Today’s author has not one, but four Nanowrimo novels published. She’s also been a pleasure to work with and provided some extremely valuable insight anyone interested in Nanowrimo can find useful.
Please give author Becky Black a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your books? (Preferably with a focus on those originally written during Nanowrimo)
NaNoWriMo got me started on writing novels after I’d been writing fanfiction for a few years. I started by doing science fiction, and later moved on to gay romance – a genre that was only just appearing a few years ago, but is booming now. I first sold a book back in 2010 and since then four of my nine published novels have started their lives as NaNoWriMo books. One was a last minute substitute, the idea coming to me late and muscling its way in when I lost my nerve about doing book two of a series when book one hadn’t sold yet. I only thought of the idea late September. I usually like to think about ideas for a lot longer than that. But I rode the tide and it was written, edited, submitted, sold and published within a year of the first idea. My books are published by a digital-first small press publisher – they move faster than the big boys! Already my NaNoWriMo novel from 2013 is out and feels like a distant memory.
2. When did you first decide you wanted to become a published author?
I think I’d always had that ambition, but was frankly too lacking in the confidence and drive to actually write for many years. But I’d have to trace the decision to take the idea seriously to shortly after my first NaNoWriMo, back in 2006. I’d been writing a few years, doing fanfiction, but chose to do an original fiction novel for my first NaNoWriMo, just to see if I could. Well I could, I did, and after that I had to sit down and think, did I want to just continue writing as a hobby, or was I going to start working towards becoming published? I chose publishing. I didn’t actually write one to submit until 2009, because I knew I had plenty to learn yet! But back in 2006 is when I made the decision.
3. How did you find out about Nanowrimo?
I don’t recall the first time I encountered it. It was something I’d just see mentions of around the internet and in the writing groups I hung out in. I got a vague idea of what it was and thought, hmm, no, I don’t think that’s for me at all! 50,000 words in a month? That’s ridiculous. That was in 2005. I didn’t do it that year. In 2006 I saw mentions of it again, more of them as November approached. By then I’d been writing for another year, and I’d produced some novella and even novel length fanfics. So I decided, maybe 50,000 words in a month wasn’t so crazy after all…
4. How much planning did you do before starting Nanowrimo?
That first time I produced a pretty loose outline. I knew the start and I knew the end, and had a rough plot for the middle, and had a big list of scenes to go in the middle, but I didn’t have a nailed down order for the scenes to go in. So I did “just in time” outlining. I planned a few scenes ahead. I picked out the events that best illustrated where the characters were emotionally at that point in the story and made a more detailed plan for the next part of the story, then the next, then the next, until I reached the end. And I knew the ending. From day one I knew the final line the narrator would say to end the story. When drafting I always know the ending vaguely, and it firms up as I get closer. But that one I knew in full detail.
That kind of flexible outline has remained the way I outline most stories to this day. Some are more nailed down than others, some are more loose and flexible, but overall the method hasn’t changed much. For me it’s never a case of finish the outline and then draft. I change and refine the outline as I write.
5. What was your first Nanowrimo experience like?
A bit of a leap into the unknown. But I had a small group of internet friends who were doing it too, which helped. We urged each other on in the case of slacking off. Anyone feeling lazy would be inspired by the member of the group who was about eight months pregnant – since if she could do it, so could we. I was also strongly reminded that I am in fact ridiculously competitive. Failure was not an option once I got started. I competed against my friends, and against random people on the forums, I really had the red mist in my eyes and it made me super productive. I reached my 50k on the 19th of November. I finished my story, at 62,595 words on the 25th. Yes, I recall the exact number of words. Stop looking at me like that. I’ve done it and won it every year since. One year I only made it to 50k through sheer bloody mindedness, but like I say, once I start, failure is not an option.
6. What advice would you give people attempting Nanowrimo this year? (As much as you’re willing, maybe with a cap of 3 fairly long paragraphs)
Don’t assume you will be able to write every day. The official daily total to get you to 50k in 30 days is 1667 words a day. (Well it’s actually 1666.7 but the only time I write .7 of a word is those times I faceplant into my keyboard.) That’s the dream. But doing anything for 30 days consecutively, barring sleeping and eating is hard. Not simply in terms of the mental discipline to do it, resisting all the siren calls of the TV or the pub, or the bed, but in purely practical terms.
What are the chances you can go 30 days without some kind of domestic emergency, or having to stay late at work, or you or your kids getting ill? Or maybe you want to retain some vestige of a social life and not become a hermit for a month. So give yourself some wiggle room. Adjust your daily total for say 25 days not 30. Or take a look at your calendar and see when you can get extra writing sessions in that you can use to build up a word count cushion to insulate you against disaster. Even if you don’t plan your novel, plan the month in terms of when you’ll write.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or says they are doing. There are people you’ll see around the NaNoWriMo forums who post gigantic word counts. They can write really fast. Don’t compare yourself to them. They don’t win harder because they wrote more than you. If you write 50,000 by November 30th you’re a winner, simple as that. And I personally think people who have won by day three or something are missing out on all the fun ups and downs of the month. On the other hand it can be very motivating to find someone on the forums to compete with. You don’t have to know the person, or indeed ever have any contact with them. But they are your nemesis. They should be someone who is at nearly the same word count as you and seems to be working at roughly the same pace – around the 10th of the month is a good time to start looking out for someone like that. Someone living in a different time zone so writing at a different time of day, is good too. You either have to chase their word count, or stay ahead of it. A nemesis is a great motivator.
Have fun! Every year the “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul” forum is one of the busiest on the site. Sure, writers always have one or more “this thing is going to kill me! I just hope I have time to clear my browsing history before I go” moments in the middle of any novel draft, never mind during a high pressure event like NaNoWriMo. But you don’t want to spend October worrying about it, and November having a month long nervous breakdown about it. This isn’t a homework assignment, or a project for work. Nobody ever has to see it if you don’t want them to. Maybe you’ll fail to write 50,000 words. Maybe you’ll get 50,000 words, but they are terrible drivel. So what? You won’t get expelled, evicted or excommunicated over it. There are no bad consequences to doing this. If it’s a failure, well it was only a month out of your life and you at least gave it a go. You’ll have learned from it. So stop worrying and start enjoying it.
Make backups. For the love of cats, make backups every single day. I don’t care how you do it, USB stick, emailed to yourself, cloud storage, whatever floats your boat. But do it. If you’ve never written a novel before you may never have put so much of your heart and soul into one fragile little document file. Protect it like it’s a baby.
7. What are your plans this coming November? (Nanowrimo or other projects, and it doesn’t all have to be writing related)
I chose my NaNoWriMo project a couple of months ago, and I’ve spent September doing a daily (well most days) 30 minutes or so of brainstorming on it. That’s a fun time, when no idea is too crazy, and nothing is set in stone. October is when I turn that into an outline. By the end of the brainstorming phase I have a good idea of the shape of the plot and – I hope, or I’m on trouble – the ending. As I type this the story is called Mapping the Shadows. By the time you’re reading this it might have changed. By the time I start writing it might have changed again. I’ve learned not to be married to titles. But I like this one. It may stick.
I try to clear the decks of other things as much as possible for November, so I shouldn’t have any other big projects on the go. I even try to get my blog posts for November set up and scheduled in October, to save me thinking time as much as anything else! This isn’t always possible. I’ve had novel edits from my publisher land on me in November before. With careful planning I still managed to get them back and win NaNoWriMo. But usually November is my time to eliminate as many distractions as possible and really refocus on writing again.
Becky lives in the UK and her writing is primarily fuelled by tea and rainy days. After spending far too many years only thinking about writing she finally started putting words down back in 2003 and hasn’t stopped since, still trying to make up for lost time.
More links for places to connect with me are on my website, along with full details of all my books.
I’ve attached the cover art of my most recent published NaNoWriMo book, called Dream For Me and the buy links are all on this page:
Let me know if you’d like a different size of the cover art. I have a range from tiny to huge.