On false starts, birthdays and changing one’s mind

On false starts, birthdays and changing one’s mind

Man, I’m out of practice with fiction writing.

NaNoWriMo is going quite well, word count-wise. Day one started with a bang, well, actually not, as I started writing at midnight and the wife was already in bed, so I kept it quiet. But it started well with me exceeding my quota in the first day. The following few days saw me missing my quota, though it was still a vast improvement over last year where I couldn’t start writing until day four.

I reached both the five and ten thousand word milestones only two days behind schedule and was all set of a 5k-Sunday which would have put me back on track and in a good position to build up a lead for the three days I’ll be missing when I attend a conference from tomorrow.

Then I noticed a plot-hole. Or more accurately, I noticed my plot was a hole. As in, the way I had written the story up to that point the central premise made no sense. My main character had turned out a helpless idiot with a bit of an addiction – not a bad idea for a character as such, but not the sort of person one would see as a threat, nor the type of person one would ask for help, and that’s the type of person I need for the story to work.

So, I did the only logical thing. I started over. This goes against all NaNo-wisdom (and more than a few writing websites, blogs and books out there) which says motor ahead and fix it when you start editing, after November. But I can’t do that. And this is not an inner-editor issue. More of a linear-thinker issue.

It is simply not possible for me to start writing a different story ten thousand words in, knowing it does not match what have gone before. If I try to do that, my brain shuts down…the mental equivalent of the Windows blue screen of death. You know in exams when you got stuck on a question and skipped to the next one? Torture.

Another common piece of writing advice goes that if you get stuck, start writing a different scene. You don’t have to write in order. Sorry. Doesn’t compute.

I’m about five thousand words into the new version and now I’m questioning the setting. What was that thing Hemingway said about sitting before a typewriter and bleeding?

I’ll be very surprised if I do manage to win this NaNoWriMo, but at least I’m writing. Win or lose, I’m finishing this draft. I’ll use the next three evenings away from my computer for some re-planning. Hopefully that will give me a strategic advantage for the remainder of the month.

In other news, last week I reached the two-year anniversary on WordPress.com. Thanks to all of you who’ve joined me on the journey. Whether you’ve been here from the start or whether you only signed up last week, blogging only works if there are people reading your stuff. It has been pointed out to me (correctly) that I’m neglecting y’all some with this prolonged silence. I hope normal programming will resume shortly, but expect some scheduling changes. In any event, nothing will happen before NaNoWriMo is over, so please be patient a little while longer.

I’ve finally read the final (thus far) Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Dance with Dragons. I’m glad to report I enjoyed it much more than A Feast for Crows, though I can’t say I care much for the last couple of chapters and resulting cliffhanger ending. And thus I join the legions of fans anxiously waiting for GRRM to stop publishing tie-ins and actually finish the damn story. Would that I had never discovered the realm of Westeros.

From dragons and white walkers I went on to American Gods. At this point I’ll say only this: one shouldn’t read Neil Gaiman while trying to hash out a first draft. The phrase, “I’ll never be that good,” keeps popping up in my head.

I reckon that’s enough to prove that I haven’t yet shuffled off this mortal coil. If you’re doing NaNo, good luck beating week two. If not, consider giving it a go next year. Just for the fun of it. (Yeah, fun…)

15 thoughts on “On false starts, birthdays and changing one’s mind

  1. You have to do what works for you – and the key thing isn’t winning NaNo. It’s writing! Word count is a tool, not a target. Go for it, your timing, and who cares if it’s Christmas when the last word arrives? You win – and on your own terms.

    For myself – as every year, no Nano for me (sounds like it should be a word, ‘Nonano’). I had the last publisher/editorial requests on a book – priority, it’s a contract – and am embroiled trying to reorganise my back list for reissue – something that seems to rhyme with ‘next month’ or better still ‘next year’. Eventually I’ll get around to the novel I haven’t been writing (it’s planned…) by which time I’ll probably have forgotten the writing stuff I’ve been ranting about in my own blog…Gak…

    1. I reckon winning NaNo is pretty much a moot point as I’m now over 10k words behind (and I’ve decided to change the setting, again). Yesterday when I came home from my conference I considered writing a bit, then decided anything I wrote in that exhausted state won’t be worth it anyway. I’m just going to write each day and try to write a half-decent story. If I do manage to make up my word count I’ll consider that a bonus.

      I’m eagerly looking forward to that novel 😉

  2. I’m almost 21,000 words in now. I wasn’t happy with the way some parts of the story were coming across, but I’m determined to win NaNo (even though it’s my first year). My solution? Go back and add more chapters… (I was writing straight through from start to end, but these extra scenes needed to be there!)

    1. That I can do – add chapters/scenes I feel are missing. But in this case I was writing the wrong main character, so couldn’t see any way to fix it on the fly.

      Well done on your progress, though. You’re sure to reach the halfway mark on schedule. One day I’ll also manage that…

      1. Characters doing unexpected stuff I can handle as well. With last year’s NaNo my MC revealed that she was in love with her best friend. I totally didn’t know that until I wrote it. I was like, whoa! Where’d that come from?

        But in this case I created one character and started writing a completely different character that actually belongs in another story entirely.

    1. Thanks. I don’t think too much of it, as it was merely the day I created my WordPress.com account. I would much rather if the website had reminded us of the anniversary of our first post, but what can you do?

  3. Another common piece of writing advice goes that if you get stuck, start writing a different scene. You don’t have to write in order. Sorry. Doesn’t compute.

    This isn’t as daft as it sounds.
    If you are a scene by scene writer, then maybe you have the (entire) book floating around in your head already?
    Some writers put all their ideas down on paper, scene by scene /chapter by chapter ( rough draft), then write each scene as the ideas become more concrete.
    Bit like a story board you see scriptwriters/film directors do.
    I’ve written two books this way.

    You can then skip forward and ‘flesh out’ a scene/chapter as the ideas come to you.
    Has the advantage of making it easier to fact-check each scene ( character names, times dates etc.)

    1. I don’t think it’s daft at all. I just can’t write that way. I have several later scenes floating around in my head, some of them even jotted down in my notes, but I have to get to those scenes before I can write them. Adding new scenes into the existing narrative I can do, but jumping ahead to scenes that shouldn’t happen yet? I get panicky just thinking about it 😉

  4. The only relevant bit of wisdom I can offer about writing a first draft–and this comes from years of teaching fiction writing–is that no two people work exactly the same way and you should distrust everyone who thinks their way will necessarily work for you.

    1. Thanks for that bit of wisdom, though you’re not the first person who’ve told me that. I started this journey with a creative writing course a couple of years ago and luckily our instructor there gave the same advice. My problem is I’ve yet to figure out what my method is. At this point it consists mostly of changing my mind, which is not a particularly productive approach.

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