November 20, 2012

A discovery on my way to 40K #nanowrimo (blog)

Oh, I was such a naive young thing back in October of 2005, ready to step into NaNoWriMo for the second time. I had already proven to myself that I could write 50,000 words in 30 days. A few months later I proved to myself that I could complete the whole 65,000 page manuscript.

I didn't yet know how much I had to mature and how much better my writing would get over the next seven years.

I wrote three more NaNoWriMo novels, twice getting more than 60,000 words written during the month of November. Each novel got progressively better, and the fourth one was actually quite good. After a few years dabbling in short stories, I wrote Semper over the course of an entire year and spent another half year revising it. Forsada, the sequel to Semper which I will publish in January 2013, also took a little over a year to write.

This year I plunged back into the NaNo madness. So far: 20 days has yielded 40,000 words, plus one big lesson about my creative process.

As I'm writing this book, I'm making great word count. Some of the scenes are exquisite--tight, active, lucid, brilliant. Others wallow in stagnation. I find myself having characters recapping the action so far to other characters, as happens so often in HGTV shows or The Da Vinci Code. When I notice this, I force the characters to move, to go do something. The problem is, the story is stagnating because I don't exactly know what should come next.

You see, my modus operandi is to journal my story idea and character sketches, longhand, while commuting on the train to and from work. I'll journal the hell out of it until I feel like I've got realistic characters, a strong plot arc, good themes, and as few plot holes as I can manage. That's when I let myself start writing. I'll get maybe ten thousand words in and find I need to let the ideas simmer some more, let the next episodes take shape in my journal. Often I'll sit at a word count for a few weeks while I work out the next sections and any other big changes.

Ideas are like that. They get better the more you exercise them (unless you exercise them to death).

The problem with NaNo is that there is no time to stop and mull over this new secondary character that's inserted himself so dramatically, or to figure out just how the main character extracts himself from an inescapable chamber, or what the landscape looks like in this mythical place my characters are about to enter for the first time. No time to journal it. No time to let it simmer. Gotta turn up the heat and cook.

And that's okay. Pushing forward, torpedoes be damned, is a great way to get a first draft written. My first drafts of Semper and Forsada were very strong, very tight. Revisions still necessary, of course, but most of my revision was done in my journal before I ever wrote the manuscript.

This draft of this new NaNo novel will be a good story. But it will be loose, and the writing will need a lot more trimming and rework. The only difference is that I'll be doing that rework after writing the first draft rather than before it. For Semper and Forsada, I did previsions, then writing, then revisions. For this NaNo book, I'll write, then revise, and revise again.

Same destination, same amount of energy expended. Just a different route.

And that's not only okay, it's a revelation for me about my own creative process. I'm finding my strengths and learning to exploit them in different environments. And that, I think, is the essence of NaNoWriMo for me.

 And just because you read this far, a couple of kittens.


fairyhedgehog said...

a) I relate to that, and
b) kittens!

PJD said...

I've gotten a lot of mileage out of those kittens. Not literally, of course.