Category Archives: NaNoWriMo2010

Posts about my first NaNo – after years of looking in from the outside, I’m finally joining in. Wheee!

Novel Draft 1.0

This morning the phone rang at 5:30. It was the school, to say that the boys would be staying at home today. Noooooooo!

Not that I don’t love my boys and enjoy their company, but today was the last day I had to work on my novel before my critique group expected to see it in their inboxes.

Knowing that the kids would sleep in unless roused, I stumbled out of bed (at 5:30. Yes, I did) and fired up my laptop. I’d been working fairly intensely for the past two or three weeks: printing out what I had of the manuscript, cutting up the papers in to scenes, paperclipping them together and writing notes on index cards clipped to each scene. I had been writing linking scenes, rewriting scenes and making notes on what I still had to do. I knew I was close. I just needed to push on and get it done.

K appeared, at some point, to say his work was closed too, because of the approaching storm. Something in the back of my brain said “whoopee”, but I don’t think I even stopped to acknowledge him. I just kept working. The sun came up. The boys started moving around. I smelled eggs and bacon cooking. I worked on.

By noon I had been though the whole manuscript and typed up the ending I had written a couple of months ago. I was just about to pat myself on the back for being done, when I discovered a whole slew of scenes that I thought I had already written, that I had in fact only written “[this is what happens here]” notes for. Eek!

Two hours later, I stumbled, crazy-haired and unwashed, out of the office and declared my novel (first draft) DONE.

Four years, four months and four days after the first line was written.

I could/should have proof read the whole thing again before I sent it off, but I was so drained that I just compiled the text, gave it a quick once-over and sent it off.

I wrote a novel. And people are going to read it. It was a Herculean task and I feel pretty amazing for having wrangled the darned thing into some kind of shape I’m happy with. It’s a first draft. It’s not ready for prime time, but the pieces are in place and I’m happy to let people look at it in all its imperfect glory.

And I’m taking the rest of the day off.

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

Things I learned from NaNoWriMo

Outlining doesn’t have to kill creativity

(In fact, it can free you to be more creative.)

I read a great article about a month before NaNoWriMo 1 in which a confirmed ‘Pantser’ 2 discovered the joys of partial outlining. She realised — and taught me — that you don’t have to outline everything. You get a partial outline down and then, when it starts to feel like a slog, start writing. Which is something Daniel Pinkwater told me he does, in an interview years ago, and he’s pretty successful. But somehow it took me until now to get the message. Plus she went on to say that she feels free to start outlining again, once she reaches a point in her novel when she’s slowing down.

Lightbulb!

So that’s what I did.

It occurred to me that this is exactly what I do with short stories, it’s just that with a short story it is entirely possible to hold all the outline in your head. Usually I have an idea, and a sense of where the story will end, then I start writing. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs I get a sense of what kind of story it’s going to be, the twists will occur along the way and exactly where it’s going. But there is only one plotline; there are only one or two characters that count; and only 1-2,ooo words to cram them into.

With a novel I knew I couldn’t hold everything in my head, and that thought intimidated me. Until my brilliant new friend pointed out that outlines don’t have to be complete, restrictive or done by anyone else’s method.

So I outlined my book, with lots of scenes that I knew would happen at the start and vague ‘this sort of thing happens here’ for the rest of it. Every time I got stuck, or my word count slackened, I would take a day to outline the next section. Inevitably, the next time I sat down I’d be at my day’s wordcount and beyond it, before I’d even been to the cookie jar. 3

Inspiration Comes Second

Sure, you can wander around the world looking for inspiration, but I have found 4 that it is only when I start writing that I,

  1. Start to write well 5;
  2. Become inspired;
  3. Find story ideas and bits of dialogue leaping out at me from all around.

There were days when sitting down and typing felt like — as they say in Scotland — pulling teeth. But because I was determined not to fall behind in my wordcount, I sat and wrote. Slowly. The first 300 words were torture. It took forever to reach 600. But once I was past about 750 words, things started to fly. If I could just get those first 600 words down, I knew I could reach 1667 6

I came across a great passage in Russell T. Davies’ book about writing for the new Doctor Who series. I’ll quote it again and again because it is true and simple and brilliant. He’s horrifically behind on a deadline. Everyone is waiting for him to deliver pages — the production crew, the cast, everyone — and so he’s panicking and smoking too much and going for long walks, trying to solve the problems he’s written his characters into 7

Finally at some ungodly hour, he types,

“…I couldn’t work out how to do it, where to do it, when. All day, gone. Pissed off. Then I sat down to write, with no solution, and … thought of it! Immediately. Obvious. Simple. If  I’d started sooner…ah, the only way to write is to write. For all my banging on about what to do if you’re really stuck on something, there’s nothing dumber than sitting there writing nothing at all.” 8

Get Away From The Desk

And once I had my story up and running, going out into the world was an excellent thing. Grocery shopping let me overhear how people talk to each other, or dream up solutions to plot problems. Working lunch duty at my children’s school gave my brain a break from thoughts of my characters. Walking around town gave me illustrations of buildings, cars, posters, people, smells, trees, memories.

It’s all very well trying to pay attention to these things when you’re not working on a project (and if you’re a writer then you do, you must, you can’t help yourself), but they take on a shimmering urgency when you’re deep in a work. So get out into the world.

Ration Your Reading

Of course, the first thing any aspiring writing should be doing is reading, but it has to be the right kind of reading if you’re going to read and still have time to write.

I discovered that I was limiting the amount of links I followed to fascinating articles, even from people I respect and admire. I limited the magazine reading. I scanned Facebook, rather than plunging in. I didn’t check my ‘celebrity Twitter’ list for a month and we all got along fine. I did not read the back of cereal packets, the BBC news site, blogs or forums.

I did read a little on Wikipedia to help me out of a technical jam in my novel, but I resisted clicking on all the links in the article. And I stopped at the end. I did make time to read books by authors I admire and who inspire me to sit down and write. I did watch TV shows written by writers who make me gnaw the furniture with envy at their skill. Anything else, I deemed a waste of Time I Could Be Writing.

People Can Be Surprisingly Supportive

Tell people you’re writing a novel and they 9 get really excited for you. I have friends and family who were checking in and demanding to read the book when it’s finished. And I have to say I did not expect my wonderful husband to be so enthused about the project. It inevitably meant more work for him, as he gave me time away from the kids, took care of extra loads of dishes and laundry, tidied while I wrote. But he was genuinely excited about the project and didn’t seem to resent the extra work at all. (Actually I suspect he might have been glad to have me out from under his feet some of the time. He’s terribly organized). That’s not to say he wasn’t relieved when I took back some of the household duties at the end of November. But my point is, people can surprise you with their supportiveness if you’re doing something that makes your eyes light up.

There’s tons more that I learned, (I’ve made some notes for next time) but I’m stopping now. To get back to the novel.

Shouldn’t you be writing, too?

  1. So maybe this was the first thing I learned: if you’re going to write articles about writing, a great time to post/promote them is October!
  2. One who writes by the seat of their pants, eschewing outlines
  3. Another thing I learned: don’t worry about the diet toooo much while writing. The hours sat in front of the keyboard will eat up most of my snacking time, so when I do snack, it’s not disastrous anyway.
  4. Again and again and again
  5. Duh!
  6. The number of words you need to write every day to reach 50,000 in 30 days
  7. If he truly were the heir of Douglas Adams, no doubt he would have been taking long baths too.
  8. Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who, The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter, BBC Books 2010. My emphasis.
  9. The good ones, the ones that matter ;)

NaNoWriMo – The Final Push

OK, it’s here: the final push. Eight days to go. Eight days and 16,300 words to go before I can declare myself a ‘winner’.

I was so pleased with myself — having so much fun — last Thursday. I had written well all month so far, in the face of some adversity. I was hooked. This was it. This was what I was destined to do: write silly novels about adventures and mystery in a parallell world.

Then Friday rolled around. I took A to a doctor’s check-up, came home and tidied up the dishes, but by then it was time for lunch duty. After lunch duty I wrote a few hundred words but realized I had to tidy up the house a bit and do some laundry and I really ought to rake the leaves that all fell down at once two days before. The boys came out and jumped around in the leaves too, which made it far too much fun and there was no way I could force them inside and sit them down in front of something electronic so that I could write. No way. Then, when it started to rain and the boys were in baths, I realised I still had to make a snack to bring for the Ladies Christmas Ornament Basket Bingo night I had somewhat tentatively added to my schedule for that night. Plus I had stayed up past midnight the night before and I was tired. Waah!

The Ladies’ Christmas Ornament Basket Bingo turned out to be a lot more fun than I would have expected – especially when a small faction decamped to Molly Maguires at the end of the night. I ended up chauffeuring some of them home. Me! But there was another late night and no more writing done.

On Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed and took A to his First Penance retreat at the church (it was a couple of hours of people talking and some candle-lighting and crafts, which kept the kids enthralled, along with a video of a guy telling a story about his kid which made all the grownups cry). Then home, lunch, an afternoon of sloth and an evening slumped in front of Doctor Who (Ah, DT how I love thee, but Russel T Davies didn’t half turn you into a wuss at the end, there).

I was starting to feel the pressure of two days with no significant word count by yesterday afternoon. Kevin very graciously suggested that I take the after-dinner portion of the day to plough ahead, so I cheerfully made said dinner (steak pie and chips, brussel sprouts and beans, thank you very much — molto bene!) and then scurried off and left the cleaning-up-and-boy-wrangling to him.

4000 words later, at 9PM, I emerged, blinking and victorious. OK, a few paltry hundred of those words were written over the previous days, but the bulk was last night. Woo-hoo.

So here we are, eight days from the end and, as planned I’m sitting at the foot of Mount Climax, looking up, nervously. Today, I have to take my characters and get them all in place for the final push. I have to gather them at the foot of the mountain and place ravenous dinosaurs behind them (not literally. No dinos in this book, sorry A.). Then I have to light a forest fire behind the dinosaurs. My characters must have nowhere to go but up – and quickly. I might hover a rescue helicopter (or maybe giant eagles. Giant eagles?! Honestly, Professor, was that the best you could do?!) over the summit, but it’ll be in the clouds, so they can’t see it. As they get closer they might hear it, but then the storm clouds must roll in so that they don’t know if it’ll even be there when they reach the summit or whether they’ll be stuck there waiting for the ravenous, scalded and pissed-off predators to arrive and devour them.

Sounds like fun. See you on the other side.

NaNoWriMo – I’m In!

I’m logging my progress as I gear up for my first NaNoWriMo. Don’t expect these entries to be coherent or interesting if you’re not me! Sorry.

It has been nine years since my friend Debbie first mentioned National Novel Writer’s Month, a crazy, write-a-50,000-word-novel-in-November venture, in her blog.

Every year I have been tempted to sign up, just to find out if I really could write a novel after all. Egged on by writer-friends on Twitter, I’ve decided to take the plunge. (If not now, when?)

NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty, wrote in his book No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days that he suspects the reason most wannabe novelists fail is: lack of a deadline. So he made one up.

My Plan

I started noodling with the idea of starting a novel for NaNoWriMo, by thinking about a main character and a style of writing. Who could I write a whole book about and sustain my interest in? And what style did I most love?

Once my main character had some, well, character, it was pretty easy to think of a setting that would present her with obstacles and tension. I even came up with a secondary character who, of course, would be different from her in almost every way, but quite similar in some important ways. I plan to keep them apart for as long as possible, but they will eventually have to meet, which could kick off the climax.

Mostly I’m good at short stories, though. That’s because I start writing, then figure out what’s going to happen, and I can hold all that in my head and figure out the pace of it as I go along. I know how to pace a short story so that the climax comes right before I get tired, and I can wrap it up before I get sick of the whole thing.

But how to do that for a novel?

Outlining

One of the things that put me off was the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing, and how could I possibly know how to sustain an idea through a whole book. I know lots of people outline their books and it makes sense, but I could never think about it without rebelling. Those who know me will know that, while I AM a list-maker, I tend to consider my work done once the list is pinned to the wall. I didn’t see how that could work for me, writing a novel.

Then I read this article about outlining. It was one of those ‘scales falling from the eyes’ moments for me. I grabbed some index cards, unearthed my corkboard from behind a bookshelf, and started scribbling.

I watched a first-season Star Trek (Dagger of the Mind, in case you’re interested) and once I had got over my giggles, caused by a long-ago ‘homage’ by South Park, I started tracking the peaks and valleys of tension in the episode.

With that in hand, I started putting my ideas onto index cards and pinning them to the corkboard. It is still pitifully naked at the moment, but at least now I have a kind of a map — even if I still have to go out and discover most of the lay of the land as I get closer to it.

Sketching Things Out

You’re not allowed to start writing on the novel before Nov 1, so I have sat down over the past couple of days and written a short story about my main character set several years before the story really begins. It helped me tremendously, to find out things about her, hear her voice and see how she fitted (or didn’t) into her world. It helped me establish things about her culture that will come in handy, and prototypes for other characters she will know later in life.

I’m going to spend the rest of this month doing similar things for other main characters and cultures, and setting up the language and feel of the world. I’m also goign to be working on my tone, and on my ability to churn out a lot of words in a sitting. In the past two days I have written a lot more than I have for months, but I’m still under the official word count I’ll need to do each day if I hope to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo.

Onward!

So here I go.

I have index cards, I have my corkboard. I have four-ish hours every day in the house alone. I have cheerleaders. I have a 23 days to prepare.

What could possibly go wrong?