What Comes After NaNoWriMo 2015?


The short answer: a lot more writing.

And as much as I usually like to elaborate, I just don’t have the energy or time to say much more right now. Part of that is just hanging over from the doldrums I suffered all November long, but the other part is that I need to use my time (tiny slivers of it, at least) to continue writing this year’s novel.

I wrote my 50,000 words before the end of the month (54,000, actually), but I am nowhere near finished with the first draft of my book. So instead of writing about writing (even though I love to do it), I am going to just plain write for a change.

Longhand NaNoWriMo?

This year, NaNoWriMo (AKA National Novel Writing Month, AKA November) is going to be different for me. I thought I was crazy to try to write a 50,000-word novel in one month in previous years, but this time, I really am a glutton for punishment. I’m working full-time for the first time in almost eight years, and November concerns me a teensy bit. I’m not worried at all about having a 50,000-word idea. In fact, I already have a novel idea for next year, too. What I’m worried about is not having enough hours in the day to get that idea on paper.

If you’ve read my recent posts, you know I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in July, but although I met my word count goal, I didn’t finish that particular novel in July or even later in the summer. I hoped to finish the first draft by the end of September, giving me October to edit my 2013 and 2014 NaNoWriMo novels (which are the first two books of the trilogy that I will complete this year). But I can no longer carry my MacBook with me wherever I go and write in my spare time. I’ve had to squeeze all my writing into a few minutes after my kids go to bed and on the weekends. At the end of September, I dutifully (but regretfully) set Camp NaNoWriMo aside and started editing.

Then one day recently I had a stroke of genius – I can still write longhand. Actually, aside from the inconvenience of having to read and then type my sloppy scrawl, I prefer writing that way. Research shows that writing longhand (particularly cursive, which is how I write) makes what we write stick in our brains better than when we type. It’s how I took all my notes in college, in the dark ages before students carried tablets and laptops to every class. I rarely read over those notes after taking them; it was in the taking that the magic happened.

I used to carry a massive folder of loose pages – a novel in progress – with me everywhere, writing when I could. And then, I went back with a pen and edited over my hand-written draft. A guy in my fiction workshop saw me doing this once and marveled that I still “actually wrote longhand.” Gasp! Can you imagine? This was still the early 2000s, folks. He would really flip out now, but I’m excited to employ this method again – something I’ve hardly done at all since 2011.

You might think that there’s no possible way to write longhand and still validate a 50,000-word novel with NaNoWriMo, but they have a specific guideline for just this issue (read it here). Would it be a bit of a pain to keep track that way? Sure. But it’s possible. And who knows – maybe something magical will happen if I write this novel (or a good portion of it) by hand. It’s certainly a more laborious process, but it’s better than the alternative – letting my ideas fade because there’s not a word processing program nearby, losing the thread of my novel in the absence of technology.

As for Camp NaNoWriMo’s novel, I’m still working on it, pulling a pad of paper out of my purse and adding to it one sentence at a time. I may not be able to finish it until after November, but as long as I carry a writing implement and paper with me, I’m ready when inspiration strikes.

I am excited about NaNoWriMo. I know I’ll at least be able to type on November first, and maybe I’ll make up for the time I miss during the week on weekends (and our super long Thanksgiving break – yay!). My fingers are crossed, and I’m ready to go. Maybe I’ll even regain the mark of the writer, my good old friend, the callous on the finger where my pencil rests.

The Return of the Callous

The Return of the Callous

Steady Now, Inner Critic

It’s official: September is more than halfway over, and fall is on its way (even if it’s still in the 80s where I live). Pumpkin spice everything is available now, and our local warehouse store started displaying Halloween decorations several weeks ago.

It’s time for me to start thinking about this year’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo.

Last year, I had lots of goals going into November. My NaNoWriMo 2014 book was going to be the sequel to 2013’s novel. But before I could start writing the sequel, I had to finish revising the first one. This was particularly important because I needed to change the ending. In order to know how to start the second book, I had to know what happened at the end of the first. I revised NaNoWriMo 2013 up to the last minute – actually past the last minute; I finished on November first and immediately started writing the second book, barely giving myself a second to breathe. This can’t-catch-my-breath feeling continued throughout the month.

This year, I don’t want to stress myself out like that. It’s going to be hard enough to meet the 50,000-word minimum as it is. So if you know me, you know I have a plan.

No matter what, I am setting October aside for NaNo 2014 revisions. That gives my beta readers time to read – but even if they’re not done, I’ll go ahead and spend my month editing and prepping.

What that means for the remainder of September, though, is that I’ve got to get moving on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel. In case you missed my summer posts, I got the writing bug something fierce in July and dug through my old manuscripts until I found one with some promise. It was just a jumble of unconnected scenes with a loose outline at the time, something I would pull out and work on every once in a while. During July, it became a much more cohesive story as I filled in new scenes to connect all the old ones.

Having a number of scenes already written was a huge help. I always knew where I was going next. But then there came the day when I wrote up to the last scene that I’d already written. I had this sinking feeling, like: That’s it? Didn’t I write more than this? But no, I was on my own. And even though I knew where the story was going, my mind wanted very much to transition into editor mode and start fixing what I’d already written.

And in this way, many of my manuscripts have fizzled out and died.

I couldn’t let this happen this time. Often, when I have trouble moving on with a story, it’s because I just can’t get it right. That’s the trouble with perfectionists. But the wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo is that you have a deadline. There’s no time for perfectionism. You just have to get the job done. And even though I met my Camp NaNoWriMo goal in July, I still need to employ that NaNoWriMo urgency and finish this manuscript.

I found this the other day, and it was just what I needed to hear at the time:

James Thurber Quote

If I had an office, I would have one of these posted on each wall because when self-doubt sets in, it’s easy to pull the writer’s block card and quit. One of the easiest ways for a manuscript to go from boiling to tepid is to decide you need to start editing when you’re stuck in a tough spot. Maybe if I edit for a while, I’ll get my groove back. Hey, it sometimes happens, but often, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an excuse to stop writing.

Just this week, when thinking about one of the thin spots in my plot – one of the places I knew my beta readers would pick apart – I had an epiphany that solved the problem. But this epiphany came when I was already 78,000 words deep into my novel. I’m going to have to weave this new info in and cut a lot of the old out to make it work, and I don’t have time for that right now. Instead of worrying about it, I silenced my inner critic by going back to the first page of my story and writing a two-word reminder in red. When I go back to revise, there it will be, screaming at me to make this massive change. (Of course, from this point on, I’ll be writing as if I’ve already made this change, so if anyone were to read my first draft, it would be extremely confusing. A reminder why no one but the author should ever be subjected to a first draft.)

As of this moment, I know where my story is going. I just have to help it get there. It may be sloppy and full of holes. It may be some of the worst writing I’ve even put on paper, but I can’t let myself worry about that now. October first is coming quickly, and November first will be right on its heels. This year, I vow to be ready and excuse-free.

Let’s Just Call Them “Crappy” First Drafts

"Writing", 22 November 2008

Writing (Photo credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle)

When I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life earlier this year, I found a plethora of writing truths in that amazing book. Not the least of which is how she describes stories’ first drafts. Now, I want this to be a family friendly blog, so I am just going to paraphrase and call them “crappy” first drafts. But I think you get the idea. And Lamott is absolutely right.

I don’t want to let the wind out of your sails, particularly if you’re enjoying NaNoWriMo like I am right now, but what we’re writing – what we always write the first time around – is full of all kinds of garbage that should be burned on the cutting room floor. And good riddance. But that doesn’t mean this material doesn’t have its place.

I have said before that I am terrible about starting a new story but then losing my enthusiasm and fizzling out. I have many half-written novels that may never see the light of day. NaNoWriMo presents quite a different challenge, one that has forced me to be productive in a way I never thought possible.

When I started last Friday, I had about a page of notes jotted down and several fully-formed scenes already bouncing around my head. Although one piece of NaNo advice that I read was to write a chapter-by-chapter outline of the whole book, I am not a big fan of giving myself such restrictions. Instead, what I did that first day was to write at least a portion of each of the scenes that were so vivid in my mind. Each received a brief, descriptive subtitle, which I’ll delete when I fill in all the scenes in between, and as I wrote, the shape of the story began to develop. Anything I was afraid I would forget I jotted in my notes.

Then, after the first three days or so, during which I typed like mad and had to force myself to go to bed every night, I hit my first challenge: writing those in between scenes. These connect the major events of my story and include many details that are important for me, the author, but probably aren’t fun for people to read. These expositional outpourings are a big part of what make first drafts so awful.

I can’t tell you how many times my characters turn and look at each other, shrug, smile, and have awkward little pauses – made even more awkward by the fact that I wrote them to begin with. But as one friend pointed out to me, the important part about NaNoWriMo is writing. It’s getting the words on the page. Editing has its place, but that’s when the whole story is out.

The whole purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write through the times when we would usually give up; get the entire first draft out, as crappy as it may be. Going back and looking over it may be painful, but it’s good to remember that

you don’t care about those first three pages; those you will throw out, those you needed to write to get to that fourth page, to get to that one long paragraph that was what you had in mind when you started, only you didn’t know that, couldn’t know that, until you got to it. And the story begins to materialize, and another thing is happening, which is that you are learning what you aren’t writing, and this is helping you to find out what you are writing. (Lamott, 9)

So far, at the beginning of day eight, I have written about 22,600 words. I remember when I blogged last week, I had little hope of even getting this far just because such concentrated writing was a new and intimidating experience for me. But knowing that I have only one month to complete my task has lit a fire under me that – even as a very self-motivated person – I’ve never been able to get myself to do. And it doesn’t hurt that self-publisher Create Space is offering two free, printed copies of novels for all NaNoWriMo winners. I have the feeling my novel is going to well exceed the 50,000-word requirement to finish, so my goal is to actually make it through my whole book, no matter how many more words it takes. Then, I’ll take a deep breath and read it. I’m sure I will cringe a lot and pull out my ax. Because even if every first draft is a crappy one, I would like to at least have something a little more respectable in print, even if I decide to hide it in a drawer forever.

So if you’re writing and feeling discouraged, if you know that the scene that gets you from point A to point B is really rough and will need fine-tuning in the future, write it anyway. And if you still feel doubtful, I’ll leave you with more wise words from Anne Lamott: “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later” (22).