking around, adrenaline pumping, yelling, "LAY OUT THE FESTAL SPREAD, I AM READY TO DINE WITH THE GODS." This is a great feeling. Revel in it. Drive to your local festal spread (Taco Bell, probably,) and dine with those freaking deities. However, you need to know that your battle is just starting.
A lot of people make the mistake of thinking just finishing a book is all you need to move forward with becoming a published author, yet I know very few authors who sold their first finished book (by few, I mean none, although I know they exist. First book published authors are like yetis.) If you really want to continue what you've just accomplished, devote yourself to learning the craft. Edit your book. Then when you finish that edit. Edit it again. Then send it to friends who can edit it for you. Get their feed back, and then edit it again. Then throw up when you think about editing it again, and then edit it again. Writing the book is a battle, but editing the book until it's at the point of "best it can be" is the war. If the book you write during NaNoWriMo is your first, it probably needs a lot of work, and this is okay. The after party of finishing a draft is the main event for a writist, which you, my friend, are.
2. I Am 99.9% Sure You're Not The Exception To The Rule
As I said above, authors who publish their first book are yetis. One of the biggest mistakes I made after I wrote my first book was assuming that my book was unprecedented, new, and I was giving agents the chance to get in on the ground floor of how awesome I was.
Don't. Do. This.
For the safety of yourself, your writer friends, and agents and editors everywhere, DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOU ARE A FIRST BOOK AUTHOR YETI. That .1% is a formality. It's there because I've heard of it happening through tavern bards who were just tipsy enough to let out things they've heard through a friend's uncle's friend's cousin.
I'm not trying to dismiss your talent, I'm merely letting you know that no matter what your parents told you growing up, you are not as special as you think. The only reason I say this is because this is what I thought. Think of it this way. There might a kid who’s got some raw talent when he plays soccer. He doesn't just play one local league game, score a few goals, and then say, "I'm going to join the professionals tomorrow." Yet, I think a lot of people think publishing a book works this way. Heck, I was one of them. Our glorious raw soccer star has to shape that raw talent by practicing, playing games, going to camps, year after year after year.
The biggest battle of the writing journey isn't writing a first draft, getting an agent or a book deal, it's your capacity for perseverance.
3. "Querying agents...Yeah, I can do that!"
This thing ties into #2 a bit, so I'll keep it brief. If the words "querying" and "agents" make you say "Sweet Lord, what on earth are those things?", click this to read my Publishing/Writer 101 post. At the end of NaNoWriMo, you'll open up Google and type in, "I've written a book, now what?" Of course, this search will bring up plenty of good articles and resources for what's next and you should read them. Read all of them, actually. Many will discuss the stage of querying, which is generally the next stage after you've written a book and want to get it published. However, think really long and hard when you consider querying that first book.
I'd recommend making a few friends during NaNoWriMo that you'll be able to swap manuscripts with once the month of November is over. Make setting up that manuscript swap your first step. Make December NaNoEdiMo (National Novel Editing Month.) You need to cut your teeth on the querying process at some point, but if you're the only one who's seen your book, it's not ready for an agent.
4. You Can Do This
I don't want this post to discourage you or sound like I hate NaNoWriMo. I think writing is a great creative outlet, and if I know of a friend who used to write, I typically hound them until they start again. What I want to do is give you the freedom, and time, to suck at writing, because that’s what I needed when I first started. Your first novel doesn't have to be your masterpiece; it just has to be your first. If you really want this writer thing, buckle in and make every month NaNoWriMo and NaNoEdiMo. Viking you needs clansmen. Find those friends that can encourage you to keep going and make you a better writer. Join a local writer's group. Surround yourself with people who know the process and can help you get through it. I promise you, in the end, when you're standing on a different shore, sand covered in the blood of your book deal, instead of looking around you and wondering what's next, you'll look behind you at all the people who fought with you. Look at them, really look at them and then yell, "LAY OUT THE FESTAL SPREAD, WE ARE READY TO DINE WITH THE GODS."
Go NaNoWriMo for next month is NaNoEditMo, and you have a story to tell.