Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing a Novel: 2 Weeks In

This is day 14 of my attempt at NaNoWriMo; a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days that I have talked about before I started here. What have I learnt so far?

1. The first 500 words of the day are easy (exception day 3, which went wrong for a variety of reasons, and the morning I had just the slightest edge of a hangover). I've typed more than the 1 666 ⅔ words that are the quota every day, although in some cases it's taken me from morning to evening to squeeze them out in hundred word bursts. In other words I can probably do this.

2. I am explicitly writing a first draft. In previous projects I've noted that something is wrong and gone back and fixed it. None of them have ever gone over 30 pages as I get bogged down rewriting the same broken scenes over and over until I am sick of them and abandon it. Not on this one! Instead I make a note, usually a simple "Fix in 2nd Draft". In this way I won't get sick of rewriting the same scenes! At least not in the first draft. Rather than 30 pages of broken fiction I'll have 100 pages of broken fiction to deal with.

3. I expected my poorly planned story to run to about 60,000 words, which would be 6 December according to the quota. I'm now anticipating 75,000 words, 12 December by current writing rate.

4. It has slowed down my reading. I've finished 4 books this month, rather than the 6-8 I normally would read in a fortnight. On a related note, writing 1700-2000 words a day doesn't seem to interfere with writing status updates and comments, but does make it difficult to write anything longer, like blog posts. Partly this is due to the time commitment, but there's also a strain to changing mental gears.

5. I have been describing my novel on facebook. It is all lies. Every day I describe a novel concept, either a bad idea that sounds like a good idea or a bad idea that sounds like a good idea. After 14 days, I may be running out of stupid novel ideas. This surprised me too. Here they are:

- What if Sherlock Holmes were a circus clown?
- What if Shakspeare's plays were written by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu?
Romeo and Juliet, but the Capulets are Robots and the Montagues are Dinosaurs.
- Gritty intrigue as two hatmakers feud in 18th Century London.
- A deep psychological exploration of the mind of an unemployed guy who spends his days writing a novel about magical rabbits who fight for truth and justice in roman empire that never was, but should have been.
- An undead coroner must investigate his own death. His best friend is a vampire parrot.
- An alternate history in which it is discovered that the Moon is actually made of cheese.[1]
- An amnesiac patient and his nurse fall in love, marry and adopt a houseful of wartime orphans. Then they discover that he was already married! Also he's Hitler.
- A mystery writer discovers that crimes based on her stories are being committed. She teams up with a romance writer who then discovers that someone is recreating the sex scenes from his novels.
- 6 couples from very different backgrounds meet for a dinner party, and while waiting for the 13th guest discover how their pasts have intersected. The thirteenth guest turns out to be Godzilla.
- Carstairs and Topper meet their nemesis, who is a philosophy professor with a smoking jacket, or perhaps a Prussian aristocrat with a monocle, or maybe an attractive young lady with a parasol, I don't know.
- A cheesemaker ignores the War of the Austrian Succession, despite all the most famous personages of the 18th century tramping through his workshop, in favour of his quest for the perfect Stilton.
- Moby Dick, but with less metaphor and powerful descriptions of sailing, and more chapters taken from a whaling manual. Also, rather than hunting whales, they're clubbing baby seals.
- A recipe notebook charts the decline of a marriage and the stuttering attempts to repair it.[2]

6. This I already knew, but have relearned over and over - the only way to find the problems is to write your way into them and then write your way out. I can plan cool bits, although sometimes it's better to let them emerge. Also constraints are your friend. Day 3's writing went wrong when I shifted away from my original point of view. The hell with that. Let's stick with one narrator (after all, I like his voice; he narrates a lot like me) and find ways to stick him into the action. As I already have people telling stories for a lot of the text, I'll stick a few more in of people telling him stuff when he can't be present.

7. Breaks are good. I'm something of an irregular break person. Hydration and caffination are both good for this. What with the slowly reducing daylight hours, it's good to get outside during the middle of the day, even if I haven't finished my quota of words for the day.

8. My subconscious (unconscious?) mind is my friend. Things that drag and seem hard to write fix themselves between closing the word processor in the afternoon and firing it up in the morning. Partly this is thinking them through and scribbling or sketching in my notebook[3], but a lot of it is sleeping on it.

There are other lessons, but I'm falling behind my typing schedule! I have scattered notes for some more of the Write What You Know series, and will dump them up here later, as well as other lessons that come to mind.

[1] Part One: Search for the Space Cow. Part 2: The Church of God-really-likes-cheese. Part 3: Dairygeddon
[2] This is not inherently a bad idea, which makes me wonder if it's a real book I've heard of but not read. Alternatively, it could very well be from a dream, especially if I'd been listening to Women's Hour on Radio 4 who regularly juxtapose recipes and books about marriage breakups.
[3] Yes, pen and paper. DON'T JUDGE ME!
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