The day before Thanksgiving, I wrapped up my third run at NaNoWriMo and hit my 50,000 word goal for my third novel. I’m giving the novel a good long rest on my desktop until I pick it up again to begin editing in early 2020.
Here’s the draft synopsis:
“After a succession of personal tragedies, Libby Farina runs her family’s Italian bakery on Mulberry Street in the year 1910 in New York City’s Little Italy. As the city around her swirls with innovation and its often dire consequences, a stranger arrives on her doorstep near death. Who is he and how will his presence in her life, however brief, forever change her world?”
I write a book the way a painter covers a canvas, the way a scientist arrives at the lab, the way a baker arrives in the kitchen. I have an idea in my mind of what I want to create, what I want to discover. It’s a bit fuzzy at first with soft edges, a hypothesis, a dream.
I start to sketch some lines, some ideas, a recipe via my outline. It’s broad at first and then gets more and more refined as the story becomes clear in my mind. I experiment by writing some passages, bits of dialogue, setting descriptions, and character sketches. I watch and listen and read. Then I add some more lines and then maybe some color and shading with scenes that are more fleshed out with more detail and more purpose. Every draft is adding more detail, more information, more frosting.
My point in this metaphor is that I don’t see editing as onerous. An artist doesn’t paint a canvas in one sitting. A scientist doesn’t prove a theory in one trial of one experiment. A baker doesn’t perfect a recipe in one swift action. It takes multiple efforts over a very long time. It’s trial, error, and trial again.
First, I have to zoom way out. I take in the whole world surrounding my characters, the context in which they live their lives. Then I move closer step-by-step, taking note of the details, the times they live in, the circumstances swirling around them. Eventually, I’m standing beside them, eavesdropping on their interactions. And finally, they’re telling me their deepest darkest secrets.
We don’t get to know someone all at once. Their story unfolds for us over time. The same is true for my books. I wish there was a short route, an easier, faster path. To date, I haven’t found one and honestly I think that’s for the best. What builds slowly, lasts. I have no doubt that eventually every story will come into focus. Much of that is out of my control. What I can do is show up every day and get down what’s clear in the moment.
I say this to myself as much as I say it to you: give yourself a break. Just keep showing up and getting it down as best you can. Just keep moving forward a step at a time. You can’t do it all, all at once. Just do today’s part today. Refinement takes time.
“Every book in history has been written the exact same way: one word at a time.” ~Ed Freeman
Hello, writers and readers! Are you diving into NaNoWriMo today? Me, too!
For those of you new to this event, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Thousands of people all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words (the length of a novel that’s on the shorter side) in the month of November. There are a lot of great resources available over the at the NaNoWriMo site including a calendar of virtual write-ins, Twitter chat times, encouraging letters from well-known novelists know as pep talks, writing tool suggestions, and a community of other writers writing this month.
This is my third time participating in NaNoWriMo. The first two times I wrote the first drafts of my two Emerson Page novels. The first was published in 2017 (and you can buy wherever books are sold). The second I’m shopping around now. This year, I’m trying a new genre—historical fiction romance set in an Italian bakery in New York City during the Christmas season of 1910. It’s called For Love and Other Reasons.
50,000 words in a month is a lofty goal, and winning it means you get to that goal. However, my p.o.v. is that any progress you make this month is a win. Here are some ways that have helped me the last two times I’ve done this:
1.) Break it down into small parts
Break down your writing into small parts. One scene, one part of a scene, one description. Heck, one good sentence is fine, too. My professor, mentor, and friend, Ed Freeman, is my Albus Dumbledore. He always says, “Every book in history has been written the exact same way: one word at a time.” I think about that every single day. One word, one sentence, one page, one chapter, one book, one library. Everything in our lives is composed of smaller parts. Don’t get overwhelmed by writing a book. Just write a word and then another and another. All the greats have done it that way, and you can, too.
2.) Schedule your writing time
Put it in your calendar and hold yourself to it just like you would any other important appointment. Sometimes people ask me what’s the trick to writing book. I wish I had a silver bullet for you and for myself! I don’t. Writing a book takes time, dedication, and effort. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
3.) Treat yourself
I don’t know about you but I like rewards so I treat myself for a job well done. When I hit my word count for the day, I have a cookie, a piece of candy, or a cup of delicious tea I bought especially for this purpose. Set up a reward system for yourself to stay motivated and to celebrate along the way.
I love a good outline. This year I’m trying a new software called PlotPins. You can try any number of different tools and can go as low-tech as scenes on index cards which are my personal favorites because then I can move the order around. The New York Times ran an article this week with a list of great tools for writers, and some are completely free.
5.) Fun it up
This year, my novel includes baking so I’ll be posting pictures and recipes of my NaNo baking on social media and on my NaNoWriMo profile as my word count adds up. You’ll be able to find them on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well as on my Author page on Facebook.
Happy writing and reading, friends!
Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the genre for the novel I’ll be writing during National Novel Writing Month in November.
Can a bread bakery in New York City be the setting for a book that’s historical fiction, an immigrant story, and a romance novel? I’m going to give it my best shot. Let’s see what I find. Regular updates will be provided in November.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, I’d love to know so we can support each other through it!
I’ve decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month again this year, writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I have a few new book projects I’m thinking about in different genres and I’m trying to decide which to work on in November. Would love to know your opinion! Choices:
1.) Young Adult Sci-fi
2.) International Crime
3.) Romance Novel
4.) Historical Fiction: ~the year 1910
Also, are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What are you planning to work on?
I’m so honored to be featured on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) blog. With their support and encouragement, I took an outline and turned it into a published novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. You can check out the full post at http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/170689401897/what-nanowrimo-gave-me-as-an-authorand-a-person. Here is the text as well:
The road from plotless to polished to published can be long and filled with potholes (and plot holes). But, as NaNo participants continue to prove, it can be traversed. Today, author Christa Avampato shares her story of how she turned an outline into a published book:
In the five years after I survived an apartment building fire on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I sketched the outline of my novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. That fire was a turning point for me, as a person and as a writer. It also plays a prominent role in Emerson’s story.
On November 1, 2014, I set a goal to transform my outline into a 50,000-word first draft in thirty days as part of NaNoWriMo. It seemed impossible, but I was constantly encouraged by the supports that NaNoWriMo offers: webinars, blog posts by authors I admired, writing prompts, social messages, and special offers for books and tools.
My first draft was terrible, but I’ve never been prouder of something so awful.
Over the next two years, I completed a dozen more drafts of Emerson’s story. New characters, plot lines, and settings emerged. Save for Emerson, the story was almost unrecognizable two years later. I got feedback from several close and brutally honest friends. I agonized over every word. It is the toughest job I ever loved.
Still, Emerson continued her incessant tap, tap, tapping on my shoulder because it was time to get her story published. I queried agents, and received fourteen rejections—and those were just the ones who bothered to respond at all! One of them, my dream agent, responded with the loveliest rejection. Twelve were form letters. One particularly prickly agent responded in less than five minutes with a one word email: No.
I’m not kidding. That actually happened.
I finally found a happy medium when I began to explore independent publishers. Six months after querying my first independent publisher, one of them accepted the book.
When you launch a book, you launch a brand and a business. I completed several full edits in 2017 with the assistance of two editors. Then I hired the artists and art directed the cover art myself. With my MBA and business experience, I put together a marketing plan, and began to work that plan every day.
On November 1, 2017, I became a published author. Emerson left the safety of my care and ventured out into the world wrapped in paperback and eBook formats on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in independent bookstores across the globe. It’s no coincidence that Emerson’s birthday was exactly three years after I started writing the draft of her story during NaNoWriMo 2014.
And on her birthday, I began writing the draft of her second book as part of NaNoWriMo 2017. That supportive tribe of fearless writers with impossible goals was there for me again, just as they were in 2014.
Emerson and I stand before you as an unfailing reminder that if you are willing to do the hard work of recognizing your wounds, if you write your truth through programs like NaNoWriMo, even if your voice shakes and sputters, if you will honor the cracks in you rather than trying to spackle them shut, there is so much light that awaits you.
That’s the greatest lesson that NaNoWriMo and Emerson taught me: that light will flood your mind, heart, and hands in a way that you never imagined possible. That light, however small, lives in you now. Your only job is to fan it into a flame that the whole world can see through the masterpiece that is your life and your writing. You matter. Your story matters. It matters so damn much.
I can’t wait to read your book.
Your words are going to live on long after you. They are the surest path we have to legacy and immortality. Two nights ago, I walked home with a co-worker who lives in my neighborhood. His husband, a writer just a few years older than me, is dying and in hospice care from a neurological disease similar to Parkinson’s.
“Even though he can’t talk anymore and will never talk again, I’ll always have his words because he was a writer,” he said. “And that’s pretty cool.”
I don’t think it was an accident that we walked home on the night of my novel’s Pub Day. I have long believed that the Universe works through us to reach others when they most need it. And I think me coincidentally running into him and us walking home together was not a coincidence at all. He had a message for me from the Universe: Be strong and tell your story so that it will live on long after you’re gone. And you must do it now. You never know how much time you’ll have. When I got home, I immediately started writing Emerson’s second book as part of NaNoWriMo.
My co-worker is remarkably strong. How he could tell me so much for their story for 45 minutes and not have his voice crack once is just astonishing to me. I was tearing up. I’m in awe of him. And so grateful for the message he delivered. I will not waste it.
I want to talk to you about shitty first drafts, in particular my shitty first drafts. Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, my book that launched this week and that I first drafted during NaNoWriMo 2014, is not the draft I started to write three years ago. It’s not even close. The book that was published has been polished and spit-shined to the hilt. My first draft wasn’t even a diamond in the rough. It was just rough. Period. End of sentence.
I’m writing Emerson’s second book during NaNoWriMo this month. In two days, I’ve got about 4,000 words. And they’re awful. Messy plot lines and self-indulgent dialogue abound despite my intense outlining. And you know what? It doesn’t matter at all. I’m just writing like no one’s watching because no one is. No one is ever going to see this draft. Actually, I take that back. If I ever win a prestigious writing award for my novels, I’ll release this shitty first draft and auction it off for charity. You have my word on that.
If you have a book inside you, a story begging to be told, I want you sit down and get it all out there on the screen or paper. Don’t pay any mind to what it looks like. Just write it down. It’s not doing anyone any good inside your mind. And if you don’t write that story, no one ever will. It dies with you. That’s just about the saddest thing I can think of. You don’t know what your words and ideas are going to do for someone else someday. They could be what literally saves someone. And wouldn’t it be nice to save someone?
I’ll make you a deal—you write your story, I’ll write mine, and then we’ll toast each other’s efforts. Okay? 50,000 words by November 30th. Go!
My Pub Day is fast approaching. People have been asking how I’m feeling. Honesty, I’m curious and hopeful. I’m curious to know how her story helps others. My great hope is that she inspires people to live the lives they imagine. She’s brave, powerful, and kind. I hope she makes a difference in the lives of others who get to know her. She’s certainly made a difference in mine.
I’ve lived with Emerson in my heart and mind for 8 years now. She’s a part of my every day living. I’ve protected her, nurtured her, and prepared her as best I can. Next Wednesday, she’ll belong to the world, and she’s ready for that.
On the day the book launches, I’ll begin NaNoWriMo 2017 and write the first draft of Emerson’s second book by the end of November. No rest for the weary, and that’s fine by me. Emerson and I have a lot of ground to cover so we better get moving. We have to make the most of the time we have.
The final cover art and galley for my young adult fantasy novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, are off to the printer. I’m now shoulder-deep in marketing and promotion of the book. Are you interested in reading it and being an early reviewer on your own blog or on Amazon? Do you know someone else who might be interested? Please send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!