Thursday Morning

Snoctober

Wow, winter has come quickly.

I mean, it’s November and we’ve had snow already, and its not that I’m surprised at having to scrape frost off my windscreen at 7:55AM, it’s just that that it’s so sudden. October spent a good part of its time this year pretending to be August (or at least early September) and then it turned around and dumped three inches of snow on our unmowed grass and previously-thriving tender annuals. I was still growing cucumbers — cucumbers! 1

 

So, November is here and I’m participating in NaNoWriMo again. I must have heard of NaNoWriMo for the first time just a couple of years after it started, thanks to Debbie (who, by the way, has a book coming out, of which she is the illustrator. She is a multi-talented thing, that Debbie and if she wasn’t so adorable, and hadn’t fed my neices and nephew candy at Halloween all those years ago, we’d have to travel to Toronto with a sack full of squirrels who had been carefully briefed.), but I didn’t ever pluck up the courage to try it until last year, after I had spent the previous May writing a story a day. At some point during the year it occurred to me that writing a little bit each day on the SAME story might actually be possible – and maybe easier than having to come up with a different one every day.

So I tried it.

I did write – fairly coherently – on the same story every day last year and what was more, I enjoyed it. It was the most fun part of my day, even when it was hard. It made me happy for the rest of the day, even when I was fretting about which words when in which order and how to get my characters from here to there at the right time so that they could bump into that character – who didn’t want to be bumped into.

 

I had planned out my characters and the major events in the story, so I was was pretty confidence of reaching the end. I did reach the end: the end of November, that is, with my 50,000 words and my “winner” certificate. And I felt great.

 

What I didn’t feel so great about, however, was the shape my story was in. I could tell it wasn’t quite working and that made it hard for me to push on, when November was over, and make it to the end of the actual novel. I couldn’t quite tell what I was doign wrong. I knew it needed a massive revision, but I didn’t know where to start.

 

I put it aside and spent the past year listening to other authors talk about their writing process in podcasts and lectures. I read about writing. I read books. I hosted StoryADay May again, and even ran a contest. I got lots of heart-warming feedback from other writers who enjoyed StoryADay. I failed to take part in the wonderful Write1Sub1 challenge, although I consider myself a charter cheerleader.

Lots of writerly information was swirling around in my head looking for a catalyst to start some kind of reaction 2.

I think I found it in Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering3

Happily for me I found it right at the start of October and have spent all of that month ignoring the crazy weather and instead sketching out the bones of my next novel. I had to fight hard to stop myself jumping back in time and revising last year’s NaNo novel which I really loved, but which was ugly and in need of a fix.

So this year I’m writing a simpler novel, with the idea of trying out Larry’s techniques. They’re based on screenwriting formulae. I’ve watched (and loved) enough TV shows and movies for the idea of a formula to seem normal and natural to me 4. This book has given me insights into what I was doing wrong last year and what I might do right this year.

My plan is to write, write, write and keep writing past the end of November, to get to a proper novel length (50,000 words is a little short).

I’ve started out with a plan, a knowledge of my characters, notes on what scenes have to happen when. On Oct 28 I was super confident. On Oct 29 I was still working on the outline. On Oct 30, well I think I spent that day going “huh?” as we got snowed on. On Oct 31 I was busy and on November 1 I was nervous.

Yesterday, Nov 2, I remembered that, even with all the planning in the world, writing stories is actually quite hard. Much time was spent staring at my screen, trying to wrangle the first 800 words of that day’s quota into shape.  Then I remembered that the first 800 words are always the hardest, every day 5. Which is why I’m rambling here.  Even though they’re not novel-related, I’m hoping these words will serve as my warm-up. Tomorrow I’ll write something that’s not about writing6.

  1. which, as it turns out is a lot harder to type than it should be. “Cumumbers”? “Cumcumbers”? Wake up, fingers!
  2. 17 years of marriage to a chemist finally makes up for not having taken any chemistry classes ever!
  3. This book spends wa-ay too much time on the sales pitch of why his method will work and why you shouldn’t resist it even if you’ve always resisted outlining. Speed-reading will be your friend until you get to the meat of the book, and even then, you’ll have to let your eyes slide over a thousand analogies that reinforce the point a thousand different ways. But the essentials of the book are really worth it. The editor, however? Should possibly be fired…
  4. in fact, part of my preparation for NaNo last year was to deconstruct a classic Trek episode and see where the high points and low points came – how far into the story. I just couldn’t quite figure out how to DO it in my novel
  5. It’s why 750words exists!
  6. It’s a pet peeve of mine, when writers write fiction about ooo, let me think, a writer. Especially a writer who is slaving away at a local newspaper when what she really wants to be doing is writing novels…wah wah wah, use your imagination!

One thought on “Thursday Morning

  1. Fiona

    Our book group read a book by Anita Diamant (author of The Red Tent) which was exactly what you describe in footnote 6. Unbelievably disappointing!

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