NaNoWriMo Update

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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. 

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17 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Update

  1. You seem highly motivated to move forward and finish your book series. It’s alright to cheat in this case and hold a finished first draft in your hand if it makes you feel proud and motivated! I wish you all the best for writing this novel. I’d love to read it someday 🙂

    Also, when I go into writing, after about 70 pages, I feel like changing the storyline completely of my novel (and hence I never end up completing what I am writing). Any advice?

    Warm regards,
    Srish. Xx

    • I’m probably not the best person for advice on your problem seeing as how I haven’t worked out the answer to it for myself just yet. My plan was to keep chugging along without looking back. Eventually it just bothered me how different the beginning and ending were becoming so I printed that sucker out and am now rereading it chapter by chapter. You will definitely look back and realize how much you’ve grown to understand nuances about your characters and the notes on future revisions will really pile up quickly (which doesn’t feel like a good thing, but trust me it is).

  2. Oh man, can I relate to this.

    Not my NaNo, but my favorite baby, The Asylum. It started out as a bit of fun for me and girlfriend, and took on a life of its own. We were gripped in a mania to get it written, and then-

    It just stopped.

    I’m at a point now where it’s “finished”, but the beginning needs A LOT of work to make it match what it became. And that’s just so that I can “start” editing.

    I haven’t touched it in weeks.

    I’m actually sort of “cheating” to get my fires going again. I’m promoting Asylum on my blog, A LOT, in the hopes that people will bug me about it so that I write again.

    If I come up with something more useful, I’ll pass it along.

    Thanks for sharing, it’s good to know I’m not alone.

    • It’s so good to know that I’m not alone in hitting a brick wall after my story took an unexpected turn (like your story, the beginning of mine looks radically different from the end). Honestly I’ve never made it this far before which should be exhilarating. In reality it’s mostly just terrifying though haha

  3. underwaterraven

    Firstly, you should be proud of what you’ve written already, because not very many people at all even attempt, let alone achieve, writing a full-length novel! Secondly, if you’re as enthusiastic and motivated about this project as you sound, then I’m sure you’ll have no problem in eventually editing it and getting it up to the standard you want, because if this is what you’re passionate about you WILL find a way to do it.
    Unfortunately I can’t offer any reasonable advice about getting motivated, because my own track record of writing motivation is just woeful. I speed-write a novel within a month or two, finish it and then leave it. No editing, no changing. That’s why I have six probably sub-standard novels sitting in my hard drive, instead of one quite decent one. So I guess my only advice would be to not do what I do: give up on stories as soon as they’re finished, or even just after a few thousand words. Keep digging and eventually you’ll strike gold!

    • Thanks for the advice! This was the first project of this scale that I have ever completed, so I’m definitely patting myself on the back for that! Rereading the rough draft has been a real roller coaster though. There is some great writing in there amongst the muck. For the most part, I just have to keep reminding myself that underneath all of this currently shoddy storytelling lies a story worth telling! It’s a difficult thing to remember sometimes though.

      As for your work, I encourage you to reread it. I’m sure you’ve grown as a writer and seeing where you used to be with your ability and how far you’ve come since will probably awaken your inner editor!

  4. “The hardest thing about writing is writing.” Nora Ephron. The best advice I have (that I don’t follow) is to sit down every day and write something. Anything. Some days it’ll suck and others it’ll shine.

    • I’ve gone through phases where I’ve tried to do that. Life is just tough. My other hobby is distance running (just as time consuming as writing). So many days I find myself faced with a choice: run or write. I aim for 4 out of 7 each week with both of them. 4 days of running each week. 4 days of writing. It helps prevent me from prioritizing one over the other, because writing is hard and if I go too long without running I will reach critical mass from my Mexican food addiction and explode into a guacamole mushroom cloud.

  5. I agree with the reader who said you have already done more than most people do. I would try to avoid beating myself up. The birth process is always messy. I would say that all your notes and thinking will lead you to the right way to tell your story, whether it is in one or two books. You know your characters; they’ll come through for you.

  6. Oh I am exhausted just reading that 😉 You put me to shame!!! I have not worked on my own WIP in oh so long… but that’s what the summer is for and then it will be all wide margins and red ink– I even printed it out already! I just have to remember where I stowed it.

    • Haha. Don’t feel like I’m beating you. It’s not a competition and even if it was, I haven’t been the spitting image of that legendary American work ethic that all the politicians love to praise.

      This was the first time I’ve ever “finished” anything, so maybe you won’t agree, but wasn’t printing your draft out on paper like the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done?

  7. Hey! You are definitely not the only one. At one time, in my desk, every single drawer was filled with stories I’d started and put away (and never went back to). My advice to you is embrace the awkward. When I run off the tracks and get discouraged, I will often think of the most absurd or awkward situation I could think of to put my characters in and write the scene. No plan–just off the cuff. They almost never make it into my stories, but it makes me laugh and relaxes me; it also gets me back into the character’s mindset again. And I usually find my way back. Good luck!

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