Thursday was a bad day, and I ended up writing for half an hour later in the evening and that made the prospect of getting out of bed Friday morning to continue writing a little too much to bear, so I didn’t. I didn’t write during my lunch hour and I didn’t write Friday evening. I decided against it. I gave myself a day off.
This can be a dangerous thing to do. An hour a day on a novel is not too much to ask of myself or to schedule but I needed a day off, so I took on. I also plan on writing two or three hour-long sessions today and maybe two tomorrow, so that will make up for lost time.
According to my wordcount, despite skipping yesterday I’m still ahead of the game and I’m on pace to write 50K assuming I actually have that much material. I have a feeling that despite my carefully balanced plotting to pantsing ratio will still not leave me enough material. I’m also thinking “novella” here so 35K-40K is more reasonable length. I’m overwriting in my head to give myself plenty of room to cut down. I have learned over the years that not every word I put in a file is important. Dumping wordcount is healthy. Loving your words, especially those first-draft pre-coffee words, can be dangerous. The more words I add, the more gems I’ll have and hopefully less re-writing when February rolls around.
Today did not start well. I didn’t want to wake up and didn’t get out of bed until six or seven minutes after the hour. By the time I got to my desk, tea in hand, I found my computer had decided to take a break from reality and I got a pink screen of death. Then after waiting for the long reboot I launched my novel to find … 0 words. 0 bytes. Nothing. Nada. Not an electronic sausage.
I was too tired to panic but so tired that I couldn’t swear loudly and if I had a neighbor in residence, I would have woken him. (He’s a great guy but he travels a lot.)
I save the file to Google Drive. Should solve the problem. Except Google Drive also showed a 0-byte file where my nascent novel had been.
I must admit at this point I bitched on Facebook and went to back to bed, swearing off NaNoWriMo, writing, or ever achieving anything at all in life because Windows.
After calming down I thought there was a way to view previous versions of the file and I did eventually find them, and salvaged the work that had been lost. There was an official backup of only 7K words compared to the 15K I had actually done… but no. The story was saved but the writing hour was up. I wrote about 900 words in half an hour and gave up to the inevitable “have to go to work” that plagues so many people in today’s world.
After work we went to Fonda Lee’s reading for Jade City, which sounds like incredible fun and I hope both the RPG and movie based on the work do it justice. Fonda presented the origin story of the novel, from initial thoughts to fan casting it, to the point where I realized that I hadn’t actually tracked this stuff myself. The idea for this book has been kicking around my head, according to my earlier posts “for about a year” but I’m not sure it was that long. I did have some notes online about the novel’s origins and they stemmed from a Terry Pratchett line “the natural number of a group of witches is one” from one of the early witch novels, and these may have come along during the summer when I re-read a good chunk of early Pratchett.
My process is unorganized and quite chaotic, and in the past I have caught myself writing two different stories in the same manuscript because the mental pre-writing clouds in my head converged and the result was, well, messy. I do a lot of pre-writing that way, but I think with this book I have come across a process that will let me shape those pre-writing clouds into something that I can finish.
Anyway, I came home tired and gave myself 30 minutes to crank out words, and found 1.300 more for the novel. So that’s a win. I blame Fonda.
I wanted to write about this on the third, but other things were pressing on my mind when I wrote this. After re-reading my first three posts, it almost sounds like I’m exclusively using one source for “how to write a book” which isn’t the case. Bell’s books are very good, but the great bulk of my world building and basic story was done going through Mark Teppo’s Jump Start Your Novel. It was very helpful to get the parts of my novel sorted out that I normally wouldn’t develop all that well and then peter out mid-way through.
The most important example of this is my antagonist. It’s not a person, it’s a “raw creative force of the world” which was harder to wrap my head around until I forced myself to write out the exercises in Teppo’s book. Now I understand the power structure of the book and how every major character plays into that structure. This has given me a ground work to half-pants the work. I know where I’m going most of the time and I have a built-up sense of everything but so far nothing has constrained me into a plot hole or an impossible situation.
There is still space for that, I will admit. It is possible that in the scenes between my big signpost scenes I’ll find myself sticking thing into plot points from which there is no escape.
Today’s actual writing session was not at 6 AM. I set my alarm for 7 and had a breakfast, then I came home and worked out and then we went to see Thor: Ragnarok and then I sat down to write, unsure about myself and not sure which scene to work on so I did the follow up to Thursday’s work which pushes things past the disturbance and towards the First Door of No Return. I was a little afraid of it and I found myself back in my old writing habits in that I have about 13 pages of pure dialog sitting here now. According to the NaNoWriMo wordcount I did 1,900 words in that hour. I’m a little shocked that I did that much.
This morning’s writing session was the end of Bell’s triangle of the story. I wrote the core “what is the character’s main question” bit on the first, then wrote the lead in to that, the “hell no I won’t change” bit, and this morning the resolution, which is pretty much the end of the story. In the first five minutes I realized that I wasn’t quite emotionally prepared to write the ending. I stuttered a bit but pressed on and accepted that it will probably need to be re-written, but then again, practically every thing I write is potentially re-writable by the end of all things. No worries. So I wrote and ended up 25 words shy of the daily goal in an hour.
Another thing that bothered me about writing the ending was there’s a bit of an emotional punch there, and my narrative character and her best friends participate in a ritual among themselves I called “Crying Night” and there were tears of joy and not joy and the catharsis of watching tearjerkers. I wrote it and thought “this is potentially horribly sexist.” I already ask my beta readers to tell me with brutal honesty when my writing goes sexist. I will admit to blind spots in my life.
So now I’ve written the emotional triangle and I need to start filling in the rest of the story. I’m not sure I’m up to write the opening yet. It hasn’t changed from how I first imagined the hook when I first came up with this story, but I’m not ready. I’ll probably work on some of the other top-tier scenes from Bell’s outline.
But not at six in the morning. I plan on taking the weekends off of the 6 AM writing call and write in the afternoon.
One thing that stops me, or at least slows me down, is getting the opening right. I had a horrible habit of writing the opening scene and not liking it or not having enough to keep going so I’d write it again and try to get that killer first line that would somehow make the rest of the novel just flow and the plot work like Lily Hevesh in her studio.
So my plan this NaNo was to not write my opening scene. I know what happens. I know where it takes place and I know the key phrases that need to be said, but I’m not writing this novella that way. I am taking the path of James Scott Bell’s Write your Novel from the Middle and I spent day one writing that middle scene, the midpoint Bell describes in his book. I figure when I get to writing the opening scene, I’ll be ready to write it and I won’t second guess myself every sentence.
This morning I worked on the bit Bell calls the Argument Against Change, which sets up the protagonist’s inner transformation.
So tomorrow, by that logic, I should write the transformation, which is pretty much the end of the story. Thankfully I know what happens there as well. It’s really an epilogue sort of thing and that will be nice to write if I choose do write that in the morning.
I’ve also been using Bell’s companion book Super Structure where he fleshes out the ideas from the first book.
So as of today I’m over 4K, which the NaNoWriMo site tells me at this pace I’ll finish by November 25. I’ve seen that before. Life will happen. OryCon will happen. Changes at work will happen.
But for now I am writing again and that’s what I need to do.
I’ve had this idea bouncing around for probably the better part of a year, so the exact source of inspiration is lost to memory, but I’m sure I have the note in some app or file somewhere. I had been thinking about wizards and apprentices and how the progression of knowledge got passed down in some stories. The Sith “Rule of Two” seems to have been the rule. The idea I had turned that around. I had an apprentice who needed to find the wizard, because reasons. I’ve since managed to come up with reasons and call it a back story.
I have not been writing a lot and haven’t submitted a story for a couple of years. I got tired of rejection. I took a break. I played around with a few ideas but nothing has really gelled so this is all about butt-in-chair and getting my fingers moving in manuscript format instead of Python. I purchased a second-hand mechanical keyboard and moved the keys around and it kind of works well except I need a tall wrist pad because my arms got very tired in my first hour-long writing session this morning.
I also tried writing on the train to church and experimented with a qwerty layout and two thumbs and that lasted about five seconds before I got frustrated and went back to my left-handed dvorak layout on my phone. I managed a pretty good clip of about 1,000 words an hour which is what I used to do regularly, so I was satisfied with that. I also managed to salvage the obvious typos. “Yadda yadda yadda” turned into “baccalaureate baccalaureate bocce” for some strange reason that only Google understands.
I did feel good about writing, though. I have a loose outline and a few signposts. It’s looking to be a good NaNo year.
Once again I turn my hand to writing and trying to do something with the stockpile of stories I have unsold and unfinished. Once again I turn to structure templates and books on writing to solve the perennial problem of “what happens next?” Once again I map out plot points and realize I still don’t have enough scenes to make it work.
My latest attempt at re-writing my 2004 NaNoWriMo entry involved reading a couple of books by James Scott Bell that Dale Ivan Smith recommended. His books list 14 structural checkpoints, 5 in Act I, 4 in Act II, and 5 in Act III. I struggle with pacing in all my stories. To have 4 checkpoints in 50-55% of the book and 10 for the remaining 45-50% is frustrating. This is where I fall apart. I need to find other ways to fill this narrative space.
I need scenes. I don’t want to mistake these checkpoints for actual scenes, but my organizational pattern searching brain is trying to map them one-to-one.
I know I am hitting the greatest fault of all would-be writers, in that I’m not writing. I’ve tried pantsing my way through novels and it doesn’t work. I end up hitting a wall where I cannot come up with the next thing. I’ve tried several plotting methods and those still leave gaps in my second acts.
Maybe, after 14 years of this, I should give up.
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