“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!
The writing moment I love best: I write a scene, do research for the next scene, and find an eerie, wonderful synchronicity with secret history I uncovered in my research and never knew before. These magical moments makes me feel that the story I’m writing is meant to be written by me. It’s happened to me many times, especially in the course of writing my second Emerson Page novel. Every single time it happens, I’m amazed.
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!
So thrilled to tell you that my book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, is one of 25 finalists in ScreenCraft‘s Cinematic Book Competition. My heart is overflowing with gratitude and excitement. So honored. Grand Prize Winner will be announced soon. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I’ll just be over here smiling so wide my face hurts. And again, thank you to everyone who has been so insanely supportive during this whole ride. It means everything to me. Announcement here: https://screencraft.org/2019/02/27/2018-screencraft-cinematic-book-competition-finalists-announced/
I am a meticulous outliner, especially when it comes to my fiction writing. Still, you know what I love best about the practice of writing fiction? I never quite know what will be on the page when I’m done with any single block of work. I sit down and I think I know exactly where I’m going. Then, my characters will do something or say something I never expected. A stranger will arrive. A discovery will be made. I’m living this story in the moment with my characters, and I feel lucky to be along for the ride.
To move my second novel along, I’m waking up 30 minutes early to immediately write whatever stories come to mind about Emerson Page. That means 1/2 an hour into my day, I already feel like I’ve gotten good work done. Here’s what happened Monday morning, in its completely raw, completely unedited form. It needs a lot of work; and that work begins by getting it down.
I think it’s important to show our work as writers, rough as it may be, so that we can understand and learn from each other’s process. It is a slog, but how lucky I am to be able to write freely. There are so many people in this world who live in places where that’s not possible.
Emerson was frantically digging in the rich, deep dirt. As luxurious as it felt in her hands, her heart was racing. They didn’t have much time. She could hear the group approaching from behind—snapping twigs underfoot, the brushing aside of the thick brush. The jungle was a frightening but beautiful place. The darkness often hid danger but it could also provide a place of protection for those who needed to be hidden. Their voices were growing louder and spoke in a language not her own but one she clearly understood.
“Get the girl and then find what she’s looking for.”
A shockwave of pain radiated through Emerson’s right pinky finger. She had jammed it on something hard in the ground where she was digging. Moving her hands so quickly they were nothing but a blur to her sore, tired eyes, a shiny gold surface caught what little light there was filtering through the tangle of vines.
“Here it is, here it is, here it is,” she thought, her mind reeling.
Quickly making her way around the small box, she could see it measured no more than the size of a loaf of bread. Made of a dark wood with a sheen and brass handles on each side, there was a metal plate neatly tacked to the top of it with one word etched on it in curly script: Erato.
Knowing she had very little time left, Emerson grabbed both of the brass handles and pulled as hard as she could. Heaving herself backward into a giant [name of species of tree in the jungle], her head knocked right into the trunk of the tree. Rubbing the back of her head, the box now squarely in her lap, she looked up to see a team of men looming over her, their smiles wicked and filled with broken, dirty teeth.
“So this is the girl, the girl we are supposed to fear so much? How pathetic she is.” The group sneered and laughed as if they had just corned a prize they hunted. Emerson’s eyes and belly burned.
“And look,” another one said. “She’s shaking.” The crowd of men roared with laughter again.
Emerson smiled. Slowly she let her grin expand across her lips. She felt wild and free, as if she knew a secret that none of them knew and were about to learn in a way that they would never forget. She let her body shake and her light flood into every part of her. It grew brighter with every second, making her glow with such force that the men had to shield their eyes with their arms. Like the blazing, burning sun, they could barely stand to look at her but they were so fascinated and stunned by her that they couldn’t look away either.
The light soothed the pain in the back of her head. Firmly holding the box handles in her two hands, she rose to her feet in one swift action. Standing at her full, though petite, height she walked toward the men. Now that they shook with fear, some falling to the ground, some hiding and cowering behind one another, the group parted neatly down the middle and Emerson walked straight threw the clearing the men had made with their machetes just moments before.
You see the jungle is a dark and dangerous place. It’s stuffed with mystery. It’s laced with fear for those who don’t understand it. But for those who realize and cherish its magic, the jungle possesses a wisdom that speaks directly to our souls. It holds treasures richer than we have ever dared to dream. As Emerson walked out into what was left of the light from the setting sun, she knew what she had, she understood the power of the treasure she now held in her hands.
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.
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!
Yesterday was a marvelous Pub Day. Thank you for all the love, and I send it right back to you!
The book reached its highest sales rank ever on Amazon in the 6 weeks since it was put in pre-order status. Emerson got some wonderful reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, with more on the way. Some great plugs on social media, and a big exciting festival acceptance that I will be able to publicly share in December once the communications embargo is lifted. And I started the draft of Emerson’s second book as part of #NaNoWriMo2017.
All in, a banner day that filled my heart with gratitude, exactly 3 years after I started writing that first draft. It was made all the better by knowing that the best is yet to come. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Emerson is now on sale in paperback and e-book at amzn.to/2lgZykV.
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!