Done!

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

Ready to Write (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever had a goal that seems to hover just out of reach? I’m talking about those last five pounds that you can’t shed, that last $1000 of debt that hangs over your head, that last month of pregnancy when everyone assumes you should’ve had the baby, yet you feel like it’s never going to happen.

I’ve been through all of those and more, but that’s not what I’m talking about this time. Nope, I’m talking about a writing goal.

That’s right, it’s the end of NaNoWriMo for Sarah!

If you happen to know what NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is, you’re likely thinking, Aren’t you a couple months late, Sarah?

Yeah, yeah. I know that NaNoWriMo was officially over when the clock struck midnight, marking the end of November and the beginning of December. And I’d already “won,” which means that I wrote a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. (Actually, I wrote just over 61K.) But that didn’t mean I was done telling the story.

Last year, I also didn’t “finish” in November. I was certainly on a roll, writing 80,000 words in 30 days, but it took me 10 days into February to finish the first draft. I never slowed down the whole time; there was just so much story to tell.

This year’s NaNo was the sequel to last year’s. For months, I looked forward to continuing the story, but when it came to November, I struggled. I had the initial outpouring, which lasted for several thousand words, but after that, it was as if my muse had gone on vacation and at precisely the worst time.

So I “won” because I won’t sign up for something and then give up. But it was hard. I felt like the majority of what I wrote was just crap that would end up on the cutting room floor. I knew that if this were just any old novel, I would let it sit on the back burner and wait for my inspiration to return. I’m the queen of unfinished novels; I have more half-done manuscripts than I care to think about, and although I hate to admit it, I know that many of them will remain incomplete.

The difference with NaNoWriMo is that, after working so hard to get 50,000 words out, it seems like such a waste to just let the manuscript sit, unfinished. Even though it took two-plus extra months last year, I finished, and I think it’s the best novel I’ve ever written. And since this year’s novel was the sequel, I had to keep going.

Since it was such a tough book to write, I figured it would wrap up quickly and likely well under 100,000 words. Then I could sit back for a month, let it percolate a little, then return and make it worth reading after a hefty revision. To my surprise, a number of brainwaves hijacked my story when I thought I should be long done. The muse was back, although a month late. I continued writing and could see the end, but I couldn’t seem to reach it.

This past week, I had a couple 3000-word nights. My word count raced past 100,000 and didn’t look back. But still, I wasn’t done. I’d already told myself that I would absolutely finish this week. January is the month I had set aside to finish editing 2013’s novel and start querying agents, and here it is the 24th. I couldn’t let the 2014 novel hang over my head any longer. (Plus, I needed something to blog about.)

So last night, after the kids got to bed, I sat down and did some serious writing – 7000 words, to be exact. I’d joked with my husband that it would likely be a 2:00 A.M. bedtime. In reality, it was after 3:30. But I finished! I am worn out but feel so accomplished. I finally caught up to my goal, and I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet.

Now I get a month off from that book. And at the end of that month, I’ll go back and do a lot of cringing and cutting, and hopefully I’ll end up with a manuscript that’s at least 20,000 words shorter and worth sharing.

And in the meantime… I need a nap.

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.

A Dirty Beginning

writing

Writing (Photo credit: found_drama)

 

In the afterward of a sci-fi book that my dad recently finished, the author said that writers don’t come up with ideas, but that ideas find writers. I didn’t want to be rude and say, “No, duh.” After all, this was an epiphany for Daddy. But I said, “Yeah, any real author believes that.”

There is the chance, however, that I spoke out of turn. There very well could be an author out there who spins a little wheel that points to a variety of plot possibilities. The first spin: heroine is in an unhappy marriage. Okay, onto spin two: hero makes heroine believe in love again. Spin three: hero and heroine escape heroine’s dastardly ex-husband and save the world in the process. Alrighty, plot decided, time to crack the knuckles, take a deep breath, and write. Unfortunately, I’ve read more than a handful of bestsellers that felt like they were the victims of similar plot devices.

For the rest of us, though, writing is a tightrope walk across a pit of ravenous alligators, often sweating and exhausted and hopeless. But sometimes we find our footing and make it across. Sometimes we gather our courage and leap. Sometimes we fly.

I’ll be the first to admit that I fall into the pit more often than I fly. But usually, I’m somewhere in between, swimming like hell, struggling to keep my head up. What does that look like, outside metaphorical language? There are a lot of starts and fizzling-outs. Compositions books, notepads, journals, Word documents, full of millions of unpublishable words. When I realized that I had this propensity years ago, I started keeping a journal that was specifically for these little scenes that may or may not make it into completed novels. Sometimes a good bit of writing just doesn’t have a home yet. One of these scenes turned into the middle grade fantasy that I’m currently shopping with agents.

Even though I don’t consider myself superstitious or very mystical, I do believe that stories—true stories that need to be told—find their writers. One way in which they find me, at least, is what I think of as my inner narrator. She never shuts up. Often it’s in the third person, less often the first. The tense varies.

Earlier this week, it started when I saw a line of muddy footprints tracking from one end of the house to the other. Almost immediately, a line popped into my head. She should have known something was wrong when she saw dirt tracked across the house—BAM!—a story was born. No, that’s not actually the opening line; I tweaked it. But as soon as I thought it, I wondered what exactly went wrong with the nameless “she”? I’m still finding out; her story hasn’t let me go all week.

I don’t know this story’s future, as far as publication is concerned, but I love it that it found me while I did something as mundane as sweep a dirty floor. I don’t even have to leave my house, or my own mind, for creation to happen. So, I suppose, if I silently narrate about doing laundry or brushing my teeth—you know, the really exciting stuff that people can’t wait to read about—instead of worrying about the psychological issues behind talking to myself, I can be excited that (even if I am crazy) there might be a story in it one day.

But there still is one problem. If a story found me through the dirt on my previously clean floor, where did the dirt come from, exactly?