Tag Archives: novels


November is National Novel Writing Month, better known to the cognoscenti as NaNoWriMo. During NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel. That’s a lot of words. If you write every day, it’s 1,666 words per day. If you want your prose to be flawless, you probably won’t succeed, which is why the organizers have established rules to help you.

The NaNoWriMo rules say that you are not to edit, delete, or otherwise second-guess yourself. You can’t go back and revise; you have to keep moving forward. The idea is to free yourself of any writing-related activities that will slow you down. You’re supposed to let your imagination do its thing. NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. As a matter of fact, if your imagination refuses to do anything, the organizers suggest you copy the phone book just to keep the words flowing.

At the end of the month, you submit your document to their word count gonkulator, and it verifies that you’ve met or exceeded the goal of 50,000 words. Success means you’ve “won” NaNoWriMo, for which the only prize is a PDF that says as much, and bragging rights.

The year the contest was created, 1999, 21 hardy souls participated. The next year, there were 150. By the third year the number had climbed to 5,000 and by 2009 there were over 167,000 registered writers. The number of people who actually “win” is much lower. In 2009, the last year for which numbers are available, only 19% won.

I am one of those people for whom NaNoWriMo works like a charm. To write without listening to the critical voices in my head is beyond liberating. I know I’ll need to go back and do some serious editing when the month is over, but that prospect is far less daunting to me than facing a blank page. The fascinating thing is that I need NaNoWriMo to give me permission to behave in a certain way. I’ve registered and “won” NaNoWriMo twice, this will be my third time.

As I observed at the beginning, 50,000 words is a lot of words. Fortunately for me, Young Adult novels tend to run from 45 to 55,000 words. I was able to write the bulk of the first draft of my first YA novel during last year’s NaNoWriMo, a feat I hope to repeat this year.

Meanwhile, I have written almost 400 words for this blog post. If I used this as the beginning of my NaNoWriMo writing for the day, I’d only have 1,200 or so words to go, but it’s far too early in the game to be stuck for words so I’m going to wait a while. If my imagination takes a vacation, I’ll insert a blog post into the middle of the novel. At least I won’t have to copy the phone book.


Slush piles

To the average person, the term ‘slush pile’ brings to mind a mound of wet, mushy snow. Aspiring novelists know it as the place where unsolicited manuscripts are tossed to languish, until their pages yellow and turn brittle. There are, however, people in publishing, or so I’m told, who peruse the slush pile, driven by the desire to be there at the start of something wonderful.

I’ve never worked, in an editorial capacity, with a slush pile of manuscripts, but I have had to work through daunting piles of things at various times in my career. I’ve gone through hundreds of resumes to find candidates worthy of deeper scrutiny; I’ve listened to oodles of songs to divine the ones the public would embrace, to play on the radio; and I’ve sifted through piles of books, looking for the ones that interested me enough to invite the author to appear on my fledgling cable television show.

To prepare for that show, I would read the book and research the author. The more I knew going into the interview, the more fluid the conversation would be. I made up more questions than I could possibly hope to use in half an hour, even if every answer was mono-syllabic. In the end, if the author seemed to enjoy themselves, I considered the show a success.

The other day, I watched the movie, The Soloist. It’s about an LA Times columnist, Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.), and the homeless musician, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) that he befriends. I was moved by the movie and went on to watch the extras on the DVD. One of them was an interview with the real Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers. All of a sudden a light bulb went off, and I thought, “Steve Lopez? I know that name.” I rushed to my bookcase and there it was, Third and Indiana, by Steve Lopez. A quick check of the author’s bio confirmed that it was the same man, and the inscription on the title page indicated that he’d enjoyed the time he’d spent with me on my talk show.

Now, I am not claiming that that interview, aired on a local cable access channel many years ago, helped Steve Lopez sell any books. Nonetheless, in that moment, I felt inordinately proud of him. As if, by picking Third and Indiana out of my own ‘slush pile,’ I had discovered someone talented and destined for success.

For the sake of my own future success, I hope the desire for that feeling of pride will continue to compel even the most jaded editors to slog through their slush piles, and one day discover me.