I wrote earlier about toying with the idea of doing National Novel Writing Month again, and later about my decision to take the plunge again. Well, week one is behind me now. And despite some trepidation about whether I could really do it this time, being a parent of two as opposed to one last time around, its going quite well.
As you can tell from the widget in this post, I’m now 10,153 words into the mystery novel I decided to work on this time around. I rounded that corner last night, and managed to meet yesterday’s goal of 10,002 words. Of course, every day there’s a new goal. I’ve got to write at least 1,667 words a day to meet the goal of producing a manuscript of at least 50,000 words by the end of the month.
On the one hand, 1,667 words per day doesn’t seem like a lot. I’ve written many blog posts that were longer than that. But this is different. Blogging is an entirely different process. The way I usually do it, I have all the material I need to reference, and I know the argument I want to make.
Fiction, I’m starting to remember, is another thing entirely. Even though I have an outline I wrote years ago as a guide, I found myself more than a little intimidated a week ago today, when I sat down in front of the computer after everyone had gone to bed, and started writing this thing. I hadn’t planned how I was going to start the story, or even when and where most of the characters would enter it.
I started writing anyway, with the first opening line that came in to my head … and it worked! It’s like the story started telling itself, carrying on with its own momentum. I remember Alice Walker considers herself “writer and medium” of her stories, because her characters just “show up” and start telling her their stories or demanding that she write bout them.
I’ve found I have characters show up that I hadn’t fully planned for, or hadn’t fully fleshed out, serving functions I either didn’t know the story needed or hadn’t yet decided how to fill. Once in the story, they seem to take on lives of their own.
The best description I’ve seen of my experience is from Roger Smith.
Prior to writing I always have three major dramatic events locked down: the opening, which is the catalyst for the story, the mid-point of the book – usually where the conflicts begin to escalate – and some idea of the ending, although that often changes.
Then I sit down and write in a linear progression from beginning to end. As soon as my characters take life on the page, they grab me by the throat and drag me along with them, deep into their dark and messed up lives. I don’t have to think too much, just go along for the roller coaster ride.
I usually get a first draft out pretty quickly – in 8 to 12 weeks – and only then do I really begin to understand what I’ve written, and can start to hone and tighten the work through a number of further drafts.
When I wrote fiction regularly, in college, it was mostly short stories, because I didn’t think I could finish anything like a novel. But there was always at least one compelling character that grabbed me by the throat and dragged me along with them — usually the character who serves as the heart of the story, if not the main character. That character showed up in this book around the second or third chapter, and I’m getting to know her better along the way.
The outline I mentioned earlier doesn’t actually lay out the story in event-by-event detail, but consists of more broad character sketches and some character interviews or statements. It’s been a great resource to have when I’m stuck or need some background or dialog, etc., but it doesn’t help me know what’s going to happen yet in the story. It’s a mystery, so I’ve got crime and the investigation to drive the story. Plus, I know who the murderer is. I just haven’t decided how to get there.
I haven’t needed much in the way of tools, but I have turned to a random name generator to help me when I can’t come up with a name for a new character.
One tool I’ve found indispensable is OmmWriter.
I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a word processor, but it’s also more and less at the same time. Less because it doesn’t have many fancy bells and whistled. More because it shuts off notifications, covers your entire screen with whichever of its pleasant background images you chose — on top of which hovers your writing area, and because if you plug in headphones it envelops you in one of it’s audio choices (which range form kind of “New Age” sounding melodies, to basic “white noise.”
It’s made focusing on writing easier in several situations. Last week, I did a fair amount of writing on the subway, and was never bothered by the noise of the train or my fellow passengers. Plus it doesn’t automatically have spellcheck turned on, so I can write without editing myself simultaneously
What seals it for me, though, is the wordcount that’s always hovering around the bottom of your page. It disappears along with the menus, etc. But returns when I move the mouse.
I’ve got 1,516 words to write before the end of the day if I’m to stay on track.
Wish me luck!
Update: Well, I miscalculated. Yesterday’s goal was actually 13,336 words. I was actually a day behind. But I stayed up last night and wrote until I had to go to bed, because I was falling asleep at the keyboard. As you can see from the widget above, I made it.
Today’s goal is 15,003 words. Only 1,550 words to go!