It was a pleasure to interview YA author Susan Dennard about her experience with NaNoWriMo and plotting trilogies! Check out the interview below reblogged from the Office of Letters and Light Blog.
Camp NaNoWriMo is gearing up for July, and many of you are already hard at work storming up ideas. Are you ambitiously planning on writing a trilogy, perhaps? Well, Susan Dennard published her debut young adult novel Something Strange and Deadly, the first in an intriguing trilogy blending historical fiction, horror, romance, and mystery, and on July 23, the sequel, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, will hit shelves. Read on to learn how Susan used three years of NaNoWriMo to master her trilogy:
How did NaNoWriMo help you draft your novels?
It’s so easy to put writing off—even for books on deadline—but there’s something about knowing that I’ll start on x-date, work like a madwoman until x-date, and then finish with 50K that really helps me hunker down. I also think the sheer insanity and support that other writers bring to the whole NaNo-experience really helps keep me motivated, even after that first week when my productivity always wants to flag.
How has your NaNo experience been different each year you wrote a book in your trilogy?
I’ve definitely become a better writer as each year passes—meaning less of the words I hammer out get trashed. The first year I did NaNo in 2009 with Something Strange and Deadly, I wrote a truly dreadful novel. But it was also one of my very first complete novels. Throughout the year I spent revising the book, I learned a lot about writing.
The next year, I again wrote a dreadful first draft, but in year three, I wrote a halfway-decent first draft. In fact, much of what readers will find in A Darkness Strange and Lovely is simply a polished-up NaNo novel. Each book I write is stronger because I’ve grown so much as an author!
Did you make many writer or industry connections through NaNoWriMo?
Oh yes—especially in 2012! Author Beth Revis invited me and several other YA authors to participate in a NaNo forum thread that allowed Wrimos to ask published authors any and all questions. It was a great way to meet other writers!
Then, fellow author Sarah J. Maas and I started hosting something we called #NaNoWriMoBattle. These were 30-minute writing sprints that we held every day on Twitter. Many authors, published and aspiring alike, started following along with us. It was so much fun and so productive that we continued doing it after NaNo. We call it the #BAMFWordBattle now, and we try to host them pretty regularly.
Tell us more about your post-NaNo revisions.
I always revise enormously after every first draft. That’s just part of writing. Fortunately, I really love revising (I have an entire guide to it on my blog!), so it’s always exciting for me to finish a draft and then hunker down to turn a draft into a “real book.” Usually I’ll finish NaNo with my 50,000, but since that’s not a full novel, I’ll write around 40,000 more. Then, I inevitably start revising early in the next year.
But all that said, I think it’s easy for new writers to think revising is scary or not any fun. This is so not true! And, no matter what you might feel about revising, it’s absolutely not a step you can skip. No published author would ever hand in an unrevised manuscript to their editor, and no unpublished author can expect to get published without a truly polished book.
The key is to make revisions manageable and fun, and you do that by breaking it down into “bite-size” chunks and working toward a clear end goal. For example, if you know your characters aren’t as dark as you want them to be (darker characters = your goal), then as you work through each scene (bite-size chunks), you layer in more darkness.
What was it like plotting an entire series?
Hard! So many threads would appear with each new book, and then I was left writing the last book and wrapping up all those threads. I’m not much of an outliner—I prefer to write by the seat of my pants—and while that worked well for the first two books in my series, when I hit book three, I realized I would need to be more structured. Otherwise, I’d forget to tie up some important plot points.
Any tips on publishing your novel?
Publishing is a rapidly changing industry, and there are so many new and exciting ways for writers to get their work out there. That said, the rules for traditional publishing tend to stay the same. So many people just “set out to get published” with no idea what that really entails. Do your research! There are so many amazing online resources to help the aspiring author navigate the various steps, from dealing with revisions to writing a query letter to getting an agent.
There is no easy way to get a book deal, but if you dream big, work really hard, and never give up, then you can definitely reach your goals! Trust me: if naive ol’ me from NaNo 2009 could get published, then I have no doubt all of you can too!
Susan Dennard is a 28-year-old reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She used to be a marine biologist, but now writes novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues. She lives in the Midwestern US with her French husband and Irish setter.
Keep up with Susan: