The Challenges of Parenting the Second Novel

When I had my second son, people warned me not to compare my children to each other – something that’s nearly impossible to do. And the same is true, I’ve found, with novels.

And so I come to NaNoWriMo again. (It’s November; get used to it.) The first two weeks have been rough this year, which blindsided me (and I can say the same of the early days of being a mom of two). If you followed me last year, you know that I “won” (which means that I reached the 50,000 word minimum) by the 14th of the month. (And if you didn’t follow me then, you can read about it here.) I had inspiration on my side with a brand new story that wouldn’t quit. I wrote well over 4700 words on the first day, and I didn’t slow down much from there. By the end of November, I was at 80,000 words and continued writing until February, when my first draft clocked in at 148K. From there, the challenge was to trim it down to under 100,000 (which I did two weeks ago, thank goodness).

Fast forward to this year: last week I wrote about middle-of-a-trilogy blues. I get stuck constantly. I carry my MacBook with me everywhere (just like last year), and any time I have a spare minute, it’s open to my novel. Whereas last year, scenes competed for my attention and I couldn’t get them down fast enough – bombarding me when I was in the shower or chauffeuring the kids or researching an article – this year, the computer sits open, the cursor flashing, waiting for me to type. Mind you, I am extremely busy, but still, the story isn’t constantly running in the background like last year. There’s no backlog of scenes waiting to be written at my earliest convenience.

Today is the 15th of the month, the halfway point. If you’re serious about finishing, you should have 25,000 words down, and I do, thank goodness. My goal is to type 2000 a day, just to give me a little cushion in case I have a rough day. November 1st I did pretty well with 4000 words. Not as much as last year, but it got me a day ahead of my goal. And I used up that 2000-word credit five days later when I only managed to get 200 words down. Determined to catch up, I pulled my average back up to 2000 words per day, but it’s been tight. I’m an over-achiever, and surpassing my goals is kind of my thing. I still have over 1000 words to type today to make it to 30,000, so forget last year’s astronomical word count.

It’s not the word count itself that bothers me as much as my difficulty in getting the words down. Again, I can see a parallel with my kids. The first baby was a breeze. Yes, we had some challenges early on, but looking back I realize what an easy kid he was and still is. Contrast him (I know, a no-no) with his little brother, and the story changes. That little dude was a challenge while still in the womb, and the challenges only escalated after he was born. Even the nurses at the hospital were perplexed by his inability to be consoled – and those maternity ward nurses have some sort of baby voo-doo that almost always works. We’ve tried to parent both kids the same way, so why are they so different?

The difficulties, the challenges, the things that make me want to scream and rip my hair out at times are also the beauties of these two very different people – if only I can take a deep breath and remind myself that no two people are exactly alike. It’s amazing to watch them grow into their personalities. Sometimes they’re predictable, and other times they take us by surprise. It’s the times that I try to force Ian (the younger one) to be more like Peter (big brother) that I frustrate him and unnecessarily disappoint myself.

So it is with my stories. I guess you could say that last year’s was the big brother: sometimes challenging but always a joy. There were so many new discoveries, each one a kind of adventure.

My NaNoWriMo 2014 novel is the second child. I’ve been there and done that – wait, wait, wait. It still has surprises, if only I can allow it to follow its own path. But in order to do that, I have to give it the freedom to do so.

One day last week, in the effort to plow through another 2000 words, I realized that I was going through the motions yet again.  I had allowed my so-called experience to make me complacent and fall into a predictable and not very fun routine. My novel has certain plot points, not unlike milestones for children. My characters have to travel in my story, and since I’m averse to writing outlines, I don’t know much of what happens on the journey from Point A to Point B. I just know that I somehow have to get them there. And that “getting there” part can be a real slog.

Last year, I had even less of an idea how I would move the story along, but I didn’t let that bother me. Scenes kept popping up in no particular order; I typed them, and when I had time to breathe, I tried to connect them. It was these bursts of inspiration that kept me on the edge of my seat, that made me excited to get up every day and write.

I was thrilled that my word count exceeded my expectations. It was great to not have to worry about it. This year, sometimes it seems that the word count is the end goal, but it shouldn’t be at all. The point is to write, to finish something that I otherwise might give up on halfway through. That’s what’s beautiful about NaNoWriMo to me.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I already know how my current novel will end (even if I don’t know all the in between stuff). Hard-pressed to finish a scene, I realized that I could give myself a break and jump ahead to the ending. Why not? Words count, after all, no matter where they fall sequentially.

While I was thinking through that scene, my fickle little muse stopped by for a visit. It was one of those moments when I realized that something I was already planning to write would make so much more sense if… well, I can’t tell you, but it was one of those brainwave-y moments that authors live for (or at least this author does).

It’s the kind of thing that happened all the time last November, when I was new at the whole writing a novel in a month thing, when it was exciting and much like embarking on a voyage into unknown waters. It was with a kind of joy that I realized new and surprising things can still happen with the second novel of a trilogy. Instead of coaxing it along and expecting it to be a good little novel that writes itself –surprise! – I need to be open to all the scenes that want to be written, even if they’re out of order or don’t seem to belong. After all, this is a different novel, and it deserves the same chance, the same attention, I gave its big brother.

Much like parenting my second child.

Here’s to second children, and here’s to second novels.

Here’s to writing first and counting my words second.

Here’s to another 15 days of creativity and exploration, and best of luck to all my fellow WriMos!

2 thoughts on “The Challenges of Parenting the Second Novel

  1. releaf1954 says:

    I’m behind on my blog-reading. I’m sure glad you had that brain wave, and I’m glad you made it to a win this year. If all your nonsequential scenes belong in the same story, you did better than I did. 🙂

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