Interview with Keris Stainton

With only 7 days to go until the start of this year’s NaNoWriMo, I interviewed YA author Keris Stainton about her NaNo experiences.
Keris Stainton’s first book for young adults, Della Says: OMG!, came out in May. Her second, set in New York, is due out next summer. Born in Canada and brought up on the Wirral, Keris now lives in Lancashire with her husband and two sons. Keris has also written for publications as diverse as Practical Parenting, Scarlet and The Daily Mail, and co-founded the young adult books blog, Chicklish.

Hi Keris. Tell us a bit about your history with NaNoWriMo – how you first heard about it, how many times you’ve done it, what success you’ve had with it.

I can’t actually remember where I first heard about it. I think maybe it was through the novelist Lani Diane Rich, who I’ve known online for a while and who wrote her first book during NaNo. I first did it in 2004 and I’ve done it five times since. The book that I wrote during NaNo 2005 got me an agent and my book deal. I wrote the first draft of my new novel (it comes out July 2011) for NaNo last year.

What is it about frantically trying to write 50,000 words in one month that attracts you?!

The focus. I can waste months faffing and procrastinating, but I can’t do that with NaNo, I have to knuckle down and get on with it. You can’t spend time ‘researching’ (i.e. fannying about on the internet) or going over and over the same sentence/paragraph/chapter. Basically you just have to write. And write and write. And do a little bit of weeping, but then pull yourself together and write some more. Plus it’s magical. Things start happening in the story that hadn’t occurred to me. Connections are made and it’s just amazing.

I read somewhere that you only do first drafts during NaNo month. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I don’t only do them during NaNo, but that’s my preferred time to do them, particularly for YA books because the word count is perfect. An adult book needs to be 80k minimum, whereas YA can be between 35-45k so once I’ve given the NaNo draft a good edit/rewrite, I’ve got a good chance of having a finished book. That’s what happened with my next book, Jessie ♥ NYC. I wrote the first draft during NaNo last year and then left it for months. I was quite nervous that it would need a lot of work and I did cut it down to about 25k, but I still had the bones of the book and it didn’t take very long to finish it.

How much preparation do you do in advance? character profiles, vague idea of what the story will be about?

Not much. I only have a very vague idea of characters and plot. I do usually have a setting and will do a bit of research on that to save time during November. For instance, this year I know that a girl named Rachel works in a castle and a boy (no name yet) comes to the castle to make a film. I know a bit about Rachel’s family, but that’s all. So far I’ve googled the area and got an Usborne book of Castles from the library. Just like Jonathan Franzen probably… doesn’t.

What advice can you offer others doing NaNo?

Set yourself a limit of 2000 words each day (you have to do 1667 to hit the target) and if you’re on a roll when you get to 2000 (honestly, it does happen sometimes) keep going – there’ll be days when you can’t manage any words at all, so you should catch ’em while you can. Make a spreadsheet for the word count – I find it really helpful to see how far behind I am and it’s very satisfying if and when you manage to catch up. And don’t worry if you don’t manage 50k – even if you only do 1000 words, it’s still 1000 words you didn’t have at the beginning of the month.

Best of luck for this year’s NaNo frenzy, Keris, and thanks for popping over to Winning Words!

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