Six Years of NaNoWriMo and I’m Still Not Published: What Do I Do?

SweetOnVeg

Today’s guest post is by Eddie Louise, the winner of a pitch contest and a fantastic member of The Writer Unboxed Facebook group. She is a storyteller from way back, who blithely ignored the admonition to “Shut it girl; stop telling stories!” This has led her into delightful trouble throughout her life, most notably for the past 33 years with her husband and partner in crime, The Genius Composer.

She has 30 years of experience acting, directing, and writing for the theater, and has written plays, musicals, sketch comedy, and an opera before turning her attention to writing fiction. She is currently querying agents for her first YA novel, The Arc Riders.

Eddie has lived on a Wyoming cattle ranch, the Central and Southern California beaches, a Scottish city with a Castle in the middle, and most comfortably in her own imagination.

She says,

I became committed to writing upon accepting the challenge to enter The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November 2008. I completed the 50,000 words that year, failed the next, and have been increasingly successful in the years since. I follow the practice of writing a first draft in November and then editing it throughout the year that follows. With each successive year my writing has improved, the editing has been less of a slog and the process has been more invigorating. Many friends and family comment on the six years, wondering why I keep writing if I am not published yet. This article is my way of response.

Follow Eddie on her blog or on Twitter.

Six Years of NaNoWriMo and I’m Still Not Published: What Do I Do?

Producing a book is a slow path to success, no matter what those breathless Google ads (Publish Your Book Today!) tell you. It takes time and multiple drafts to write a book. It takes time and many rounds of editing to perfect a book. If you are fortunate enough to land an agent and make a publishing deal, it will take a great deal of time for your book to reach the market. If you decide to forgo the legacy-publishing route and self-publish, it still takes time to format your book, get a cover designed, establish an author platform, and produce a ready-to-sell book. If you are an impatient person, perhaps writing is not the career of choice for you.

For those of us in it for the long haul, however, it is important to occupy those times of waiting. How do we fill our time, continue to work towards our goals and not get discouraged? I have some suggestions of things you can do in the short term to help you stay focused and committed for the long term.

1)    Keep writing:  You know that feeling you get when you have read a truly beautiful book. The warm glow. The good dreams. The joy of demanding that every one of your friends must read that book, now! What do you do once that buzz fades a little? Read another book. Finishing a novel often imparts that same glow, so enjoy it for a few days, or even a few weeks, but when the feeling begins to fade – start writing again. Write something new. Write something different. You are at a great point in your career—nobody else has any expectations of you. The last book was romance? Now write horror. You wrote epic fantasy? Why not try your hand at a cozy mystery? The fact is the more you write, the more you know yourself as a writer, and that can only be good for your future.

2)    Polish your craft: There are a million and one ways to become a better writer. This blog is only one of hundreds of places in the digital world where you can gain practical advice on your writing. Hundreds of books have been published on the topic. Thousands of colleges world-wide offer classes. Choose an aspect of your writing that needs work and focus on it. Learn what you can from the sources of advice and then practice, practice, practice.

 3)    Play: Write pieces you specifically plan on trashing. Write in the goofy voice of your favorite cartoon character after he has ingested too much sugar. Write as if you were a four-year-old child making up a bedtime story. Write all those ridiculous things you think but are too embarrassed to allow on the page. Write things that no one but you will ever see. Write as if you will never run out of words.

 4)    Attend conferences and retreats: Yes, writing a book is mostly a solitary occupation, but the publishing world and writers in general are actually surprisingly social. When and if you have a book out in the world, you will want to be able to navigate the public spaces where the bookish gather. Attend ALA or Book Expo America. Go on a retreat with other writers in your preferred genre. Volunteer at book signings in your community. Observe and take notes. Participate and learn. All of this will serve you in good stead when it is your turn behind the podium.

 5)    Consider an alternate means of sharing your writing: There so many opportunities to get writing out in the world while you wait for your novel to be published. Thanks to the influence of Print On Demand and ebooks, there are new calls for short-story writing, and many groups produce anthologies. Write a story for inclusion in one of these collections. Serialization is also making a comeback There are websites specifically dedicated to serial publishing or you can simply start a blog and post your serial writing there. Gaining a reputation as a storyteller using one of these alternate methods will only add to your book sales later.

In short, don’t be afraid to treat your writing as a passion project, one you invest time and effort in as its own reward. This is the main point of NaNoWriMo—to remind us to write with passion, to write for its own reward. By approaching your writing with this mindset, you will avoid the frustration that can come with all of the waiting inherent in the publishing process. Now, if you will excuse me, November 17th is The Night of Writing Dangerously for NaNoWriMo, and I have words to commit to paper.

What are some of your short-term strategies to keep you committed for the long term?

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Comments

  1. says

    Writing dangerously–I like the sound of that.

    I think you’re right that people get impatient about publishing and don’t want to simply kill time writing. However, the time before you’re published, the time before you feel you need to devote a chunk of time to marketing and promotion, is the best time to write. It is undistracted, glorious writing time. It is certainly something to enjoy, not lament.

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  2. says

    Eddie,

    Great post! This is my second attempt at NaNo—I finished the first year (still revising that effort) and threw my hat in the ring this year to get something started, but knew I didn’t have the time to finish.

    Yeah…I write like a little kid a lot on my “off times.” Some people may even say all the other times, too! :)

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  3. says

    I appreciate the encouragement here. I’ve taken a slower more methodical approach to my writing and goals this year. Somewhat forced on me by life circumstances, the side benefit has been to slow me down and have fun practicing my writing and honing the skill and joy in it. I still have goals, but am savoring the journey a bit more. NaNo has motivational benefits but can become a taskmaster if the end result overrides the process.

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  4. says

    Perfect timing on this post! I just took a break from my NaNo novel to check my email. The best thing about NaNo is that I’m proving to myself I have a new novel in me. I’ve spent the last four years writing my first novel and felt it would be the only novel I could ever write. But this month has proven me wrong.

    I know it is mathematically impossible for me to reach 50,000 based on my (word count per hour) times (available writing time outside of work), but I won’t stop writing until I have my first draft completed. The NaNo calculator is estimating Dec. 27th.

    Thanks for your four helpful tips that are well worth following.

    Query On!

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  5. says

    I enjoyed reading this post, Eddie!

    I’ve been working on the same project for more than a year now and am in the midst of revisions, but I feel no less creative and excited about the process as I did when I started.

    One of my tricks: I have learned to view what happens after I write the draft as an opportunity to truly discover the story, and I love honing in on my prose and the satisfaction of making passages stronger – a little here and there – then seeing the cumulative effect over time. I don’t approach revision as a linear front-to-back process. Instead, I create a list of tasks based on parts where I know the story can be better, and use them as reference. I also plan to keep at my project until I feel I’ve addressed every single thing – from beta reader comments to making sure the story reads with line-by-line tension. With two manuscripts abandoned and incomplete, I decided it’s time to learn more about story development and actually finish a novel, not just a draft.

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  6. says

    Very encouraging. I love your advice about having varied types of projects. If I pit all my eggs in one basket, that basket becomes too important and my objectivity goes out the barn door.

    I’m also planning on taking a few classes and workshops next year. Your post was good confirmation about that decision. I really appreciate Writers Unboxed for all the nudges, pushes, and kicks in the pants.

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  7. says

    I’m an especially big proponent of Step #5. For what it’s worth, I’ve gone this route twice, and found when it was done that it helped me to get some short professional pieces together. So sometimes you go long on first, then keep it on the ground until you’re ready for another set of downs…

    Damn, I have to stop reading blogs while football is on…

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  8. says

    I love this post!

    I’m a big fan of keeping writing and keeping polishing, all of which is helpful for selling one’s work. It’s part of the process and it’s a process I love. As much as I want to be published, I don’t keep writing because of that alone. I keep writing for the stories I need to tell.

    I would love to attend more conferences and events, but almost never get around to it. It would good for me to do that some more.

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  9. Vanessa says

    Personally, I gave up on trying to find and agent. With the way publishing is changing, most authors won’t really need them. I am self publishing two of my trilogies with them releasing in February, and submitting to small publishers who get the books distributed into the bookstore and pay authors higher royalties, it’s a win win for me

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  10. says

    Good post, Eddie. Sage advice, for sure. I have a great agent, and during those times when the monkey of self-doubt wants to sit on my shoulder, she reminds me that it is a game of patience. So we write, because something in our soul says we need too. After all, it’s the real reason we spend so much time at it.

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  11. says

    eddie, really like your suggestion to “play” and, nearer the end, “In short, don’t be afraid to treat your writing as a passion project, one you invest time and effort in as its own reward.” –

    diversity of projects, and creative approaches, has also helped

    it’s like cross-training in fitness to achieve some sense of recovery

    i end up doing images, enjoying music, some great programming with my wife, play with the grand kids, all good stuff ;-)

    meanwhile, all the best to you in your writing, and any other creative work, enjoyed your article :-)

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  12. says

    I love your emphasis on play and passion. They both resonate deeply. Writing, for me, is a way of living and seeing and dealing with the world. Being read is of course invaluable, but if we don’t love the writing- what’s the point? Thanks for your pointers and, especially for your enthusiasm!

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  13. says

    Your blog is great. I especially like your emphasis on conferences. To me the writers and the mix of people I meet charge me up to carry on to the next level of editing or to write the next query letter.
    I know it feels like everyone is publishing, but in reality how are they publishing? Who are their readers?
    First, write for the story. Edit to polish your product. Deter your demographic. Research your whether you want a traditional publishing house or to self publish. But remember this, NEVER pay to publish your book. (the publishing vehicle gets a percentage.
    Good luck. You will be successful.

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  14. says

    I have been writing novels for almost thirty years, and have just started publishing them this year. I’ve done four years of NaNo and a few Script Frenzies and Camp Nanos, and really enjoy it. I write firstly for myself, but it has been fun getting some of my work published this year too. I can’t imagine ever NOT writing, whether I could publish or not!

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