The Towel is Thrown

Remember when i said I’d gotten enough planning done so I could try to write a draft of a new novel this month for Camp NaNoWriMo? Well, it turns out I was wrong. I got almost 15,000 words in on a story, but stalled out completely at that point and have abandoned it, at least for now. Yes, I’m throwing in the towel on this one.

I’m not broken up about this, even though I still love the story I was working on and would have loved to have made it through a draft this summer. Sure it’s disappointing, but more important to me is that I learned a couple of useful lessons. Don’t we all love to learn new things, especially about ourselves?

  • I’m a plotter, through and through.
    • As I was gearing up for this project, one of my writer friends said he doesn’t like writing outlines, because then there’d be no surprises and no fun in the writing. In this my friend writes like E.L. Doctorow, who is famous for saying that writing is “like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
    • This is SO not me. If I’m taking a cross-country trip, I like to have the road map planned ahead of time. I can still take detours into side streets that catch my eye, and will discover the details about the towns and cities and shops I pass through.
    • I’ve always thought of myself as a plotter, but now I know for sure. The 15,000 words I wrote were scenes I’d planned and seen in my head ahead of time, at least in general. Once I stepped over the edge of that plan, I was stuck.
  • When I tried to plan the rest of the book, I realized I couldn’t.
    • The story I’ve finished and which is out for beta critique right now mostly takes place in the real world of cell phones and highways, with a fantastical overlay. The part of this new story I hadn’t fully planned and proved unable to actually write was going to be set in a fairly typical fantasy world.
    • To get myself in the mood for this I pulled up an old favorite, Barbara Hambly’s wonderful, if dated, duology The Silent Tower/The Silicon Mage. In it a woman from our world is pulled into a pre-industrial, magical fantasy world and has to fight evil there. Hambly has a graduate degree in medieval history and made that world come alive, from the cities where small boys earn pennies sweeping dung out of the way so their betters can cross, to the tiny hamlets where a bad harvest means starvation and death.
    • Sure, with enough research I might be able to do the same, but I’m not convinced I could and I’m certain I don’t want to spend the amount of time it would take.
    • To resurrect this story i need to go back to square one and figure out how to tell it here. There’s no way to pull that off this month, so I’ve got to set it aside. For now.

These two lessons apply to me and this project. However, they also reflect a larger message that applies to anyone who is a writer or any kind of creative person:

Find and follow your own process

You don’t need to write or create the way anyone else does. Listen to suggestions from friends and teachers and try them on for size, but don’t hesitate to drop them if they don’t work for you. Learn from work you admire, but if it’s not for you don’t force it. You have your own way of being and doing.

That’s always enough.

Revision Report

Once again, Camp NaNoWriMo provided the structure for me to complete a writing task. Two years after I wrote the first draft of my novel through Camp, this year I spent those 31 days on a complete, top-to-bottom revision, turning Draft 2 into Draft 3. This isn’t the finished draft by any means, but it’s closer. In addition to the day-by-day pressure to finish that I got from Camp NaNo, I also relied on the 31-Day Revision Workshop posted in Janice Hardy’s Fiction University blog. Both forms of structure were important to keeping me going.

I learned some interesting things about my book and myself as a writer in this process:

  • There was so much excess that I needed to prune away! I probably took out a hundred examples of “that” and another hundred of “just.” I cut out dozens and dozens of unnecessary dialogue tags and bits of stage direction (he nodded, she shrugged…). I converted a ton of “he was X-ing” to “he X-ed.” I insisted my characters stop saying the same thing over again in slightly different words. I rooted out extra adjectives draped all over the place. There was so much that had to go, the book was about 1000 words shorter when I finished than when I began.
  • Yes, I tend to overwrite. But this doesn’t scare me any more, because I know it and I can find and eliminate it in revision.
  • I still like my book. There have been days when I didn’t, and nights when I can’t imagine what made me think I could be a writer, but when I come back to it I find there’s still something there that speaks to me. Kay’s story is important, at least here inside my head, and I’m going to keep pressing to tell it the best way I can.

So what’s next?

  • Running the whole thing through a computer system to get word frequency counts, so I can find and eliminate some more of the things I say too often
  • Revisiting the chapter breaks, since I have a nagging feeling that some chapters should be combined and others broken up
  • Putting it away for at least a couple of weeks, probably a month before looking at it again!

In the meantime, I’m pleased to be able to hang the Camp NaNoWriMo WINNER badge on the site. One small step forward in this very, very long process.