Those of you that have followed my blog since November know that I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I completed the 50,000 words in one month part of the challenge and had no dissatisfaction with the fact that my novel was far from completed even after I crossed that finish line.
December, I vowed, would bring 50,000 more words to my tale. This didn’t happen. January, then, would be the month that I completed the rough draft. That didn’t happen either. February, the shortest month on the calendar, was all that I needed to get back on track and finish the book.
In the three and a half months that followed my 50k word November victory, I was only able to write 58k more words on the novel. Part of it revolved around time management issues as well as my increasingly busy schedule. I knew that these were just excuses though.
My real problems had everything to do with the actual story. I decided on the fly to throw a monkey wrench into my narrative. It was a rich, action-packed plot choice that would push my characters to see who they really were and just how far they were willing to go in order to survive another day in the zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic landscape.
And for a while, it was a great decision. They story continued to write itself. Sentences turned into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into thousands and tens of thousands of words. Suddenly, I was writing an 800-page story, and this was just the first in a series. I waffled between reeling the plot back in and continuing on my epic journey or splitting the book I was writing into two books. I didn’t like the latter option. At all. It felt like I was moving the finish line closer to me so that I could still say that I finished a full book.
But eventually I had to concede that this wasn’t one extremely long story. It was two stories that I was trying to put into one book. I made peace with this, revised my outline, and got excited about where I was heading again.
Then my perspectives came back to bite me in the ass. I have 5 characters telling my story. For a while, three of them were fighting for their lives while the other two were bickering and whining and engaging in conflicts that were trivial by comparison and boring to write. I would fly through those three action-packed perspectives before stalling out on another “talky” chapter. I added a wrinkle to their problems to make everything life and death. I was back on track!
And yet I still had trouble writing the story. I knew where it was going, and how I was going to get there. I just couldn’t make myself sit down and be motivated. When I did write, I was telling the story, not showing it.
All of the changed plans had slowed my pace and filled my head with regrets about what I had written previously. By splitting this into two books, I had entire subplots that I had procrastinated on and they wouldn’t even begin before I wrote my last line. Continuity had become a nightmare that I was trying so hard to ignore in order to keep pressing on. The pace of the story was horrendous. The climax felt artificial. There was no build to it. It just happened to the characters all of a sudden. I just wanted to drown all of these thoughts out and finish the rough draft, but I couldn’t make it happen. I wasn’t doing the story justice with the half-hearted writing I was churning out just to get through it.
So I quit.
Well, not exactly. I decided to just call this hot mess a first draft, despite the missing third act. I paid good money to print it out and bind it. I know that it should have felt like cheating, but it didn’t. It just felt right. The feeling of those 213 single-spaced pages in my hands only reinforced this.
Which leads me to where I stand today. I’m sorting through my mythology to make sure that it makes sense before I actively apply it to governing my universe. I’m deciding what details to slowly unravel throughout the course of this first book. I’m fleshing out my characters better so that I can give their perspectives a richer voice.
After I’ve finished all of that, I will go start reading through this first draft. I’ll take a red pen to it and scribble in every inch of the margins. I will keep my chin up. I know that the storytelling was a catastrophe, but it’s littered with tons of decent and even pretty good writing that might just survive into much later drafts.
Yeah, I cheated.
Yeah, I moved the finish line closer to me so that I could cross it and start patting myself on the back.
No, I don’t feel bad about it. Not one bit.
UPDATE: To be perfectly honest, I wrote this post several weeks ago but didn’t get around to scheduling it until now. I have since flipped the order of my next steps. I was hashing out mythology and starting to compile a character questionnaire when I ran out of steam again.
The remedy, I supposed, was to start rereading the damn thing before going into such granular details about the characters. I’m only three chapters into the tome. I’ve had a lot of difficulty making time for it because I take copious notes as I go. Even though it didn’t help me regain my momentum, it has done so much more for helping me understand my characters than any questionnaire ever could.
I feel like instinctively I know who they are, what they want, how they will react given any scenario. Further bolstering this notion are the notes that I’ve taken about these first chapters that I wrote so long ago, way before I knew who these people were deep down in their souls.
I won’t bore you with the gory (very, very gory) details. I just wanted to confide in everyone that I lost a lot of urgency after November 30th and see if the wisdom of the internet has any recommendations to help me light a fire under my ass again.