Ten Years After The First Rough Draft
A decade ago I "won" NaNoWriMo by finishing an extremely rough draft of my first book. Here's how it set me up to become a published author.
I have something a little different for you today. There are a few evolving essays in the works for the Essay Series that I’m excited to share with you, but I’m also in the final days of trying to finish my current book draft before I send it off to my editor. I’m not sleeping much, and I need to devote all my time to my book this week, so I can’t spend the ten or so hours it would take to finish one of those posts. I thought, in preparation for my big writing push, that I would record another little talk for you instead.
It’s now been almost exactly ten years since I first made it all the way through NaNoWriMo in 2013 to produce an extremely rough draft of what would become my first book, The Oyster War. I know, ten years?? What?? In honor of that anniversary, I figured it might be interesting or useful to talk with you about that process a little bit.
The last chance to subscribe to A Writer’s Notebook for $30 per year ends after November 30th—don’t miss it!
Because it is easier and faster to talk than it is to write (in theory at least) I decided to record this somewhat discursive talk for you. In it I discuss the process of deciding on the subject for my first book, my attempts at writing a book proposal, getting an agent, and my experience of going from a person who had just finished NaNoWriMo with a truly shitty first draft to someone holding their published book. I also get a little bit into how to craft narrative nonfiction stories, and how this writing process must inherently differ from that of writing fiction. I talk about my experience of hiring someone (a New Yorker staff writer) to consult on my proposal before sending it out to agents, the process of choosing an agent and going out on submission, and what became of the material from that first ever shitty rough draft. (Spoiler alert, part of it ended up here.) The style is relaxed and conversational, since I wasn’t reading from notes or a prepared lesson. Also, since I’m exhausted, my California Girl patois is quite strong here (“like, um, you know”), but I hope you find it interesting and/or helpful nonetheless! (Future audio will be better, I promise!) Paid subscribers can also listen to this as a podcast.
The resulting book, The Oyster War: The True Story of a Small Farm, Big Politics, and the Future of Wilderness in America, was a finalist for the Orion Book Award and the Northern California Book Award, and so, as truly garbage as that first draft was, the book turned out okay!