Friday, December 03, 2010

What I learned writing a book in a month

or how I learned to buckle down and actually write a damn book.

I fall squarely into the category of people who are "writing a novel."  You know the ones.  They say "I'm writing a novel," and everyone smiles and nods supportively because this person has been writing a novel for most of their post-adolescent life.  By my count I've started over ten novels.  My husband says my obituary will read "author of the twenty-nine most promising first chapters you'll ever read."  Ouch.

First, I was going to write a novel when I finished my B.A., then in grad school with all that spare time, then before we had kids, then before we had another get the idea.  I'm a novel procrastinator.  I was always getting stuck or not feeling the story or frying a laptop and losing the whole manuscript.

So when NaNoWriMo came along I thought why not?  A little competition might be the best medicine for me, so armed with a few hours a week at the library, a flashdrive, and a lot of coffee, I signed up.  And dear readers, what do you know, I wrote a book.

Ok, I wrote 50,000 words that need a lot of editing, revision, and rewriting.  There's still about 2-3 chapters to write before the story arc is totally complete and everything from plotting to character development to description needs an overhaul.  But I discovered a few things along the way that made me realize I have the ability to stop being the novelist I spoke of before and become a real writer.

1.  I'm a pantser.
I have wasted a lot of effort on outlining and plotting and scene by scene planning.  NaNo forced me to sit down and write.  If I wanted to stay on target to meet the 50k goal, I had to write even if I couldn't force the scene I was supposed to write out.  The result?  I learned that sitting down, picking up where I left off, and writing for 2 hours produced a lot more story than my self-inflicted outline.

2.  A blank page is scarier than one that needs editing.
I have 179 pages of typos, poor word choice and in-text comments to reread and revise and it is so much less scary than the blank page ever was.  A blank page offers you nothing.  A page that needs revision gives you things to build on, ideas that spark more inspiration, and the start to a story.

3.  My inner editor is my worst enemy.  
My inner editor was always keeping my word count down and causing me to give on MSS.  When I stopped fixing typos, chose the word that came to mind over searching for the perfect one and just let go, I wrote like the wind.  Striving for perfection slows you down and inhibits creativity.

So wish me luck.  I have a book to edit!


  1. Hi Gen,
    Congrats on your hard work and success thus far! (I've been reading your blog and notes over at query tracker. It's exciting stuff!)
    I do have a question for you that may seem rather silly: After starting and stopping multiple projects in the past, how did you decide THIS was the story to stick with?
    I, too, have a file on my laptop with 10 different novels (begun but never finished). When did you get the sense that this idea was different? How did you know? How long before did it take you to zero in one one concept and run with it? Im still struggling with this issue and would love to hear how other writers conquered the inner doubting beast.

  2. PS-Sorry for the glaring typos; I'm holding a squirming infant and typing with one hand!

  3. I know all about typing with an infant on the lap! The short answer is that I didn't. Even the night before NaNo I almost changed my mind and posted on the forums there that I was stuck between 2 ideas. Thankfully, someone PMed me and said to go with CREWEL because it sounded so cool :)

    But really having a goal of 50k words in a month, sprinting with other writers, keeping track on my word count ticker, made me push through and focus on this book. To some extent, it was just deciding on one and focusing. I just refused to quit even when bright, shiny ideas came around, and now I'm so caught up in its world that I'm totally focused on the sequels and can't think much about other projects.

    Not sure if that's helpful or not, but it worked for me. I'm hoping to Nano book three in November.

  4. Thanks, that was helpful. It sounds like having a deadline made a huge difference for you. That and just making the decision to stay focused. Are you planning a trilogy, with CREWEL as the first book? Sounds exciting!

    I'm stuck between two completely different ideas, and genres, as well, and have started working on both without a clear winner. It's so frustrating! Perhaps if I find myself getting really drawn into one of the stories I will just run with it and put the other one aside for now. My concern is that the indecision is just another (subconscious) stalling tactic. I'm so good at stalling when it comes to writing fiction!

    Thanks again for the response.