This has nothing to do with Pitch Wars. I want to set that straight right off the bat. I love my PW manuscript with the fiery passion of a thousand supernovas, even though I’ve read it and rewritten it so many times I’ve lost track. No, this is the story of another book I wrote, and it’s about self-analysis and having reasonable expectations. Continue reading
Last November I did my best to work through my NaNoWriMo novel. By the end of November I was just this side of disgusted with it, put it away, and decided not to take the February pledge to finish it. That was a first for me; I’ve always pushed ahead to finish my NaNo books before even when I felt they were only so-so.
Last night I pulled up the pages on Scrivener, chose a random chapter, and started reading. Guess what? I thought it was pretty damn good after all. The problem with the novel isn’t the story itself, it’s the story-within-a-story framing that doesn’t seem to work. I can take the inside story and write that by itself, and I do believe it will be a nifty little murder mystery. Once that’s done I can go back and revisit the framing and see if it needs the modern-day layer or if the 1940s story is better off on its own.
I started the novel from a single concept: a long-dead actress is destined to rest uneasily, unless she can convince a seemingly unrelated group of people to put their heads together to solve her murder. Some pieces of the modern-day story are lovely, but I might be able to weave those in without the extra complication of three sets of year 2000 characters converging.
I like ghost stories. Actually I love them, and love writing ghosts. Now that I’m warming up to revising this one, though, I might leave the ghost angle out (for the most part, I can’t make any promises about doing it for good because ghosts are too much fun to write). I can always save that part for another day.
To work! Signing off now, with much love to one and all.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… when I can look back at November and decide whether or not the story I worked on every day for 30 days is worth its weight at all, or if it’s a load of rubbish that I need to chuck into the nearest bin (or desk drawer, or digital filing cabinet).
When the clock struck December I had about 57,000 words and a whole lot of disgruntlement. I mean, I was glad to have accomplished what I did, but the novel feels wrong. Like it’s off balance. I shared the first chapter with my critique group (by the way, everyone should have one of those! They keep you honest and on your toes*) and had that very same feeling of the voice being off-kilter confirmed.
I had no defense. I knew it was crap. But it was also a completely unedited first draft, one I hadn’t looked back at since November 2 when I finished that chapter. I know the strength in NaNoWriMo involves turning off our inner editor and simply letting the words flow. Last year I had no trouble with that. The year before, I had no trouble with that. But this year? Wow. I fought hard for every one of those 57,000 words… and it shows.
The novel has the working title The House on the Hill and the description is as follows: A long-dead actress is destined to rest uneasily… unless she can convince a seemingly unrelated group of people to put their heads together to solve her murder. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and during the course of those 30 days I made a lot of new fictional friends I never knew existed before. The format ended up being a story within a story, taking place at two different points in time. I really loved the past part of the story, but the present seems forced. So I’m going to shelve it for now, even though I know whodunit and how they whodunit, although I haven’t written that part yet. Maybe I’ll get back to it, but I have the distinct feeling that not all books are meant to be written.
In the meantime, today I remembered an idea I had for a novel I wanted to write, and realized this is the one I should have worked on for NaNoWriMo. Tonight, I started on it. I don’t know if this will be THE ONE or more fodder for the recycle bin, but I’ll find out. Check with me in a month or two.
* Are you a writer living in the East Bay? If you are, let’s talk.
I mentioned on Twitter that I’m missing my dad, particularly at this time of year. He took such pride in my nightly word count recaps. He was a writer, in his younger days, and always regretted not following up on a few leads he had. He used to ask what agents were looking for these days. I would tell him I’d let him know when I found out.
I haven’t found out yet, but I haven’t been actively querying. November is a time for creating something new. I’ve had mixed feelings about my work-in-progress, but it’s fun and even if it took a good two-plus weeks to start picking up steam, so be it. At first I spent a lot of time questioning having a story-within-a-story like I do, but the more I tried not to have it there, the more reluctant I got to write.
I’ve written mystery before. My first published short story was a noir detective story called The Case of the Bloodstone Dragon. It’s in Dragonthology from Untold Press. I will forever be grateful to the folks there for believing enough in my work to publish it. I almost called it The Curse of the Bloodstone Dragon, but I didn’t have enough room to go into the history of the curse itself. Maybe some day!
With this November novel, I’ve gone from horror/supernatural to mystery, which is a much better fit. Just because something features a ghost doesn’t mean it’s got to be classified under horror. Mystery it is. Right now it’s called The House on the Hill, which isn’t particularly innovative. I’ll change that up once it’s done. Today it sits at just a smidge over 45,000 words and I’m so happy to have come this far. I will definitely meet the NaNo word count, but I also know it needs to be almost twice as long as it is now.
First drafts, I always say, are for barfing out all the details. Revision passes are for deciding what stays and what goes, but all the words in this manuscript are ones I need to know. Even if nobody else ever sees them, I still need the backstory and background.
I’m having fun not censoring myself. Once November has run its course I’m sure I’ll be knee-deep in revisions, back to my regular critique group, back to the three or four novels I have that I’m still finessing…and this one.
So far I’ve:
– written about 24000 words
– changed the genre from horror/supernatural to mystery
– met a lot of characters I had no idea existed
– discovered I was writing a story-within-a-story
– had a few “aha” moments where the connections became clear
– had an equal number of “uh-oh” moments where I decided I didn’t like a thing I was writing
– reminded myself time and again that this is just a first draft.
I don’t have to finish this book, but I want to. The thing about NaNoWriMo for me is that it’s an exercise in keeping on keeping on. Are words for the sake of words really worth the effort? I won’t know until I finish a first draft, reread, and then decide. Until the end of the month, I’ll keep on writing.
…once again, I had a sudden epiphany late last night and decided to write a different story from the one I had planned. I hope this inspiration I got was the right one. Anyway, I’ve started and while I can’t say there’s no turning back, I think I like what I have on this first day. It’s something I’d intended to work on last year, but got sideswiped by a different story at the last minute. Maybe I should stop thinking I know what I’m going to write until November 1 from now on.
Good luck and happy writing to those of you racing against the calendar with me. Good luck and happy writing to those of you who are not! I cheer for all of you.
Over on Twitter, a friend asked if I had any tips for a first-time NaNoWriMo participant. This will be my third year doing NaNo, which hardly makes me an expert. It does help me learn a few things about myself and my writing process, and the ways I can push myself to take advantage of the sparkling creativity that’s so easy to brush to the floor most of the time!
That’s my purple-prose way of saying here are the tips I shared.
- Treat writing like a job. I get up in the morning, get dressed like I’m going to work, and sit down and write for two hours. There are a million ways to put off writing – that’s why I do mine first thing in the morning. That way I can procrastinate on all the other things in my life…once I’ve made my word count.
- I set my own word count goals. To complete a NaNo “novel” the goal is 1667 words a day, but we all know a 50k novel is a little on the short side. If you want a longer first draft, up your word count goal. It’s not as difficult as it seems! When all else fails, I look at my writing as a series of 100 words at a time. I can write those all day long, so doing 20 of them is not a big deal.
- Don’t stop and edit. Just write, every day. The goal is to come up with a first draft, not a finished novel. That’s what the rest of the year is for.
- If you can find a cheerleader willing to read your words every day or week, that’s a great way to motivate yourself to keep going. Not a critique partner, just a cheerleader who’ll tell you they love your work and can’t wait to read more.
- Peruse at least one of the forums on the site, either in your age group or genre, but don’t let it suck up all your time. (Don’t be cowed by the people who claim to have huge word count achievements! I’ve seen people say they got to 50k words the first day. To each their own.)
- A lot of people approach NaNo as if it’s going to consume their every waking moment for the whole month. I’ve never found this to be true: I get my stuff done, then have a perfectly normal life the other 22 hours of the day. (The hype around being too busy at NaNo to do anything but eat badly and leave the house a mess is just that, hype. We’re writers. We know that 1667 words a day is absolutely achievable. In fact, this post is already over 350 words. We write in prolific ways all the time without stopping to count!)
- The one thing NaNo does for me (besides let me tell stories I don’t plot out or go into with much more than vague ideas most of the time) is get me into the habit of daily writing. In my case I don’t sustain it for the other 11 months of the year, but I do use that time for editing and helping my critique partners and for writing queries and loglines, summaries and tip sheets.
That’s about it. Not too bad, right? If you’re going to try to write a complete first draft in a month, be sure to take deep breaths and appreciate yourself for your word count output in November! Good luck! I’m an excellent cheerleader if anyone needs one. Add me to your buddy list and then drop me a line. I’ll be sure to return the favor.
If you have any tips to add, I’d love to hear them. What works for you doing NaNo?