Yesterday, Rebecca Wallace-Segall, a marvelous writing teacher as well as founder of youth writing program Writopia Lab (and therefore my boss) asked me to contribute to an email sent to teen writers who had just finished their National Novel Writing Month challenge. I had the experience of reading two NaNoWriMo novels written by a wonderful cousin of mine at either end of approximately the last decade, and I definitely had something to say. Little did I know I'd be in company with Writopia adviser Adam Gopnik, whose work I've followed for years in the pages of The New Yorker. How exciting! Here's what we wrote.
So you completed National Novel Writing Month’s November challenge! Now What?
You forfeited sleep, socializing, and studying in order to complete National Novel Writing Month’s NaNoWriMo November challenge. Congratulations!
Now what? Do you print out your new 10,000 word work of genius and head to the offices of a top literary agent? Do you turn your back on it in fear of perpetual cringe? The good and bad news is that neither option is the right answer. You know too well that your newest creation is too raw to share with a publishing house, but that it is also too rich and full of promise to delete in one fell swoop. So if you can’t toss it and you can’t sell it, what do you do with it?
We asked a few of Writopia's most inspiring novelists who teach or advise at Writopia to help us grapple with this quandry. This is what they advised:
Jill Santopolo: Shove it in the Freezer
Jill Santopolo is an executive editor at Philomel books, a division of Penguin Random House, where she edits award-winning and best-selling books for kids and teens. She's also the author of the Follow Your Heart books, the Sparkle Spa series and the Alec Flint mysteries. Jill is a program advisor at Writopia. You can visit her online at www.jillsantopolo.com and follow her on Twitter @jillsantopolo.
Print the whole thing out and stick in the freezer (figuratively, or literally if you have space in your freezer) until the new year. Then take it out and read it with a pair of fresh, critical eyes and a pencil in your hand. With time and space away from the manuscript, you'll be able to appreciate the awesome parts and figure out ways to improve the not-so-awesome parts -- and reading it on paper will give you an added layer of distance.
Cathleen Bell: Never Change a Word
Cathleen Bell is the author of two novels for middle school readers, as well as a teen romance forthcoming from Knopf in February 2015, I Remember You. She writes a blog for the word learning website Vocabulary.com and teaches workshops at Writopia. You can find her blogging on her own behalf atwww.cathleendavittbell.com or at facebook.com/CathleenDavittBell.
The best thing to do with your NaNoWriMo novel is never change a word. Why would you? NaNoWriMo is an exercise in outpouring and you are at an age when outpouring is a lot more possible than it will be when you get older. To have done it now, to have opened a window that might someday get painted shut means you have trained your brain to do something fantastic. Your NaNoWriMo is a treasure.
So save it.
But if you must, also “Save As,” then look at it again. After the first rush of recognition (“Hey, this isn’t too bad!”), things will probably feel a little less exciting, a little more of a mess.
As with all relationships, this new one you’re forging with your novel will go better if you focus on the parts you love, gently but firmly confront the parts you don’t, and pursue what intrigues you instead of looking for a simple fix. Always keep in mind that whether this document goes on to win you fame and fortune, becomes fodder for ten amazing short stories, or exists only as juvenalia that the scholars responsible for writing about your life in the next century plumb for insights into your adolescent consciousness, it is a real thing that you have brought into existence and because you are good, it is too.
Adam Gopnik: Find That Reader
Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker—to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism—and an author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon. He is on Writopia's Advisory Council.
As I wrote recently, we live in an era of authorial paradox—or, in plain English of a double bind for every writer. It has never been easier to be a writer; it has never been harder to be a professional writer. You can post your work pretty much anywhere; it ‘s easier making your work public than it ever has before. But finding a way to make a living—even a small partial one – is incredibly hard.
What to do? A writer’s best friend is always – a reader. What every writer needs most is one good reader – it can be only one; that’s the way it was for Kafka, and for Emily Dickinson, too; each relied on one other set of eyes. But you need a reader who will be honest with you about when you’re writing from your heart and soul and when you’re writing merely from your head and eyes—when you’re writing what you are on earth to write, and when you’re writing what other people think good writing looks like. Find that reader – it can be a boyfriend a girlfriend, a teacher, a frenemy, or in the end, a professional editor or an agent. But once the one true reader is found, the rest – well, it never gets simple. But it becomes more solid. You know where you are.
Léna Roy: Start Something New!
Léna Roy is the author of the YA novel Edges, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. She has several other novels in the drawer. Léna is also humbled by the work of her dear, late grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, author of over sixty published works and many other unpublished ones. Lena runs Writopia's Westchester/Connecticut Branch and teaches workshops there. You can visit Léna at www.lenaroy.com or follow her on instagram @lenaroy.
You did it! So keep on rocking and writing. Even if you never read those exact 50,000 words again, you have empowered yourself by joining the Novelist Club. Revel in your accomplishment. What’s next is that you know you can write a complete first draft, and you have quelled the voices in your head that said you couldn’t do it. What’s next is that you don’t worry about getting it published - you already know that a first novel needs many drafts. You already know that it is the rare bird who gets his or her first novel published. NOW you refresh your palate by writing flash fiction, poetry, memoir. Now you write about complete small moments, you keep the wheels of perspiration and inspiration turning. (And who knows - those small moments could amass, connect, and turn into another novel!)