I first discovered National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo or the Month of No Sleeping) in October of 2002, and was immediately drawn to the challenge. I’d written one novel-length project prior to this, much more slowly! Despite having both a seven-year-old and a two-year-old in the house, I was determined to succeed, and managed (mostly by way of getting up an hour early every morning and stumbling, bleary-eyed, to the computer) to write the requisite number of words. I did not get to “The End” of that first NaNoWriMo novel, but I was thrilled to have written that much.
I was pumped to participate again in 2003, which is when (using the same strategy) I wrote the first draft of a science fiction novel I titled One`s Aspect to the Sun. One significant difference that year was that I achieved two things—I wrote the 50,000+ words, and I wrote “The End.” I had a first draft with a complete story arc.
It was, as are all NaNoWriMo novels, only a first draft. I’m a discovery writer, not an outliner, and I tend to write what Stephen King calls the “all-story draft,” which is a fairly straight-line, plot-driven, beginning-middle-end, sparse in description or embellishment. But with a complete first draft—complete being understood as different from finished—I had something to work with. I put the draft aside for several months, and when I re-read it later, I still liked it. I felt that the story had good bones, and I liked the characters who inhabited it.
With two young children and plenty of other commitments, I didn’t sit down to work on a rewrite until later in 2004. I had decided that I’d enter the manuscript in a regional competition for unpublished work. I made several passes through the manuscript, focusing first on strengthening the plot, then the characters, and finally on polishing the language. I enlisted a couple of trusted proofreaders to check my work, and sent the manuscript off. Then I waited.
Waiting figures largely in the history of the manuscript over the next several years! Almost a year later, the competition results came back—my novel had been awarded second place, which was very encouraging. The judges’ feedback gave me guidance for another rewrite of the novel, and I set to work adding an entirely new subplot and substantially changing and enhancing the character relationships. The manuscript by this time had grown to about 70,000 words. After a lot of reading and research, I thought it was time to query agents.
Remember that “waiting” I mentioned? By the time I had gathered a collection of form letters, almost-form letters, and one phone call with an agent who said (only marginally helpfully) that the manuscript was “not quite ready,” it was 2008. I took stock. I still believed in the story and the characters. (In the intervening years I’d done NaNoWriMo faithfully every year, and written one sequel to One’s Aspect to the Sun.) It was time for another rewrite!
This time the manuscript expanded to 81,000 words. I submitted queries directly to publishers, and had one request to send the full manuscript. FINALLY! I sent it off with high hopes.
And got a request for a rewrite. I did that.
By now it was 2012. I’d had correspondence with that publisher over the course of those years—but with one delay and another I finally decided that it was time to withdraw the manuscript. That was a difficult decision! But I felt that a publisher who was really excited about the story would have moved on it by that time.
On an impulse I queried an editor who had read the manuscript years previously and now headed her own small press. The reply came within fifteen minutes—she would very much like to read the manuscript again.
That was Margaret Curelas of Tyche Books, and after one more rewrite, One’s Aspect to the Sun was accepted for publication. The time from that submission to publication will be just sixteen months. It will go on sale in early November this year, exactly ten years after I wrote the first draft.
Ten years! I used to wonder how it could take ten years to get a novel published, and now I know. Busy lives, many rewrites, a slow-moving publishing industry, and personal decisions all play a part. Once you find the right editor, things can move quickly. Getting to that point can take a while.
The important things to take away from my story, I think, are these: finish the novel, either during NaNoWriMo or as soon as you can afterward, while your momentum is high. Be willing to rewrite and revise—once, twice, ten times if necessary. Until you are sick of reading it, but will still read it again if that’s what it takes to get it right. Listen to feedback, from friends, fellow writers, editors, agents—wherever you can get it. And don’t give up on a story you love. With determination, hard work, and maybe just a little bit of luck, you will find it a home.
About Sherry D. Ramsey
Sherry D. Ramsey is a speculative fiction writer, web & indie publisher, jewelry-maker and self-confessed internet geek. She lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, two children, and two dogs, where the rest of the family is also creative in various ways.
She interacts with fellow members of the species Homo scriptor through the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, SF Canada, and other workshops and writing groups both online and off.