Can You Write a Novel in a Month? by Kat Yeh
THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE: from NANOWRIMO to publication.
When people find out that my upcoming middle grade novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, started as a NANOWRIMO book, they ask a lot of questions. First being: Can you write a novel in a month?
NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month — the online phenomenon that has writers around the world attempting to write an entire novel during the month of November.
To be honest, I had always been afraid of Writing a Whole Novel. It just seemed impossible.
But the idea of reaching that goal in only one month was tempting.
And all you had to do was write 1,667 words a day for 30 days.
I had my idea and vague storyline and a voice. I decided to give it a try.
I announced to all my writer friends that I would be a NANOWRIMO participant, so that I would feel the pressure of being accountable.
I began posting my word count each day online — sure that if I missed one day someone I admired of importance and great influence would shout “A missed day? Novelist, indeed! Bah!” The Bah!, in particular, would especially hit me hard. So, I kept at it.
I wrote every single day in November and, in the end, I had over 55,000 words.
And then (this is the important part): I put it away.
I did not peek.
I did not re-read.
I let it sit there for months. I pretended it didn’t exist and immediately began writing another novel and a picture book or two.
When enough time had passed that I could no longer recall specific sentences and chapters, I printed the entire thing out and read it in one sitting. I wanted to get the feel of it. It was a rough read. But there was hope. I knew the voice was there. And there were passages and certain sentences that I wrote during NaNo that are in the final novel exactly as I wrote first them then — and they are some of my favorites. There were also pages and chapters that I quickly tore and burned to avoid future blackmail.
I spread the entire novel across my dining room floor where one day I hoped to have a real live dining table like the real grown ups have. I kept a quick red pen in hand and made little marks and moved on. I slashed entire sections out and cut and stapled others together.
Then I read it through again. And I put it away again. And I worked on something else – anything else! Until enough time had passed again.
And I then I picked up that cut and stapled and taped up bundle of chapters and I read it through with a bigger red pen. Then I went back and wrote myself an outline. And I cut and stapled some more. I wrote and rewrote and revised. AGAIN.
During this time, I went to every conference that I could afford to go to. I selected ones where specific editors or agents that had my interest were going to be. I did every first page and critique that was offered. Little by little, I got feedback and critiques and then — I started getting interest.
One of the first editors to see the first 50 pages of THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE (then titled TWINKIE PIE AND OTHER THINGS OF A DELICATE NATURE) was Alvina Ling of Little Brown Books for Young Readers. I do not think I can begin to describe the head explosion that occurred when she smiled at me, paused, and then said, “I loved this.” And I cannot even begin to explain the control that kept me from express mailing the entire messy thing to her that very afternoon.
Because I knew it wasn’t ready.
Agents and editors are busy. You want to bring them the very best possible version of your manuscript that you can imagine. You want to start from There. And I knew that I had a strong first 50 pages, but I wasn’t There yet. So I went back and revised some more. A few months later, I brought it to the SCBWI summer conference where it was nominated for the Sue Alexander Award. And I had a few more people asking when I could send it.
But it still wasn’t ready. Not quite yet.
I went back and revised for one more year. Yes, a whole year. I needed it. The time I spent away from my manuscript was just as important as all that time I was spending on it.
And then, finally, on September of 2012, almost two revision-filled years after completing NANOWRIMO, I sent out my agent queries.
It went well.
Many people have asked me about my actual timeline. And, honestly, it’s such a blur that I’ve often gotten the dates wrong – so I decided to go back through my emails and see what the actual breakdown from NANO to Pub date really was.
And here it is:
Kat’s NANOWRIMO Reality Breakdown:
NANOWRIMO – November 1- 30, 2010 = Doggy Draft done (Doggy because, you know, it was rough-rough)
(Put manuscript away for several months, then go back and revise. Repeat.)
June, 2011 = First 50 pages are critiqued by Alvina Ling at the NJSCBWI Summer conference. I am asked to submit the entire manuscript.
(I DO NOT submit! I keep revising.)
August, 2011 Bring manuscript to SCBWI Summer Conference in LA, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE is nominated for the Sue Alexander Award
(But, they are only reading the very first few chapters, I remind myself. I put the manuscript away and revise for another year.)
September, 2012 Submit to agents, sign with the awesome Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary
(Do one round of smaller revisions with my agent before submitting to editors)
November, 2012 THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE goes to auction and is won by the lovely Alvina Ling
(I put it away again until I receive my editorial letter. Then go through several rounds of revision with my editor and copy editors. The last several moths, it is mostly finessing and copy editing.)
October, 2014 FINAL 2nd pass queries are finally finished
(Weep. Pass out.)
January 27, 2015 Publication Date.
This is only my very own personal novel journey — wrought with my own personal revision and writerly needs. Perhaps yours will take less time. And perhaps, more. Whichever way it goes, I wish you happy writing and revising.
And do I recommend NANOWRIMO? Absolutely.
After all, I did write a novel in one month. One month, four years, and a few weeks…
Kat grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing, while writing children’s books in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water every day and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. Her debut middle grade novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE comes out January 27, 2015 Visit Kat on Twitter @yehface
You can order a copy here: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316236621