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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NaNoWriMo – Final Update

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Yesterday, November 29th at around 11:20 AM EST, I closed my laptop and walked away from a word count of 50,250.  I DID IT!

Though my novel is nowhere near finished and will probably shrink dramatically in its second and third drafts, I’m still supremely proud of my accomplishment.

National Novel Writing Month was exactly what I needed to get out of my head and start writing.  Story elements that frustrated me in the plot outline stage became unnecessary or completely apparent in the rough draft.  Sometimes you gotta stop planning and start doing, and this month that is exactly what I did!

I will definitely need a to set some short term goals for December to provide stepping stones towards my longer term goal for 2013:  to finish the rough draft of this novel.  On a side note, that was a goal that I set for myself last December as a New Year’s Resolution and it wasn’t until November that I started actively pursuing it!  After such a fruitful November, I feel like I’ve made up for a lot of lost time.  If I can keep up this pace, I should have a rough draft ready to go by January 1, 2014.

Congratulations to my fellow NaNoWriMo finishers!

To those who didn’t quite make it this year, don’t sweat it.  The creative process can’t be viewed as a To Do List (believe me, I’ve tried!).  The important thing to take a way from this challenge is what you have learned about yourself:

  • Did you do your best writing in the morning, afternoon, evening, late at night?
  • Were you more productive writing in several short sessions or in one long session where you churn out multiple days’ worth of words?
  • Schedule-wise, what obstacles did you face in your personal life that obstructed your daily writing goals?  How did/could you work around them next time?
  • What pre-writing or planning steps did you take/should you have taken to limit road blocks in your narrative?

My answers:

  • I did my best writing in the morning over a couple cups of coffee shortly after waking up.  It helped me keep my mind clear of other responsibilities in front of me for the rest of the day.
  • I was most productive on the days when I was on a roll and churned out 3,000-5,000+ words in one sitting.  It wasn’t always possible to find enough time in my schedule for this and some days it just wasn’t flowing right, but getting ahead of my quota and finding out that I was capable of hitting 3 days worth of words in one sitting gave me the confidence to walk away from the laptop rather than trying to force it on days when it just wasn’t happening.  That being said, I also had days where I came in under word count and it was some of the tightest, most direct writing that I’ve ever done.
  • Working a “we will call you if we need you today” catering job was the biggest hassle in my personal life.  Moving forward, I’d like to be more disciplined and wake up earlier so that I can churn out a fair amount of words before something like this can arise and chew up a few hours smack dab in the middle of my day.
  • Magic the DogOther potential obstacles included my girlfriend and dog, both of which were perfect in being understanding of the challenge.  My girlfriend was my biggest cheerleader this month, and it really meant a lot to me that she understood the need to hole up in the office and leaving her on the couch some days.  We are on different schedules and don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like , so it was a really huge gesture for her to be understanding of this demanding writing challenge.  My dog was totally fine with NaNoWriMo, just so long as I threw the tennis ball for him as I wrote.  Believe it or not, it put me in a good rhythm where every throw allowed me to gather my thoughts a little bit before returning my attention to the word processor.  I’m thinking about giving him a writing credit – “By:  Brantley and Magic the Dog”
  • My girlfriend’s parents have been coming over every weekend to help us work on fixing up our house.  Unfortunately the only way to work around this time commitment was for me to duck out on them and hide in a coffee shop like a selfish, bad person rather than helping them.  Luckily, I only had to do that twice, and one day was on my birthday when they exempted me from house work anyways.
  • Our house isn’t as sparkly clean as I would like for it to be.  I won’t say that I was wishing for the procrastination bug to bite but I will say that when it does, I avoid working on things by working on other things (such as cleaning up my house) so a little of writer’s block would have helped me win the war of attrition that I’ve been fighting all month with my green pool.  It’s the constant presence of leafs, none of which are coming from my backyard (we don’t have any trees) which only makes it more frustrating.
  • In the future, I need a more balanced approach to scheduling writing into my personal life, rather than just avoiding other responsibilities.
  • It turned out to be a blessing how much I’ve pre-written this story to death.  I had solid plot and character outlines, as well as an adequate understanding of my setting and mythology.  That being said, I’ve learned so much more about my characters through the situations that I’ve put them through and it’s helping me to realize fictional beings aren’t just lists of personality traits.  They’re living, breathing people with strengths that lead them in the wrong direction and flaws that misinform their every perception.  The volume of notes accumulated by November 1st isn’t my complaint though, it’s the length of time over which I mapped everything out.  I became so frustrated with details that didn’t fall into place from a bird’s eye view that I never sat down to actually dig in and sort things out from the trenches.  From now on, I will be less of a perfectionist about pre-writing.
  • One exercise that I found to be extremely helpful in advance of longer writing sessions was to map out some plot points for each chapter.  I started off making around 20-30 points per chapter, totally planning out every beat and move to where I only needed to add some description to have a rough draft.  While this was successful in orchestrating action-packed conflicts, it was confining for chapters focusing on character development, internal struggles, and building chemistry between characters.  Now, I’m down to 5-10 bullet points for what I would like to accomplish in each chapter.  Most of the time, I don’t even use them all.  It’s liberating to stop planning so much and just GO!

It’s been a wonderful, enlightening month for me.  Whether you made your word count or not, I hope that you had a rewarding experience that taught you much about storytelling and a little bit about yourself as well.

Happy NaNoWriMo and Happy Holidays!

50,250 words

99 single-spaced pages

and counting!

I just wrote a couple of pretty good paragraphs – NaNoWriMo Day 18

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59 pages and 30,000+ words into National Novel Writing Month and I just churned out a couple of paragraphs that I’m a little bit proud of.  They’re rough and will need a lot of work when I look back at the big picture after the NaNoWriMo dust settles, but for right now, they came out just how I wanted!  

Set up:  A cowardly man (Greg) hiding in a convenience store denies refuge to three ragged survivors fleeing a large horde of zombies.  At the last possible second, the survivors find a ladder onto the roof of the store and escape certain death.  Now, the store’s front window is on the verge of shattering.  This chapter is being told from Marilyn’s perspective.  She has persuaded the survivors on the roof to let her, Greg, and Patrick (an especially drunken drunk) join them.  When she brings the good news back to Greg, he refuses to join her.  

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NaNoWriMo update #2

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After getting a late start on National Novel Writing Month, I’ve managed to catch up on the word count and even get a head for a short period of time.  When I began, my goal was 50,000 words/the whole novel in November.  A couple of chapters in, I realized that those are two very, very, very different things.  I’m sticking with the number 50,000 (though I’m aiming for 1,700 words/day rather than the actual 1,666.66666666666 words/day because I’m extremely OCD like that).  

Halfway through the month, I should be at 25,000 words (or 25,500 based on my 1,700/day quota).  So far, I’ve got 25,394 words on 49 pages making up 5 chapters.  I’ve got the sixth chapter mapped out and ready to go for tomorrow morning.  

My modus operandi has been to sit down for as long as possible and write while shotgunning coffee and throwing the tennis ball for my dog.  This method usually puts me ahead of my daily quota.  Day after day in the 1,700+ column put me two days ahead of the game earlier this week.  The cushion allowed me a day to go back and fix some chapters that  weren’t really up to snuff, even by rough draft standards.  

Two or three days in a row this week, I was cranky by the time I closed the laptop.  Eventually, I diagnosed the problem:  I had my characters doing things that they wouldn’t actually do.  It was uncomfortable to realize that I spent hours shoving these fictional people in the wrong direction, but there was an enormous silver lining to those mistakes.  My writing sucked and I was able to figure out exactly why.  Also, I’ve already gained enough knowledge about my characters to know when they aren’t acting like they should.  

This thing is a zombie survival story told from multiple perspectives.  It follows a group of survivors working together to rebuild some semblance of civilized society.

It’s a story that I’ve been cultivating for years.  I had Lajos Egri-style character profiles.  I had plot outlines.  I had premises ranging from, “That makes sense,” to “That doesn’t make much sense,” to “What the hell was I thinking?”  I even had a handful of crappily written chapters.  It feels wonderful to finally do something with all of these poorly labeled documents on my computer.  

If you remember my first update from last week, I still plan on editing this up enough that I can post some of it without dying of embarrassment.  It’s on my to do list, but the word count has been demanding (but not as demanding as my poor girlfriend with strep throat) this week.  

I promise I will get on it!

 

NaNoWriMo – Late to the Party

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The first time I heard about National Novel Writing Month was on November 1st.  I was devastated that I didn’t have more time to mill it over, be indecisive, indulge in doubting myself, and then give up before I even started.  Instead, I shouted the intellectual equivalent of YOLO (there isn’t one by the way) and decided to go for it.

I was immediately met with obstacles.  My girlfriend and I bought a house and have been making it sexier so that we can sell it for a profit in 5-10 years.  Leading the charge on making it sexier are her parents, who actually view such strenuous work as a hobby.  For months after we bought the house, they were coming to visit us every single weekend to make it livable.  They took the Summer off because we live in Florida, but they were back on that first weekend of November.  Between working my two jobs, I hid in the coffee shop, stifling the guilt of knowing that her parents were doing something nice for us and I was willfully not helping them at all.

I did what I do best, pre-write.  Only pre-write.  I was working on an idea that I’ve been stewing on for a couple of weeks.  As I tried to bring it to fruition, I realized that instead of that idea, I should be writing the idea that I’ve been playing with for several years.

On November 4th, I pulled up an old, poorly written couple of chapters from a book about Zombies and stuff.  I had to crunch the numbers to decide how quickly I should give up on NaNoWriMo.  I read somewhere that the challenge is to write 50,000 words in November.  That’s like just under 1,700/day.  My old poopy rough draft that was channeling my screenwriting education and not describing anyone or anything because that’s the casting department and set design people’s respective problems was like 22,000+ words.

At that point, my world was rocked.  If I could write 22,000+ words without even doing a good job, imagine what I could do if I actually got some momentum behind me (and by momentum, I mean a 30 day challenge type deal).  On Monday November 4th, I wrote my first word for NaNoWriMo.  Then, I wrapped my first sentence.  Then I fist pumped silently as the dog stared at me like I was a lunatic because I finished my first 5,000+ words pretty much in one sitting, and these weren’t screenwriter words, these were NOVELIST words.  I was still behind (I needed 6,800 words done by the end of that fourth day), but I was hopeful.

I spent November 5th (happy birthday sister) drinking wine and eating too much pizza over a respectable 1,900 words.  I was a little loosey goosey from the second glass of wine, but mostly just distracted by the emptiness of the wine box (don’t judge, it’s fairly legit wine).  I called it a night and went to bed really freaking early because wine makes me sleepy.

I worked 10 AM – 8:15 PM on November 6th.  I told myself, “I will eat the delicious dinner that my beautiful girlfriend has prepared for me and then sit down with my computer and crank out some words,” but instead we watched The Purge, which is a little bit better than Entertainment Weekly said.

Today is November 7th.  I had the day off from one job so I told the other job I wasn’t available to work.  I spend the day playing fetch with my dog as I crank out words number 6,900-something through 14,000-something.  I send my girlfriend a cropped screenshot that contains a gruesome paragraph and a word count of exactly 12,000.  She is either intrigued by the context-less paragraph, or just awesomely supportive (hopefully both!), because she wants to read more.  This is wonderful and I’m thinking I will let her, even though I haven’t re-read any of this crap yet.

On a side note, I don’t think I’ve let her read anything I’ve written since that one satirical short that I cranked out after a bad day at work.  It followed a hard-drinking Millennial cynic who works with stupid old people that are holding him back and he goes to the bar and hooks up with Jennifer Lawrence because irony and also it’s fiction so I can do whatever I want, okay?  (It wasn’t a great piece in case you were wondering.)

So, about the creative process:

  • When I sit down and write, it feels really good (so much better than pre-writing).
  • I’m ahead of schedule on my 1,700 words/day quota.
  • I’m beginning to accept that I won’t be able to write every day.  I’ve been on a roll lately, so I’d rather write for 2-4 hours at a time when I can than for 30 unsatisfying minutes on a busy day.
  • I’m finally starting to adjust to the fact that I haven’t wanted to write books since 10th grade and am making efforts to describe the characters and their surroundings (AKA getting out of screenwriter mode).
  • I had an epiphany that my dog doesn’t partake in Daylight Savings, which is why he has been waking up earlier and going to bed earlier this week.
  • I’m on my 28th page and my 14,178th word.  Some of it’s good, some mediocre, some awful.  As I said above, I haven’t looked yet.
  • I read that first time authors can typically get away with 60,000-90,000 words on their first novel.  This is a bit distressing, because I’m George R.R. Martin-ing out over here hitting the above mentioned page count/word count on 2.25 chapters that just introduce the world and half of my too many characters (sorry – it’s the end of the world and I need my red shirts).
  • On the plus side, my inciting incident is in the first paragraph.
  • I have no idea whether or not I’m formatting this thing in a useful way.  I just opened up Pages and dove in.  It’s all single spaced so far.

This is a journey that we are all taking, so I look forward to searching through posts tagged NaNoWriMo and reading about fellow travelers.

Here is the screenshot that I sent my girlfriend:

NaNoWriMo sample

I can’t emphasize enough that I haven’t reread any of this, so think don’t grammar of my poorly.

Here is my proudest couple of pair of paragraphs (pair o’ graphs?)  so far:

Danny had never believed in a higher power.  How could some divine, supernatural being be in charge of everything when the world was such a messy place?  He had never prayed, he had barely ever asked friends or family for favors.  Since he was a child he had known that he was on his own and that anyone who tried to tell him otherwise was a well-meaning liar. 

He didn’t know who he was talking to when he voiced his desperation.  “Help,” he whispered into the darkness.  Then, he lit the flare.

For context, think zombies and stuff.  Next time, I will try and post more coherent samples before I finish my fourth beer.