The following was written initially for the January issue of the newsletter for a group I belong to. There wasn't room for me in this issue, so rather than wait another 6 weeks I thought I'd post my article here anyways, and resubmit later. I've added to the original article of course, it's easy to add words if you've the space. The challenge can be to say the same thing in less words, whether to fit an editor's guideline or out of pity for your audience.
The article summarizes my November writing experience for NaNoWriMo, as well as some of the subsequent research and editing process. I was advised to wait a month before editing my novel, to be able to approach it from a fresh perspective, so in the meantime I've been reading up on the art/craft of writing, and of editing.
Wow - there's almost an endless supply of articles and blogs and books and opinions out there on this - I think if I'd had the time to look into this earlier I would have never started to write, blocked either by intimidation or by the search for yet more information. It's a good argument for "ignorance is bliss" and for following the 80/20 rule in life, that sometimes close enough is a better choice than 100% perfect. I did find many interesting posts, including one talking about writers vs authors, prompted by news that scatterbrained Snookie (from MTV's Jersey Shore) had published a book. The blog clarified that writers write, authors have been published. Snookie is the latter, but not the former, as her book was ghost written. I won't list all the other articles I've found, some are referenced in my Twitter feed, on the right side of this page. Which also gets copied to my Facebook automatically. Ah - what would we do without all this technology, and for that matter what would I do without all these things filling my day? Well, I might write more, as that's part of my New Year's resolutions - to refocus. I've dropped a band, will pick less (and cheaper) cable choices for TV (or maybe rabbit ears?), will spend less time trying to change things/people/groups that I can't change, or that don't want to change. I'll do another post on resolutions and/or a bucket list later. Here's my NaNoWriMo article:
I wrote a novel last November. It was a first for me, a draft version only, with the emphasis on quantity not quality, but I did manage 50,408 words in 30 days. I wrote it as as part of National Novel Writing Month, a challenge issued every year to all those wannabe writers to just sit down and write. I've written off and on for years, for work and pleasure, but never beyond a few hundred words. Friends have suggested, "You read a lot, you should write a book", but I never assumed it was quite that simple. I do agree that reading can certainly help you to see what works and what doesn't, how characters develop, how scenes flow, how locations come to life, but it doesn't automatically make you a writer. That process starts with some skill and imagination, but then involves writing, editing, feedback, and more writing. The NaNoWriMo challenge started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 with 21 writers, by this year there were over 200,000 signed up from around the world. It was expected that only about a fifth would finish, but even if you do only 10,000 words, it's still an accomplishment. Here in Ottawa we had over 1000 members signed up this year, from teens to seniors. Some had several successful years hitting that 50,000 mark, some even ended up publishing, many were newcomers like me - both excited and scared at the concept. There's great support for us all through on-line forums to discuss things like character development, plotting, and writing tools, a buddy system so that you can nag each other, and “write-in's” every few days to gather together and work. Plus there's the incentive/pressure to log on and enter your cumulative total every night. I decided to give it a try in mid October, so signed up on the NaNoWriMo site, then did a bit of research and planning. I'd never written this much before, so I was a little nervous. I read that some participants just do a stream of consciousness thing, following the random ramblings, but I felt more comfortable with some structure and direction to guide me, and as an assurance that I might end up with a real novel. Also, I hoped that when faced every day with another 1700 words or so to write, a plan and outline might help me to keep rolling. I checked out various writing programs - you'd think anything would do but advice was that it helps to be able to track characters and locations and re-arrange scenes and chapters. I picked Scrivener , a free (but stable) beta release for Windows of an already well established Mac program. I was, and am quite happy with it, there were some bugs, but none were serious, and the support is excellent. Using Srivener, and it's index cards, my outline quickly grew in scope. I'd started with a simple story about a street smart RCMP cop that goes to run a northern detachment. I eventually added in a murder, some Federal meddling, pollution, mismanaged funds, First Nations concerns, a young heroine with links to local spirits and native lore, and some discussion on graffiti murals. Oh - and my cop had a super-power too. I even threw in a turkey bonspiel at the local rink. I may need to edit out some topics or change their emphasis, but I though it was better to add now and remove later. I found it a challenge for the first few days to hit my word count target, as it was tempting to edit and fuss, or look at other sparkly things. However, the commitment of signing up, publicly adding to my on-line bar graph of word count, and making some local writing buddies - all this kept me focused. My outline was a help too as a structure to guide me and get me back on track, as of course it wasn't all smooth sailing. Dialogue flowed, but sometimes got stuck. Occasionally the plot took an unexpected turn, so we (my characters and I) needed to sit and re-group, or go back and change an earlier scene to match where we were. My characters occasionally wandered off on their own too, or refused to follow the plot line, so sometimes I'd just dutifully write where they took me, sometimes I'd manage to coerce them back, perhaps with the promise of some romance. I discovered that once I started writing, I was more aware of sources of inspiration around me, be it a friend, a moment in a store, or the guy on the next bar stool - I did a lot of research in my local pub. I now have pages of notes to add in later, or maybe for book two. I maintained a fairly regular schedule, but In the end ran out of plot at about 49,000 words. Minor panic then, but I calmed and added a bit of description and dialogue here and there, uploaded my text to the main site and was told I had “won”, with 50,408 words. That's it as far as winning goes, the NaNoWriMo site doesn't have anyone reading your novel, there are no editors or publishers lurking there to sign you into a multi-million dollar contract. The purpose is to just get those words out of you and onto paper - or screen - the rest is up to you. It was a challenging and fun month, and I made some new friends – did I mention mostly women sign up?
Next step is to edit and hone – who knows – I might even feel comfortable enough to share it with some friends. Publishing is just a vague dream at this time, but maybe in November 2011 I'll write that sequel. Hope to see some of you there.