Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Five Things I Learned While (Accidentally) Winning #NaNoWriMo

"I did not win NaNoWriMo this year. I failed to write 50,000 words in 30 days."

Those were the words I wrote on Day 27 of NaNo. And then I accidentally ended up winning. (I’ll explain below, I promise)

This is how the month of November went:

I was on track until the last week of November, and then things started to slide. Rapidly. Downhill into a mucky pile of slop.

Here are the highlights of what I learned this month:

My voice is young

I don’t mean that I need to grow up, or that my writing needs more time to mature. (Though I certainly grow as a writer with every story I write) What I mean here is that my voice itself is better suited to young adult novels than it is to adult novels.

This year I wrote an adult psychological thriller. My previous novels have been young adult novels with some sort of fantasy or paranormal element.

It was a struggle. I couldn’t find the right tone for this story. Every time I would look back over my words, it felt wrong. Like my main character was trying to revert to her high school self. It was my voice as a writer that was the trouble.

This is pretty important. Figuring out what I should be focusing my energy on as a writer is a big deal. I may come back to this story at some point, but for now, adult novels are not my thing.

I should trust my instincts

Before I started really outlining this story, I thought the captive was my main character.

*Backs up, realizing that sentence makes no sense, as you haven’t read the novel*

The story I wrote this month is about the relationship between two women. One who was taken and held captive by a serial killer. The other woman is the psychiatrist that ends up working with her after her rescue.

Initially, I wanted to tell this story from the point of view of the captive. But I realized she had some big secrets that I didn’t want the reader to have access to until late in the story. So I wrote the story from the perspective of the psychiatrist.

This made the secrets work, but only added to the voice issues I already mentioned. The captive is twenty-one. The psychiatrist is twenty-nine. Not a monstrous age difference, but the experience and maturity levels are vastly different.

Around the 40,000 word mark, I realized I would have been far more successful telling this story from the captive’s point of view. There were ways to work around the secrets. Unreliable narrator, anyone?

Families are time-consuming

The week of Thanksgiving was my downfall. Time was stolen. Partly by my job, but more by family invading my house and setting up camp.

It’s very hard to justify sneaking away and writing when there are guests in your house that you only see a few times a year.

I may be able to take off my pants

That sounds incredibly wrong.

I’m okay with it.

I am a pantser. If you are not familiar with that term, it is one of the two main camps of writers. Plotters plan out their novels before they begin to write, sometimes have outlines that are dozens (!) of pages long. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They may have nothing more than a nugget of an idea, or a single character when they begin writing.

I pantsed my previous novels. I had a beginning in mind, and a shadow of what the ending would be. I wrote. (The endings were not what I imagined they would be when I started)

For this novel, I actually plotted. Not dozens of pages. But I had sketches of the big blocks of my novel. I knew how the novel would end. (Surprise- it still changed as I wrote- clearly I will never see the ending coming until I get there)

The sketches I had were very loose. They gave me a hint of what was coming next, but still left me lots of room for my characters to make choices and nudge the story in directions I didn’t see coming.

I am actually excited to jump into my next project and start plotting. GASP!!

It’s okay to walk away from a project

This is a big one. I am a finisher. I commit to something, I start it, I see it through to the end.

Stopping a project after investing 30 days and over 40,000 words makes me a little bit nauseated. But it won’t kill me.

I have limited writing hours. I am committed to making this a career, to being published. That means I have to choose my writing battles. I need to devote my time to projects that are going to move me forward.

Right now, this novel is not moving me forward. I learned from it. I may come back to it later. But right now, it is not the book for me.

(This is #6, I know- but this is the explainy bit) Internal editors are sneaky

At the start of Day 27, I was under 40,000 words. I was around five thousand words below the the taunting target line of NaNo. I knew this book was not “the one.” I had learned important stuff.

I knew my writing time for those last four days was limited, and that there was really no way I was going to get to 50K. This novel was not pouring out of me at anything close to a rapid pace.

So I quit. I decided I was done with NaNo for this year. I wrote the first five sections of this blog post. I was ready to move on.

Then I thought, eh, I’ll keep going with this story for the next few days, just until the end of the month. I’m not really sure how it ends. (yes, I had the ending I plotted, but I didn’t think that was really what the characters were going to do) I was curious. Who kills who in the end? (By the way, the person I thought was dead at the end was indeed dead. But the killer was not who I thought)

I wrote over seven thousand words in two days. Suddenly I was back up at the line. It was no longer lingering tauntingly on a horizon I would never reach.

I thought I had good control of my internal editor. I have learned to let her have her say (I simply switch over to bold and let her spew right there in the manuscript- it still counts as words, and I have any valid points she might make to work with later). But apparently there was still some bit of me that was judging what I wrote, holding me back.

The simple act of saying “I am done with this project, none of these words matter” freed me in a way I didn’t expect.

Now to figure out how to harness that mental freedom while writing a book that I still love and have hopes for…. Off to my next project!

Monday, November 21, 2016

#NaNoWriMo Week 3 AKA The Pit of Despair

Hello, my name is Susan. It is the end of week 3 of NaNoWriMo and I hate my novel.

Okay, that’s not really true. I don’t HATE it. But we are in the super awkward, I don’t want to write you anymore, but I committed to you, so I am forced to spend time with you, phase.

I am mostly sure this novel is going to be buried in a trunk of despair on December 1st. I will take that trunk to a lake and drop it in, even if it means drilling through a layer of ice to get to the water.

*Takes a deep breath. Blows it out. Regroups.*

This is my battle every day at this point. I want to quit. But I don’t quit easily. I am convinced this novel is one I will not revise. But I can’t actually know for sure until I finish the dang thing and give it at least a month away from my brain to rest.

So I plod on.

I remind myself that even if this novel goes nowhere, I have learned a lot about my writing process and how to make it better. (I’ll talk about that stuff next week, hopefully after I have hit 50,000 words).

While my ranty bits here probably make it sound like I am far behind, I actually am not. I am still running roughly right on track to get to 50,000 by the end of the month:


Psst. Sometimes art is hard. Do it anyway.

Monday, November 14, 2016

#NaNoWriMo Week 2

It is the end of week 2 of NaNoWriMo! I am still alive. It has been a rough week.

I had a lot of words here about the events of the week and how they have impacted me. But I realized that is not what this post wants to be. So read these words by Chuck Wendig if you are so inclined. Then go forth and ART HARDER!

So the week in writing:

I am roughly on track.

I am struggling with my perceived level of craptitude of what I’m writing. I fear it may be garbage. I keep writing anyway.

Here’s the thing. This is the third novel I have written. The first two were YA with fantasy/ paranormal elements. This novel is adult. It is grounded firmly in reality. It is a thriller.

And it’s quiet. Perhaps too quiet. I realized that most of the story I have written so far (and most of what I have outlined to write in future days) is dialogue heavy. There is not a lot of action in my story. No big car chases, fist fights, or the like. The story is really about a relationship and how it changes one of my characters.

I thought this was a huge problem. Then this weekend I read The Girl on the Train. And while I don’t think my novel is amazing, I do feel better. The Girl on the Train is also very quiet. It is focused on the thoughts and relationships of a woman (three, actually). Until the last tenth-ish of the novel, it is dialogue and internal monologue heavy. Then the shit hits the fan.

I am still concerned about the overall tone and style of my current project, though. While my writing this month is different than when I write YA, I am worried that it isn’t adult enough (whatever that means). I may learn that I am better suited to writing YA than I am to writing adult.

That was one of the reasons I chose this project for NaNo. While I have moved past questioning if I should be a writer, I am still not sure if I am writing the right thing.

This project will help me figure that out.

Monday, November 7, 2016

#NaNoWriMo Week One

It is Day 7 of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)! It has been a bit of an odd week, with me dragging behind the target word count until today.

In the spirit of a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s my progress so far:

Look at that, my bar is juuuuust touching the line!

It’s the part before that I want to talk about. The part of the graph where my bars were well below the line. The part where I was not doing well at all.

Yes, it’s just a few days. But they were painful days. Days where I had to force myself to sit and grind out just a little bit so that I could say I was making progress.

I didn’t like it. I wasn’t particularly enjoying writing my story (an adult thriller). Drafting is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be discovery. Instead, it was drudgery.

And then I figured out why. Glancing back over the bits that I had forced out, there was no voice. I was writing in third person. And I was nowhere near the thoughts of my main character. I was watching her from the outside and reporting on her physical movements, on the words she spoke.

It was dull.

You see that big jump on my graph? That is the point where I switched to writing in first person. Once I climbed inside the head of my character and let her talk, let her tell the story, the words began to move. The story had voice. It had life.

It may still be first draft garbage. I won’t know that until I get to the end.

All that matters is that at this moment, I want to write the story again. I want to sit down and listen to Viv tell me her story. I want to see what she does next. I want to throw obstacles in her way and watch her find a way over or around them.

I want to write the story.

Are you playing in NaNo? If so, let me know how it’s gone for you so far!