NaNoWriMo helped author Kat Zhang finish her first-ever novel; although it wasn’t the novel that she went on to publish, the experience proved to her that she could accomplish the improbable.
At the age of nineteen, she sold her first young-adult novel to HarperCollins. What’s Left of Me, the first book in the Hybrid Chronicles, tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl struggling to survive in a world where two souls are born into each body and one is doomed to disappear. You can watch What’s Left of Me’s thrilling trailer here.
Did I mention that she wrote the first draft during her senior year of high school? Read on for her advice on juggling NaNoWriMo with the hectic pace of November life:
What was it like writing your first NaNo novel? Is it a story you will come back to?
Well, when I first found out about NaNoWriMo, I’d never finished a novel, though I’d been telling myself I wanted to be a published author since I was twelve. I’m very much a perfectionist, and NaNo was the best thing for me, letting me shut up my inner editor and just get the words onto the page.
I “won” NaNo that first year but didn’t finish the book until halfway through NaNo the following year (it was quite the monster at 140,000 words!). Being my first-ever finished novel, it wasn’t quite up to publishing standards, but I learned a ton from it, and just finishing that book changed my perspective on writing so much.
Any tips on how to reach the 50,000 word finish line for people struggling in Week Two?
- Don’t let yourself fall further and further behind! Some people seem to be able to get into a hole, and then knock out 20,000 words in a day, but for me, setting daily goals to catch up through is so much less intimidating than cowering in front of my entire deficit.
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. The goal isn’t to write the next great American (or whatever country you’re from!) novel. It’s to write 50,000 words. And don’t let anyone tell you that’s not a big accomplishment in and of itself!
- Get buddies involved who will motivate you.
How has NaNo shaped you as a writer?
It’s changed the way I draft. I’m much more free with myself. I allow myself to write “crap,” knowing that 1) bad writing is better than no writing, 2) often the “bad writing” isn’t as bad as you feel it is while writing it.
The premise of your book floored me immediately. What inspired your novel?
I don’t have a super interesting story to tell about how I came up with the idea for What’s Left of Me, unfortunately! I just started wondering one day—everyone has a bit of an internal monologue going at times; what if that little voice in the back of your head was a real person? What would it be like to live trapped in your own body? That was how the idea for Eva, the main character, began, and the rest of the story grew around her.
Tell us about your book trailer. What is it like to see your words translated to the screen?
I actually love book trailers, and I adore mine. There’s the fear that live-action ones can be a little cheesy, but MainStay did such a fantastic job, I think. It’s storytelling in a different medium, and sometimes a short trailer can grab someone’s attention faster and more readily than a blurb.
The trailer is especially close to me because the team at Harper was kind enough to hire MainStayPro after I asked for them. I’d first heard of MainStay through their ridiculously cool Hunger Game short films, so I contacted them in hopes that they’d be interested in doing a trailer for the book. Luckily for me, John loved it, and I love the wonderful job the whole team—especially the actresses Stefania (older Addie/Eva) and Juliette (younger Addie/Eva) did!
What’s Left of Me was released on September 18, 2012. Are there any surprising or funny stories from your book launch?
My head was so in the clouds. I wrote “Happy Launch” in one poor girl’s book instead of “Happy reading,” and just couldn’t manage to spell this other girl’s name no matter how many times she spelled it out for me. But it was so much fun!
You were only 19 years old when you sold the Hybrid Chronicles. How is your life different now from before you were published? What advice would you give to the young writers tackling their novels right now?
It was amazing! In many ways, my life is the same—I’m still a college student, I have midterms, etc. But I also get to do panels at book festivals, and travel to do school visits, and signings, and such, all of which I love so much. It’s a balance, and while I love the publishing world and the things that happen after the book deal, at the end of the day, my main job as a writer is still just to write the next book.
This is true for aspiring writers as well. Focus on the writing you’re doing now. Keep writing, because it’s what you love. Do your research about the industry, but try not to stress about it too much, and only after November! There’s a lot about the business that’s outside of your control, but what you can control is your own writing—that’s your skill. Hone it.
How’s your novel going so far? Who would you cast in a book trailer for your characters?