So, in the the Beautiful People link-up from October, I said I decided against participating in National Novel Writing Month.
Then I changed my mind.
I read Christine’s post for how to survive NaNo and her post about her NaNo work-in-progress…and started to think that the challenge would be a good way to spark progress on my own novel. So after some thought and prayer, I decided to at least start NaNo. If it proved too demanding for my writing, my life, or my health, I would either drop it or amend my goals.
I had already begun writing my novel a few weeks before November began–on pen and paper in a loose-leaf binder–so I didn’t start page one on November 1st. But the situation helped me create my daily goal: I counted 1,600 written words, and found that amounted to roughly 6 1/2 pages. To get 2K a day, I estimated that would be about 9 pages. So my writing goal became 9 pages a day. I found I actually loved meeting a daily page goal! And it definitely spurred writing progress, and helped me do more than I thought I could!
Well, for the first two days at any rate. I ended up writing in the wee hours of the morning of November 1st–not because of any dedication to the craft, but because of asthma trouble that forced me to sit upright. After hours of sitting in the recliner and texting a friend who also happened to be sleepless, I finally noticed the blue binder sitting nearby and thought, “Why not?” I actually met my 9-page goal that day, and the next–but then reality and the need for sleep set in, and I fell behind for the next two days. 🙂
I caught up by adding an extra 3 pages to the daily goal–and promptly fell behind again. I kept adding an extra 3 pages to the daily goal every time I fell behind–and thus began an endless cycle of trying to catch up. It was incredibly helpful to have my friend Heather encouraging me through it, asking after my progress via text and cheering me on! But the amount of catch-up work to be done soon got overwhelming. And I got perpetually exhausted halfway through November, and so decided not to push myself to meet the daily page counts any more. And then Thanksgiving approached, and I got caught up in drawing Star Wars: Rebels fan art, and long story short, I dropped the NaNo goal.
Which was incredibly frustrating, because this cycle of falling behind and dropping goals happened repeatedly through my 12 years of writing. Mainly because of my chronic illness (though I also used to be a huge procrastinator and perfectionist). HOWEVER, the whole experience wasn’t a waste, because here’s what I learned.:
- That Star Wars Rebels fan art is so fun to draw! Okay, okay, I’ll be serious. 🙂
- November is really not a good month to set a self-appointed writing deadline. For years, November has been a wind-down month for me and a Christmas preparation month–I do all my shopping, boxing, and wrapping through November, and what with Thanksgiving at the end of the month, it’s just a bad time for me to cram in 2,000 words a day.
- On the other hand, I actually can meet daily word counts/page counts–something I hadn’t been too sure about before starting this endeavor. Having a concrete daily goal of some kind really does jump start my progress!
- Writing with pen and paper actually works better for me than typing on the computer. Or rather, it works better for the draft; I do character and story development on the computer. But with Gentle Fire, it has worked really well to type a bunch of notes, a sort of “thinking (or is that typing?!?) out loud” process, and then de-clutter the notes, print them out, and draft the story by hand.
- However, this process is definitely slower than tapping away on a keyboard. So when I have the option, it might work best to pair a 50K word count goal with a month in which there aren’t as many holidays. 🙂
- As such–I may actually try for a monthly 50K word count again–but in March, not November.
All in all, I’m content with the progress I did make, and with the principles I learned. And once again, I missed the Beautiful People link-up, but I’ll still include the questions here. 🙂
Overall, how is your mental state, and how is your novel going?
Hehe. Bit of a roller coaster on both counts. I wanted to chronicle my first two weeks of doing NaNo, like Christine did, but it would be a refrain of “met the goal, fell behind, tried to catch up, fell behind again.” Kinda boring to read about…
At the moment, I’ve focused more on art than on writing, so my progress is sporadic just now. I hope to get back into the swing of daily writing after New Year!
What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?
The little school room, though not empty, had an abandoned air. Benches were deserted, and a slate or two lay askew atop the wood. But near the front of the room, the small population of scholars crowded around their young schoolmaster, who sat with a boy on his lap, and a book in his hands. Two more boys sat on either side of the teacher, and the young man held the book open and tilted so that the students could see the pages. He read aloud from the text—but no more than a sentence or two at a time.
And Durant can’t read further because his students keep interrupting with questions. 🙂
Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?
Durant, hands down, because of his character layers–he’s the quiet type with a serious and reserved demeanor, but he is deeply passionate for his family and his values. He also adores his nephews and niece, and he enjoys teaching children. He has an iron will, but a soft heart. Also because I can relate to his struggles (fear and discouragement) and his priorities (family, fulfilling trust, responsibilities). May or may not be a case of Real Life Writes the Plot (and I really need to get off tvtropes.org).
I enjoy writing Mary, though; her voice and her actions come very naturally to me. I also think Wilson will be fun to write, once he appears (he went ahead to the colonies to buy land and set up the homestead, and so he’s not in the earliest chapters), and I’m definitely looking forward to writing Sanchia! (More about these characters here.)
What do you love about your novel so far?
I like the frontier setting–both Anglo and Mexican–and the twist on the western setting tropes. Because the frontier is not newly acquired home territory; it’s actually a colony and is referred to as such.
I also love the world building. While I draw a lot of inspiration from history, I started from scratch with the social and political development of the colonies and simply asked, “given that the colonies were started for economic reasons, how might the society and politics develop?” And wrote about 4 pages of world building in one day.
Have you made any hilarious typos or other mistakes?
That snippet I shared above? In the original, I repeated the phrase “near the front of the room”–in the same sentence! (And yes, I edited it before sticking that paragraph on my blog…it’s not a problem to correct typos when you’re aware of them. 🙂 )
Also, as I scribbled away one day, I suddenly wondered, “Hey, what chapter am I on?” I flipped back, five, ten, twelve, fourteen pages…a few minutes of amused chuckling and flipping later, I found my Chapter 3 heading…20 pages back. Turns out, I’d forgotten to end chapter 3 and just merrily kept writing without chapter breaks! I got a good laugh out of it, and finally found a good place to put the heading for Chapter 4.
Then the same thing happened with Chapter 6–I got so caught up in the string of events that I didn’t actually end the chapter!
What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?
I’ve honestly never thought about this. My beginning chapters are hard because I didn’t connect them very well to Durant’s character arc through the rest of the book. So I’m kinda making it up as I go, and I expect to write better and faster once I get to the more interesting stuff later on. 🙂
What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!
Erm, well, the only consistent habit is “sit down and write”. Beyond that, it depends on the situation; if the room is noisy, I’ll stick in my ipod with The Alamo soundtrack playing–I might also do that if the room is quiet, but I need musical inspiration.
There’s really no good time of day to write–it all depends on how much sleep I got the night before (even this is inconsistent; I’ve written 9 pages after being up half the night with asthma, and I’ve barely written 3 pages when feeling just fine. I have no idea what the pattern is!).
How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?
It honestly depends on the story and/or the friend or sibling I’m talking to! My brother Chris knows more about Empty Clockwork than I’ve shared on this blog or with my other friends-and-relations. I’ve talked a good deal about Gentle Fire here, but I’ve also kept a LOT off the table. I’ve talked a good deal about my literary story Yorkshire Crossroads with my sister Enkie, but I’ve also kept some spoilers well-guarded. So it really depends!
So, I guess in general, I work alone like Batman–but with a few confidantes that play the roles of Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox. 🙂
What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?
Looking ahead to the finished product. Reminding myself of my goal–and that it will be worth it when I get there.
What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?
- Understand the story you’re telling–not just the genre, but what it is you as the writer are ultimately trying to say. And also the themes, the style, the tone, stuff like that. Then select the writing “rules” and techniques that will suit your story, not the other way ’round (I discussed that briefly here).
- Learn how you work best. Some writers need more time to plan; others need the general concept and they come up with the rest on the fly. Some need pages of notes; others work off the tops of their heads; still others find a combination of the two. Understanding how you work best will let you plan reasonable goals (e.g. if you need LOTS of time to prewrite, then shooting for a novel a year might not work), and let you be flexible when life throws a monkey wrench in that plan. Plus, you’ll tailor your schedule and stories to your strengths.
- Encourage other writers. You’ve been through those difficulties before, so why not help others through them?
So, there you have it, my NaNo experience! It didn’t end quite the way I’d hoped, but it wasn’t a failure either. And I would definitely like to try for 50K words in one month, but perhaps in March. 🙂