National Novel READING Month

Up until last night, a feeling of dread had been growing within me, a darkness gathering in my mind as the end of October approached. I was not fearing the ghouls and monsters of Halloween, but of the imminent arrival of National Novel Writing Month.

 

Last year, I successfully completed the challenge, writing my first completed novel “Daytripper” in those 30 days, based on a shred of an idea and going in a completely different direction than the original concept. It was a good experience, forcing myself to write like that, but the fact is, “Daytripper” still sits in a drawer, unrevised save for a single run through. At 50K words, it is too short for a novel and too long for a novella. There are things in it — plot elements, characters, scenes and ideas — that I love, but it is mostly terrible. I don’t know what to do with it, so I had decided that I would use NaNoWriMo this year to create a fresh draft of “Daytripper” and maybe, just maybe, between the two I could create a novel I felt good about publishing.

 

The thing about NaNoWriMo is that it is (intentionally) intense and consuming. It eats the month of November. Last year, my wife was wonderfully accommodating as I sequestered myself night after night in my basement office (if one could call a room filled with comics, RPG manuals and video games an “office”). This year, my Novemeber is already half consumed by other activities, from a game convention to a scouting overnight to a wedding anniversary retreat. ¬†As November approached, I tried to calculate how many words I would have to write a day to accommodate all the days I could not be writing, and I despaired.

 

But the real reason I dreaded the arrival of NaNoWriMo is that I do not know if I want to revise “Daytripper.” I do not know if there is a good enough story in there to make a novel worth my time to write it and your time to read it. That kind of uncertainty is telling, I think. there are other novels I want to write (eventually) that I am certain are worth the time, but I am less certain about my ability to write those novels just yet. Part of the reason for that is I read far fewer novels than I should, and I need to remedy that before I can successfully write one.

 

So, for me, NaNoWriMo will become NaNoReMo — National Novel READING Month. There are a number of novels, from light YA fare to classics of English Literature, I have always meant to read. So instead of burning all that time writing a terrible novel, I choose to read a few good ones.

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My Novel Idea

Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and succeeded in completing a 50,000 word novel in those 30 days. I am still proud of that success and it is in fact the motivating experience behind this blog and my (less successful) 100 Days, 100K experiment. As of now, I am beginning the re-write process on that novel, not only polishing it but expanding it to the more usual 75-100K words. Note that this means my posting on this blog, especially short fiction pieces, will slow noticeably (I’m sure both of you are heartbroken). On the upside — if you can call it that — I will be writing more about the process of writing, specifically in this case about the process of working through a novel re-write (which I have never done before).

 

NaNoWriMo was fun and hard and exciting and frustrating, but most of all it was the perfect distillation of my greatest weakness as a writer: the desire to get the damn story told, already. Any of you have have read the fiction I post here can likely attest — most of it is short (1000-2000 words) and pretty rough around the edges. Both are strong clues that I sat down with an idea and pushed it out of my head (probably with the help of some wine or a few beers). I like a lot of what I write in that fashion, but when I look at those things later, they are not nearly as strong as other stories that I spend a lot of time on. The novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo was just like that. Obviously, I did not write it all in one sitting, but I did formulate an idea and then push that bastard out as fast and strong as I could. I think the novel has a lot of merit, but it is also rushed and rough.

 

The interesting thing is that it is not the novel I planned in the weeks leading up to the start of NaNoWriMo. I plotted and worked on another novel for a whole month prior to last November, but when it came time to pull the trigger, I flinched. That idea is too important to me, I think. It feels, in my head, like my Great Novel, and so I am afraid to start it. The novel I did write was much easier, much less important to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like what resulted and I hope that I love what comes out of the rewrite, but I chose that idea among the many floating in my head simply because I thought it was one I could finish in a month. Of course, I did not finish it in a month, because I am about to start finishing it now, but you see my point.

 

I hope to finish the rewrite before November. If I do and it goes well, resulting in a book I am proud of and feel is my best work, maybe I will take this year’s NaNoWriMo to finally face down that Great Book looming over me.

100 Days, Not Quite 100K

When I “officially” launched this blog on my birthday, I instituted what I called the 100 Days, 100K (words) project — an attempt to motivate myself to work consistently enough to produce a novel’s worth of writing, fiction and otherwise, in one hundred days. Having successfully participated in National Novel Writing Month last year, I figured it would be easier. After all, 1000 words per day is only a little more than half of what you have to do to write 50K in a 30 day calendar month, right?

 

It’s never that easy.

 

The first thing I realized is that writing a novel is actually easier in its own way than writing a large number of shorter works. Once you get rolling, anyway, a novel sort of just rolls out in front of you. My writing process mostly involved going for a few mile run and thinking what happens next or how I was going to get where I needed to be later in the work, then sitting down and pumping out a couple thousand words. The consistency of both the story and the schedule made working easier. Not having the singular focus of a novel’s plot and characters and setting, though, meant that coming up with, fleshing out and producing each individual work of the last 100 days took more time and effort than working on the novel.

 

The next lesson was in time management. Last November, were were between sports and in that cold but not winter-wonderland season. In other words, it was easier to find time to write than the middle of the freaking summer. Seems I should have thought that one through. Not only did my son have a very intense baseball schedule — I am not complaining; I loved being at almost all of his games — but we had family vacations and a lot of school and related activities (many of them to do with or because of last December’s shooting, so we were much more obliged to be a part of them). Even simple facts like later summer bedtimes for the kids and more social gatherings and libations for the adults contributed. In other words, it was much easier to not find time to write.

 

Finally, I did not realize how much I would rely on outside motivation. One of the great dangers of the Stats page is being able to see how many people are reading your work — or, more to the point, how few. This was especially difficult to parse moving occasional writings from Facebook to a more consistent blog format. On Facebook, friends hit “like” easily; they want to offer you encouragement. That does not always translate to them clicking the link, and only rarely in commenting on the post. I was hoping to watch my writer page like goes up, my per-post views grow steadily, and my followers list get ever longer. Those things did not really happen and at times it became a source of insecurity for me, who would sometimes stop me in my tracks on a piece or motivate me to do something other than write.

 

All that said, it has been a very educational experiment and I will come away from it a better writer and a better blogger. I think the blog needs some format and focus changes, and my goals as a fiction author similarly need some review, if not revision. I did accomplish something on the order of 50K words over the course of the 100 days, about half of which is fiction that may or may not, depending on the particular piece, be workable into something I can sell. I still have not decided whether I want to deal with Gatekeepers (editors and publishers and the like) or strike out into the wild frontier of self publication, but that’s a different post.

 

I do want to thank those of you that have read and liked and shared and commented and followed. You’re awesome.