…is a life half lived. Recently photographed in Brooklyn Heights.
Yes, I did it. I climbed the 50,000 word mountain that is National Novel Writing Month. I reached the peak of it, finishing up within twelve hours of the November 30th midnight deadline.
*collapses in heap of adverbs and punctuation marks*
This was my second time doing NaNoWriMo, and it felt quite different from my first. Back in 2009, I’d never written anything so long in such a short amount of time as that alpha draft for A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. Nor had I written any fiction that didn’t include heavy duty illustration and design elements. (Well, unless you want to include juvenilia I’d written as a child and teen.)
Other differences between my 2009 and 2014 NaNoWriMos:
2009: I jumped into my 50k with only the first scene of my novel figured out. This scene was later moved into last third of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, and serves as a major plot reveal.
2014: I wrote my 50k with a detailed outline, after spending over a year writing character studies, a partial draft, and research and travel.
2009: I figured out my plot as I went along. Though I knew I wanted to use elements of the story of the Lady of Shalott in my NaNo manuscript, I initially had no idea if I was writing an epic fantasy, an Arthurian satire, a caper story, or something entirely different. After a long conversation with a friend about ten days into November, I realized I wanted to write a Victorian story of forbidden love, inspired by the tragedy of the Lady of Shalott. And that was only the beginning.
2014: Even though I knew my plot because I’d outlined and researched, there were still surprises along the way. One character proved to have a different history than I’d expected. (Who knew he painted botanical illustrations?) Another turned out to have hidden depths. An ending I planned on began to feel too contrived. This goes to prove that, when it comes to writing, you can outline all you want, but the real inspiration comes while writing. In other words, doing instead of thinking.
2009: I approached NaNoWriMo with an attitude of “Oh, this will be a good way to see if I like writing fiction.” I had doubts I’d even write anything publishable, or get to 50k words.
2014: I know I like writing fiction. I have a literary agent representing my first novel, which is well over 50k words. I’m well into my second novel.
2009: I went into NaNoWriMo knowing very little about the craft of writing long form fiction. I’d never taken a novel writing class or had a critique partner. I sort of groked the technical aspects as I went along—an exhilarating but frustrating experience in which much time was wasted. At the same time, there was the giddy excitement of discovery, of realizing I could do this.
2014: I went into NaNoWriMo with knowledge gleaned from five years of novel writing classes, workshops, and critique partners. I felt confidence in my craft.
2009: I had no idea NaNoWriMo would change my life as an author.
2014: I know NaNoWriMo changed my life as an author.
‘Nuff said. Now that it’s December first, back to real life.
View of my kitchen table earlier this month.
(Yes, I know it’s the day before Thanksgiving. So what am I thankful for? Spring bulbs to remind me that winter won’t last forever.)
Now that we’re three-quarters of the way through November (aka National Novel Writing Month), I thought I’d give a quick update as to my progress. If you’re not in the know, National Novel Writing Month, known more colloquially as NaNoWriMo, sets writers the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. These 50,000 words can be for a new novel, or added to a novel-in-progress. In 2009, I wrote the first 50,000 word draft of the novel that would become A GATHERING OF SHADOWS; this year, I chose to add 50,000 words to the first draft of my Next Novel to help bring it to completion in time for my January 2015 fellowship residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Here’s where I’m at right now:
1. As of this morning, I’ve written just under 36,000 words of the Next Novel this month.
2. This has brought me up to a total of 85,000 words for for my draft.
3. I’m intending to do all I can to hit my goal of 50,000 words this month, though I know it will be tricky with Thanksgiving close at hand.
4. The major difference between my 2009 NaNoWriMo experience and my 2014? I totally pantsed it in 2009, which made much of that draft exploratory in nature. I had no idea how my story would end; I only had a basic idea based on a fragment of a dream I’d had two nights before beginning. Even so, it astonishes me how many of the characters emerged fully formed from my imagination. They didn’t change very much from my first draft through my last, just became more rounded and realized.
5. This year, because I’ve already written and researched much of the Next Novel, I’m working from a detailed outline. In other words, I know how my story is going to end.
6. That written, despite having a detailed outline for this year, I still find the process of writing to be a process of discovery: my characters are surprising me with their histories and peccadillos and unexpected connections. That makes me very happy—I love that my subconscious is working in unexpected ways.
7. Even if I write 50,ooo words this month, will NaNoWriMo leave me with a completed first-chapter-to-last draft of the Next Novel? I’m uncertain. While I’m working my way through my outline, I’m finding places where I’m probably writing more than I need. I suspect I will be cutting or condensing in future drafts.
8. But that’s okay. I understand that this superfluous writing is part of the process of discovering the world of my new novel in all its rich and messy glory. It will also leave me 50,000 words closer to completion than I was on October 31st. For these reasons alone, I am so glad I participated in NaNoWriMo.
Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Photographed in Paris at the fantastical Galeries Lafayette food hall. Yum!