Preparing for NaNoWriMo at Litquake

Like last year, Litquake, San Francisco’s 17-year-old literary festival, held an insightful panel on The Art of the Novel this past Saturday.

The panel provided an inspiring push to prepare for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) next month. As I plan to write my first NaNoWriMo novel in less than two weeks, I attended the panel and found the following as key takeaways. NaNoWriMo’s own Grant Faulkner moderated Ramona Ausubel, Jan Ellison, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Ellen Sussman, and Gina Frangello with a series of engaging questions to help the writers in attendance learn from the panelists. I found the following talking points inspiring or helpful in my journey towards NaNoWriMo. If you want to learn more, leave me a comment below or reach out to the individual panelists on Twitter or Facebook.

“The novel is the barometer of the health of our culture.”
— Grant Faulkner

Any secrets to writing a novel?

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
— W. Somerset Maugham

Grant asked each panelist to pretend to know one of those secrets.

  • Write the first draft as fast as possible
    — Ramona
  • Your subconscious is smarter than you are so give it permission to make mistakes, to have fun! “Find discoveries that surprise us on every page!”
    — Ellen
  • Don’t share the first draft with anyone.
    — Ellen
  • The rules and secrets are different for everyone; the only way to find yours is to just write.
    — Sarah

How do you approach characterization in your novels?

“Character is plot, plot is character.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Characters may be ideas but not necessarily stories.
    — Ramona
  • I took an acting workshop. When challenged to act out my character without words, I did and the plots just came out!
    — Sarah
  • Always be willing to ask why this story is being told by the character telling it.
    — Gina
  • Writing a scene is like acting in that you’re living out your characters. Stay away from analysis or getting intellectual. Put the characters on the page as viscerally as you can and let your characters decide for you.
    — Ellen

How do you approach research for a novel?

  • I don’t do any until the first draft of the novel is over. Don’t let research get in the way [of where you can take your own story].
    — Ellen
  • For my novel, I needed to learn about a character with cystic fibrosis who was born in 1968. This is hard because most people with that condition born back then have not survived. I still did my research but most of it ended up on the cutting room floor.
    — Gina
  • As a counterpoint to Ellen, a research tangent could help you find the real plot.
    — Jan

Can you discuss revising a novel?

  • I encourage all aspiring writers to expose themselves to works in progress via critique groups and writing partners. Works in progress are quite different from the finished, polished material you see in bookstores.
    — Gina
  • There is no such thing as wasted time. We all learn from failed novels.
    — Gina
  • One revision approach is to change character genders, the setting, even time periods across drafts. This solidifies your choices and makes it your story.
    — Ramona
  • Per Anne Lammott’s advice in Bird by Bird, keep a writer’s journal. Having one helps you see how you got through past blocks and found your way here.
    — Sarah

Any other words of wisdom for writing a novel?

  • “No time writing is ever wasted.”
    — Sarah
  • Give yourself breaks to nourish your creativity and consider other forms of writing.
    — Sarah
  • I have enough voices in my head telling me I suck, I don’t need more voices telling me I suck. Protect yourself in a bubble during that fragile first draft.
    — Ellen

 

Thank you Litquake for another marvelous panel and see you in 2017!