Making Up for Lost Time

You may have noticed something missing last week. Around 10am I had a “CRAP I was supposed to write a blog post!” moment but was at work and did not have time to sit down and do it. So I told myself that evening I would go in and write it. Then it was Wednesday and I realized “CRAP. I forgot.”

That was a pretty good summary of my last week. Potentially even the entirety of the month. Though I suppose it isn’t so much that I’ve been forgetting to write but rather that I’ve been lacking motivation. I have sat down every day and poured words onto the page. Some days it’s been close to 3k, other days it’s closer to 100 words. Per NaNo’s tracker my average daily word count is hovering around 1550. If I excluded the skewed data, my actual daily average would likely be closer to 1400. Which is really great!

It’s also not a pace that I can even remotely keep up with throughout the rest of the year. I think my biggest takeaway from this month is that I’m fine tuning what does and does not work for me. Waking up early? Totally doable. Writing on my lunch break? Manageable most days, but sometimes I need to run errands. Coming out of NaNo, I want to make time to write every day, either in the morning or on my lunch break. I want to aim for 500-1000 words daily, but I don’t want to force myself. I want to write quality words not just quantity.

I love NaNo and everything it’s done for me. But I hate that I’ve written over 37000 words in 23 days and my data is still telling me that I’m behind. I keep thinking that maybe I’ve outgrown NaNo, but I keep going back to it. I like the deadline that holds me accountable. I NEED the deadline to hold me accountable. I love the community. I enjoy going out to spend time with friends. Drinking Starbucks twice a week? Definitely another bonus. But I have an awesome writer’s group that was formed out of NaNo.

And we’ve got each other’s backs.

(Also, Amelia kissed a girl… and she liked it.)

NaNo Rebellion

I didn’t mean to end up as a rebel this year.  It just kinda… happened.  My first novel concept completely fell through, none of my backup ideas had enough substance to become a novel, and even my idea to write a mini-anthology of related short stories fell through.  I had to do something.

So I ended up going back to one of my old NaNo projects.  The 2013 one, specifically.  Not a great year for my health, but it was my first year as ML, and the theme was that fantastic 8-bit setup.  I digress.  I’ve long felt it’s my most salvageable out of all of my manuscripts, and I’ve always meant to come back to it.  With nothing else to lose… here I am.

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A little lost. A little found.

Well, it’s day 20. Today we should all be crossing 33,300 words. I am not there and I won’t be for a while.

Part of that is being hit by this virus that’s taken out half the writing group now. For three days last weekend I struggled to reach even 100 words a day. It took out some of the days that are traditionally my best catch-up days. And I fell further behind.

Part of it is the week two blues, which have persisted into week three for me. The week two blues come with the absolute, gut wrenching belief that you have gone in the wrong direction. Somewhere along the way the plot you were writing stopped being the plot you were planning. You’re lost, you’ve ruined the novel, and nothing will ever be right again.

In my non-writing time I travel to a lot of estate auctions in small towns around the area. I take an old-school approach to get to these. I print out directions from a map site and use them to get me close enough for the auction companies to draw me in with signs they put up. It’s nerve wracking following some back road I’ve never traveled on to some small town I’ve never visited and hoping to find a house or building that I’ve never set eyes on. I have to trust that the directions won’t lead me astray. And 99% of the time they get me there.

But there’s often a point as I’m driving that I’m convinced I’m lost. That point where my directions say to follow this road for 5 miles, even though the road has forked and I’m not sure I took the right fork, and I’m way outside of town now, and did I just pass the county line? But I keep driving. Sometimes I keep driving because that’s the only choice and there’s nowhere to turn around just now. I keep driving because that’s the only way to find out if I’m lost. I drive a little further, and a little further, and eventually I’m there. With little auction signs to light my way.

That’s something like noveling. I’m in that point in the novel that every writer seems to experience. My outline just took a major hit and needs to be reworked. My twist has revealed itself a full act too early. And I’m convinced that everything I’ve ever written is awful, even though I know this is categorically false. There are at least a few bits I like. Buried in there. Somewhere.

The only way to know for sure whether or not I’ve broken the novel is to keep writing for a bit. It should come together in the next 10,000 words. Sometime soon I’ll have an epiphany to fix the third act. My character will find new and interesting ways to ruin her life. I just have to convince myself to keep writing so that we can find out. One word at a time. Until I can see the signs pointing me home.

NaNoWriMo, Week Three: Better/Worse

It could be going better.

By the end of today, wrimos ought to be at 30,000 words — more than halfway to the target word count. This is one of the ways in which I think NaNo is an imperfect system for new writers learning the trick of the novel.

By NaNo standards, you’re more than halfway done. If you’re trying to complete the novel in 50,000 (which, your mileage may vary) you’ve finally zoomed out of the saggy middle, which is one of the things that slows us down in week two.

But most novels come in between 60,000 and 90,000 words, depending on the genre and the writer. I read somewhere that Brian Sanderson’s Elantris is around 200,000 words while Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is just around 46,0001. So it’s not as though there’s a hard a fast rule. But at the same time, it can be hard to break out of the NaNo-set guidelines and learn better methods for structuring and putting together a novel. I think it’s also one of the reasons that a lot of people outgrow NaNo once they start writing outside of the confines of November.2

This is a lot of navel-gazing about the length and nature of novels, and how the middle always drags, and where I’m aiming is this: I’m still at the plodding, sagging middle of the novel. Despite being firm into week three (my spirits should be rising!), I’m still living week two. I’m around 6,000 – 7,000 words behind par. And while things are slowly coming together in the novel, I’m worried I won’t meet my goal of winning again after several years of depression- and fatigue-induced failure, thus regaining the passion I had for writing before my life suddenly got Very Adult on me back in 2012.


I didn’t realize it until I wrote it, but yep. That’s sort of the symbolic trophy at play here — the idea that having made real progress in many others parts of my life (most, I’d hazard to say), that all that’s left is to be at the place again where I was gleefully focused on my fiction and eagerly starting to reach for more.

It could be going worse.

I ran into a problem with the middle of my novel. At first it was an issue with my main character being passive. I struck out a scene, reworked it, and seemed to have a solid footing. I had a red herring, even — I hadn’t noticed it until that moment!

But then I realized the real issue with the middle: there wasn’t anything to put there. I had an outline, but no plan to get from “Nora chooses to follow her mentor” to “the climax starts.” This isn’t Rocky — a training montage wasn’t going to fit the emotional tone of the novel. I didn’t have enough supporting characters or any substantial subplots to move through the middle. All the same, I’m determined to put real effort into this project and to win this year, so I forced my way through it bit by bit.

And then, finally, I had That Moment when it comes together. The problem wasn’t a lack of supporting characters — I have several, actually. It’s just that I wasn’t thinking of them as functional to the story. They each had a role in getting Nora to the point where she’s chosen to follow through with Defeating the Antagonist even though she really doesn’t have the skill to do so. I had a whole cast in this novel. They just needed to be given roles to move the story.

So now that I have all of the blocks to build the bridge from Act II to Act IV in the outline (according to an outlining method Christie taught us that is quite excellent), I have to go work on my third version of the outline to flesh out those roles. To figure out how all of these supporting characters fit in the new roles I’ve given them. Once I know how they work together (and, of course, also against each other) to meet the goals of the plot, I think the middle will probably move a lot faster.

1. I’ve never read any Sanderson, even though I love his podcast work, but Adams is one of my favorite authors. So I can only personally vouch for the latter, and yeah. Hitch Hiker’s Guide is a short book.

2. Outgrowing NaNoWriMo is like outgrowing a really great friendship — it sucks. This is my tenth year, but I don’t need it the way I used to. What I really needed, more than the impetus, was the culture of writers working toward common goal. As our writers’ group has evolved to be that year-round, NaNoWriMo has become less valuable to me. It’s… not a very good feeling.

And Life Goes On

This has not been a good month for me.  Which is very frustrating, because normally this is my favorite time of year.  I want to start over, but I can’t.  Neither life nor the universe work that way.  I’m going to have to wait an entire year to get another shot at it.  It’s frustrating, to say the least.

The original concept for my novel involved my MC being forced to learn about the world of magic upon the sudden death/murder(?) of his uncle.  This lasted for about 18 hours.  That night, I received news that my aunt had passed away suddenly.  She went from flu-like symptoms, to hospitalization, to terminal, all within the span of about 48 hours.  It’s very hard to write a novel with death as a major plot point when you suddenly find yourself in a similar situation.

It had been over 15 years since the last time a member of my immediate family passed away.  I knew it was going to happen eventually, of course, but… well, none of us expected Death to skip over my remaining grandparent or my constantly frail uncle when it did.  Life is funny that way, I suppose.  And while I did not lose a grandma, or a mother, or a wife, as did others in the family… well, it doesn’t really hurt any less.  I have to remind myself of that.

Factor in my already precarious mental health, an abnormal sleep schedule, and the myriad physical illnesses from which I have not been able to fully recover, and… well, it seems the common theme of these past few weeks has been dropping the ball.  Granted, I am undoubtedly the harshest critic of myself right now– I’ve spent the past few weeks either vaguebooking or outright denying what has happened, and you all have still been nothing but supportive.  However, no acts of kindness or displays of empathy can change the undeniable fact that the ball is on the ground.  The word count ball, the social activity ball, the responsible adult ball, the simple chores ball, and countless others… dropped or falling.

I am not okay.  But… I will be.  With luck, sometime within the next two weeks.  But if not… well, so be it.

Life goes on.

So will I.