Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Post-NaNo

Success!

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I achieved my writing goal for the month of November. That kept me away from here for a while, and I didn’t pick it back up right away with witty blurbs about the hellish holiday season I endured or other musings. Sorry about that, folks, but I’m back and wilder than ever.

I’m really liking the bones of the novel I banged out for NaNoWriMo. What was most interesting to me about the exercise is that I found myself relying much more heavily on dialogue than narrative in cranking out the pages during the marathon speed writing event. I enjoyed that, but as a result I’ve got something more like a screenplay than a novel. So, I think my revisions will be more about filling in the blanks than cutting the purple out of my prose. We shall see. I have yet to send the NaNoWriMo manuscript into the cold abattoir of my editing self, but it is making noise in the corral.

Instead, I have been polishing up a synopsis for my finished manuscript FREE AMERICA and working on sending out some query letters to agents. At the same time, I am considering self-publication for FREE AMERICA. Things are so different in the self-publishing world since I began my fiction writing journey in earnest a decade ago. It seems to make a certain amount of business sense for me to pursue self-publication until I’ve got a bigger body of work to go around hawking. By that time, I might be making enough money that I would rather hire an intellectual property attorney than an agent. Who knows.

So, all you indie authors out there, do you have recommendations for good freelance editors, book cover designers and other resources? Please let me know. I’m going to be digging in to that stuff over the next few weeks.

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The Perfect Beginning

Writing, already a somewhat esoteric activity, is something that becomes more surreal when performed in a room filled with chandeliers made from plastic dolls, metallic pedal-cars suspended from the ceiling, and a flock of writers kicking off NaNoWriMo. The first thing I did when entering the room full of people I didn’t know was to put my laptop bag on a table, launching packets of artificial sweetener into a shotgun pattern on the floor. I looked up at the ceiling, and a humping pair of golden spray-painted mannequins looked back at me.

The one on the bottom looked a little surprised, but whether it was by me or the one behind him, I wasn’t sure. A paper moon was hanging from the center of the ceiling, with another golden mannequin holding up the bottom of its crescent form. It shone on a pink Eiffel Tower filled with plastic baby doll heads. Another mannequin, in modesty, had adorned itself head-to-toe in a silver wrapping of Mardi Gras beads. Where else would I want to be on Halloween, waiting for midnight to strike, starting the clock on my countdown to crank out at least 50,000 words in 30 days?

Nowhere.

So, here I sit, in a two-toned, metal-flake vinyl covered chair, watching the clock and wondering how this will all go down.

It is an interesting collection of folk, the Baltimore NaNoWriMo crew that decided to make the trek to The Paper Moon Diner, ranging in age from college-ish to balding and middle-ageish. I’m on the older side of the spectrum, and I’m OK with that. I’m wondering how much the room has written, how many years they’ve been doing the NaNoWriMo, and how many completed manuscripts they have among them, and how many of those that have been published. I’m willing to bet the answer would surprise me, but not sure of whether it would be by its glut or scarcity.

This is how my first NaNoWriMo begins, in awkwardness and solitude within a room full of writers, talking amongst themselves while I tap the keys on my laptop.

Every once in a while, I stop, look up, and take in the surrealism of it all. With its Halloween-costumed fiction writers and encrustation of Freudian freak-show décor, this room contains more of it than the Dali Museum.

This is my perfect beginning. Now to figure out how to start the manuscript…

Only a few more minutes until midnight.

If November is for Novel Writing, then October is for Outlining

After typing my two favorite words into my manuscript FREE AMERICA and setting aside its sequel, I’m getting pumped up to crank out the first draft of a new, completely unrelated manuscript for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been playing around with story ideas and coming up with characters for a few months, and it is time to start getting them into some sort of intelligible conglomeration that will help me bang out the prose.

I mean no offense to the “pantsers” of the world. I am a write-by-the-seat-of-the-pants guy much of the time, especially when I am searching for story. I started out FREE AMERICA knowing nothing about my story except where it began and what the world was like. The rest of the time was spent exploring the world, finding the characters’ voices and discovering where the story went. I enjoyed all of that time (well, most of that time), but it certainly was a giant hunk of time spanning years of my life.

It took me so long to write FREE AMERICA because it was my first novel, and, of course, my first draft ended up with most if not all of the problems that first novels tend to develop. Being too much of a perfectionist for my own good, I decided to find and fix the problems rather than say “oh well” and discard it as my crappy first novel attempt. Do I think I identified and eradicated every single one of them? I’m not delusional. I know I will benefit from working with a professional editor. Who wouldn’t?

Completing the first draft, getting feedback from readers, then working through all of the cutting and revising and rewriting afterward was the deepest learning experience I have ever gone through. This wasn’t just a practical exercise rather than a theoretical one, it was a spiritual journey that forced me to face my fears and develop personal character. Now that I’ve got about as much character as I or anybody else can stomach, I would like to experiment with seeing how expeditious I can be with drafting a complete manuscript from beginning to end.

I’m thinking of this as one big exercise, one that might transform my process. I don’t picture myself creating an ultra-detailed outline. I picture myself doing the sort of planning I do before I travel to a new place for the first time. I want to figure out in general where I will be going and how I will be getting there as well as a little bit about some of the things I might experience while I am there. I see myself finding the major landmarks of the story, exploring the neighborhood a little, and gaining a better understanding of what makes my characters tick and how they would  probably react to the environment and situations I contemplate putting them in. Afterward, I will release the characters into the wild and see what happens, hoping to be a little surprised at what ends up happening.

I will probably wind up doing what I eventually did with FREE AMERICA: create/modify an outline to track what I have written to ensure it all works together. My writing and outlining worked in tandem, each informing the other, until I ended up with my completed manuscript. Much of my “outlining” in the final stages consisted of quick scribbles into the hardcover pocket notebook I carry at all times in order to capture inspiration and honey-do lists.

These are the things I have found most useful in my preparation for this process:

Many moons ago, I signed up for the newsletter at StoryFix.com,  read the books Story Physics and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and listened to at least one Writer’s Digest Tutorial by Larry Brooks. All that material has firmed up my understanding of how and why to structure a story. I think I may bit a bit more of a free-spirited writer than Larry Brooks, but I respect his ideas and methods.

I also liked this Writer’s Digest Tutorial from  K.M. Weiland: Outlining Your Novel: Create a Roadmap to Storytelling Success. What I liked most about this tutorial is the pure practicality of it. This is a tutorial that is geared toward getting things done. It is all about seeing the big picture so you can go forth and paint it with your words.

The thing that got my creative juices flowing the most was a book I read by James Scott Bell: Write Your Novel From the Middle. The general idea of this book is that (A) every story has a moment, pretty darn close to the exact middle of the page count, where the main character realizes all is lost, sees who he is, understands what he has become, and/or grasps what he wants to be; and (B) if you can do a good job of nailing down this moment, then you can leverage both the first and last halves of the manuscript from it.

So, I hereby declare my intention to figure out during the month of October what my story is and where it is going so that I can get the words down onto the page during NaNoWriMo in November.

I wish the best of luck to everyone else out there who might also be so inclined.

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