Another Project Bites the Dust

 

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

Getting ready for NaNoWriMo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past week was the big deadline: after June 30th, the CreateSpace coupon code for two free copies of my NaNoWriMo novel would expire. As a perfectionist, I found it difficult to call my novel good enough. But then I realized that not only had a written a novel – from scratch – in just a few months, but I had also fully revised it a couple times. That’s a record for me – and quite an accomplishment, considering I’m so picky.

Now, if you’re reading this and wondering, What in the world is she talking about? What is NaNoWriMo?, I will tell you. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) comes around every November. Why November? I don’t know. You can read more at nanowrimo.org. All I know is that it’s awesome. And it’s also for crazy people. Like me. Even some really successful novelists participate in NaNoWriMo. Like Sara Gruen, who wrote Water for Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus.

While brainstorming my last blog of October – the one in which I would list all the reasons why my sorry butt wouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, yet again – I had an idea of novel-sized proportions. So I figured, What the heck? I just had a couple days to wait, so I held off until November first, then started writing like… what did I say earlier? Oh yeah – a crazy person.

A novel, as defined by NaNoWriMo, is 50,000 words. I wrote over 80,000 in November, so I “won,” but I wasn’t finished with the book. I kept at it until I finally finished in early February. Then I sat back and let it rest for a month – something Stephen King recommends (maybe I read it in On Writing – can’t remember).

When the month-long waiting period was over, it was time to start editing. I usually enjoy editing just as much as writing. Sometimes it’s the joy of discovering a detail I forgot I wrote. Sometimes I realize I really screwed something up, and I feel liked I’ve accomplished something after I fix it. And I always, always try to cut extraneous words and make the manuscript as clean as possible.

Now, I know this will sound gross, but the first draft is kind of like diarrhea of the pen (or keyboard, whatever). Many – way too many – writers leave their first drafts pretty much alone, so consider how awful it is for editors to read diarrhea-on-the-page. One of the goals of NaNoWriMo is to just plow straight through, so there’s going to be lots of crap. It’s necessary if you’re going to write so much in such a short time. But if you want to have a chance of the success that Sara Gruen, Erin Morgenstern, and authors like them have enjoyed, you have to return to that original draft and pull out your ax. After all the useless words are cut, you pull out your chisel and try to make the story as close to its intended shape as possible.

One great goal to help achieve this is another that Stephen King recommends (which I read in the same place as “wait  a month”): he says to cut the manuscript by 10%. I have tried this with other novels and short stories – always to no avail. If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m wordy. I mean, I almost always break the blogs-should-only-be-500-words rule. And I had new scenes that I wanted to add to my book. How in the world would I cut a 148,000-word book down to a little over 133,000? (A double-spaced page in a word processing program has 250 to 300 words, so that’s like cutting 50 to 60 pages.)

My mom's amazing cover art.

My mom’s amazing cover art.

But I did. And for once in my writing life, I surpassed my goal. A couple days before the deadline, I trimmed it to just over 129,000. I even managed to design a cover. I got the basic outline done, told my mom (who is an amazing artist) what I really wanted, and then she waved her magic wand, and BOOM! Cover, done. It’s wonderful having a talented mom.

I sell my children’s book through CreateSpace (shameless plug – buy it here!), so I knew I needed to submit my story one day early to make it through the reviewing process. Hero is an illustrated book, so I had to submit it as a PDF. Like a dummy, I assumed my novel needed to be a PDF, as well. It was only after I submitted it that I saw they would also accept .doc or .docx.

Sure enough, the morning of the 30th, I saw that they had rejected the PDF – it cut off all my pages numbers. So I resubmitted it as a .doc, then waited. And waited. I went to sleep and set my alarm to wake me a few minutes before midnight, so I could still order my copies before my coupon code expired. But at midnight, July first, my book still wasn’t approved.

Grr. By the time I woke up the next morning, the book was approved. Isn’t that how it always goes? Part of me felt like giving up and continuing to edit my book to supposed perfection. But I’m enough of a realist to know that that will never happen. The whole reason I even considered sending it to CreateSpace to begin with was because of the two free copies, but I was already planning on buying a few more. They’re not expensive, and I wanted to have something nice to give my beta readers. So I went ahead and ordered them anyway.

My books should arrive early next week. I am both excited and nervous. If you had told me this time last year that I would have a sudden brainwave and write an entire novel in just over three months – and edit it and print it for its first critique-ers within eight months – I would have thought you were nuts. I had no idea that I would love NaNoWriMo. Even though I had to write ridiculous amounts every day, it wasn’t a chore. Maybe it’s just that serendipitous magic of the right story coming to me at the right time. As is my goal every time I write fiction, I created the story that I wanted to read. My only hope that my beta readers agree and won’t give a unanimous, What was she thinking? This is terrible!

Either way, my third big project of this year is done. I’m currently living in a bit of a fiction-writing vacuum. Yes, I still have plenty to do. But at night, when the kids are in bed and I’d usually be revising, I sit around and think, What do I do now? It’s hard to adjust back to a normal life, whatever that is.

There is, however, one consolation. I know that when my beta readers get done – even if their comments are miraculously positive – I’ll have my work cut out for me again. And I look forward to that day.

What Comes After NaNoWriMo? (One Year Later)

Okay, Wrimos, did you finish? This time last year, I thought you all were crazy. Either that, or you had a lot of time on your hands, not to mention a good dose of stick-to-it-ive-ness. In fact, I blogged about it (read it here), asking for participants’ feedback, and what I heard was intriguing. Not enough to make me want to sign up but still intriguing.

If you had told me that I, too, would sign up this year, I would have laughed and thought, When? How could I possibly think I would have the time? Actually, I would have thought that two months ago. And even after I had my initial spark of inspiration and figured I might as well take the plunge – otherwise, when else would I ever have the courage? – I still didn’t think that I would finish. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I hit 50,000 words on day 14 (read about that here), and since then, I’ve continued plugging away.

Like I said last year, November is a busy month, and this year was no exception. Actually, I think it was a little busier. It’s been an emotional month, too. The thing about NaNo and how it intersects with life is that life will never stop and be turbulence-free just because you have something to do. Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I have the feeling it’s like that for most everyone. I signed up, not because I thought that I would write the next bestseller (although I wouldn’t complain if I did) but because my life is not complete without writing fiction, and even though it can look very boring and passive to someone watching me while I work, it gives me an outlet – and makes me a happier person when I can pour my soul out through a fictional character. It can be lonely, but it can also be the safest way to meet and interact with new people, if you’re an introvert like me.

I know some non-writers will get done reading that and think, Yep, she’s crazy. She lost it somewhere back in October. I suppose I did, and I’m glad of it. To answer my own question from last year, what comes next is that I finish my book. My personal goal (after hitting 50,000 words) was to make it to 80,000 by the end of the month. I did, and I’m still nowhere close to the end. So my new goal is to write until it’s finished. It will be crap, I know, but then I can begin chipping or hacking away until something like the story it’s meant to be begins to take shape.

My biggest incentive for this is that CreateSpace is offering two free copies of every NaNoWriMo winner’s novel (check it out), and I have until the end of June to place my order. I think that’s enough time to finish it and edit – maybe even ask a couple of my awesome reader friends for some honest feedback.

Another thing that I didn’t know until I browsed nanowrimo.org is that there have been some pretty well-known novels that were published after the authors wrote them during NaNoWriMo. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants: A Novel, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Hugh Howey’s Wool. When I read The Night Circus earlier this year, I was impressed with how well the author handled the story jumping back and forth in time. I aspire to write like that, but I can promise you that her first draft wasn’t nearly so fluid. It seems like there could be some hope for me, after all.

So with November gone and another busy month ahead of me, I can not only say that I have absolutely no regrets, but it was the best writing decision I have ever made. I have no idea what next November will bring, but my writing high from the last 30 days could easily last until then, anyway.