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My last drawing from October
National Novel Writing Month
It's here. Today is November 2, 2009. Yesterday, on November 1, National Novel Writing Month 2009 began. At http://www.nanowrimo.org you can find out everything about it. Join the forums. Purchase a t-shirt or make a donation to support the site. Get frequent pep talks from founder Chris Baty and numerous professional writers who send out cheery emails and egg you on to accomplish the goal every Wrimo is focused on now: finish a rough draft novel of 50,000 or more words before December 1st.
It's nowhere near too late to start, either. Numerous writers make a slow start, join a few days in and make up the lost time with more hours of writing yet win by creating a good 50,000 word draft. The rough draft does not need to be readable. It can be the worst dreck that ever hit the page and it's still editable to become the greatest novel ever created in the English language.
If you win and make the goal, then upload your text file to the Validator software, it does a word count and deletes your novel. No one reads it. You could type "the" fifty thousand times and validate it to win -- but the real win of course is that your novel is now in your hands. You have a finished book, you wrote it. You can call yourself a novelist and that is fact.
It's a novel, you wrote it and you are Editing your Novel, getting ready to send it out, for however long that takes. You're real.
Validate a 50,000 word draft and you get a cool certificate. They design a new one every year. I've participated every year since 2000, it started in 1999 in San Francisco.
I've won every year except 2002, when I was so sick I almost died and I didn't even start my novel till November 25th. I still got about 25,000 words into it that year.
Today, I've got 27,576 words done on Magic in the Streets, an urban fantasy with a cat protagonist named Magic. The fate of New Orleans and perhaps the world rests in the paws of a little black kitten from a magecat clan. I had it all outlined, since I proposed this novel concept in a writing workshop back in 2001 or 2002, a master class with a published author teaching an organized outlining method.
True to form, once outlined the dang thing never got written. I do much better starting on page one and making it up as I go along. This doesn't work for everyone. It just is the type of writer I am -- an Organic Linear writer.
Organic, means that I write better just making it up as I go along than outlining and planning it first. Linear means that I like to start on page one and keep going till I get to The End without working on scenes from the middle before I come up with the beginning, or write the ending first the way a mystery author does so that I know which clues are red herrings and which ones aren't and where to put them.
That makes all of my novel plots character driven. I throw in whatever I first thought of, then the characters decide what to do about it. Then I hit them with the consequences of their decisions and throw in a few more zingers that just seem like they'd stir things up. At the beginning I'm mostly throwing in whatever I think of. In the middle, new ideas and consequences are running about even with each other. By the end of the book it's mostly consequences and so the final conflict is resting solidly on every decision those characters made throughout the book.
That's my plotting method. It works for outliners too, these techniques are usable separately or together. It's the particular combination of Linear Organic techniques that I got used to that makes me the specific writer I am.
I also think my method makes for good fast writing, but that's something else. For all I know, there are other prolific fast writers who outline and plan everything, then sit down to each scene as a new writing assignment and briskly finish it on time. If you want to be prolific, the real secret is to put in the hours working on your book.
The reason it often takes years to write a good book is the research, the rumination and the editing after the rough draft is finished. Stephen King once wrote in an interview that he wrote his first draft just to find out what happens. Then he throws that one out and writes the book he's going to send in to his publishers.
It was a relief to me to read that, since I'd done the same thing a couple of times when I didn't like what I came up with.
Another reason it can take years to write a good book is simpler than that. If it is your first novel, you're not just writing a 50,000 word book. You're also learning how to write a book. It's a complex set of skills. Relax. Just get it down any old way, because an editable rough draft from the worst beginner that ever picked up a pen or a keyboard is still ten thousand times better than a blank page. No one can edit a blank page into anything but a blank page.
Novelwriting may just be the loneliest art form in the full range of human activities.
You sit alone with your tools of choice, telling stories to yourself with no one else around. You make it up in detail with no idea whether any hypothetical future audience, if you gather enough courage to share it with an audience, is going to laugh at you for trying. A lot of people may have done so just on your mentioning that's what you're doing. The discoveries along the way, moments in the story that made you laugh out loud, or cry at the keyboard, make no sense to anyone who isn't doing it.
You look and sound like a scary insane person who might cry for no reason or laugh for any reason or gloat over killing someone -- someone you made up because the story needed that person to be killed there and then. You sound creepy to anyone who's not doing it. A real novel engages the heart as well as the mind. Your emotions are hyped up to the max and in some ways you're living through all the challenges with your characters -- and in the middle of all that, people who don't get it are bugging you to do something as productive as watch television with them.
They're afraid they'll look bad doing nothing in the evening or on the weekend while you're typing away on a novel, doing something high status, think you're good enough to be a celebrity.
Nanowrimo breaks that isolation.
Nanowrimo turns the world's loneliest art form into something like the Boston Marathon. Line up with all the tens of thousands of other novelists and all of a sudden, if you get an opening sentence down, you're in the lead. You're not at the end of the pack. If you are actually moving, if you have a word count to post, then you're on your way to the winners circle. It's a big one because every novelist is only competing with him or herself.
When you post on the forums that you cried after killing a favorite character, because the plot demanded it and the story had to be told, those other writers understand. They all had to kill someone they loved too. When you laugh out loud and share that line of dialogue that had you rolling on the floor with your cat staring at you in confusion, they crack up with it too. When you gripe about your lovers getting stupid over a misunderstanding, they're there to commiserate.
That's why even though I've written over fifty trunk novels, have two professional short story sales, a novel submission of my official Three Day Novel entry and a successful self-published science fiction epic that paid out six times over (stellar for Print On Demand, especially with zip to zero marketing involved), I have to do this every year.
I've done the http://www.3daynovel.com Three Day Novel Contest. I've completed 51,000 words of decent novel half-edited this past Labor Day Weekend and sent that in, paid the fee and sent it in for judging. First Prize is publication. I'll know in January. Like every other entrant, I'm hoping to hear back that I won and now an editor's going to tear my book apart stem to stern with a long list of suggested changes that I have to make before it hits print.
And if I don't, then some other editor will someday, because that one came out as a good book and I'll keep shuffling it around till it sticks somewhere. That's the particular hurdle I'm facing in my novelist career -- getting the dang things edited and sending them out. Some of them are pretty darn good, all of them need at least a polish before they leave the house.
Come November, it's time to hang up all that editing courage and get back to why I write novels. I write novels because I enjoy writing novels. I love getting so hooked on the book that it's the best thing I've written in my life. I love turning the next page and typing as fast as I can to find out what happens next, because I have no more clue to the end than any reader will. That's just my way of doing it.
In November, I'm not alone and what I'm doing isn't crazy. It's just this cool thing that I do with everyone else who does it, a mad dash to the finish line and a lot of jokes and in-jokes and shared moments and creativity with people who do know what I'm talking about when I say that I have to make up the laws of magic -- and discover a new one that makes the book read better.
So if you have ever faced discouragement, if you ever wanted to write a novel in your life, now is the time. Seize the day. Sign up at the site and start your book. If you want some help with it along the way and encouragement after the great event is over, also join http://www.sffmuse.com/forums, a writing group I founded in 2004. It's small, warm, quiet and intimate, with a writing chat and excellent forums including members-only critique forums so that you can post your work to discuss it without publishers considering it Already Published.
They pay less if you posted it on the Internet and didn't friends-lock it. If anyone Googles your novel topic, say, dragons, comes up with your novel by paging through however many pages it takes and can read the whole thing, the publishing industry considers it already published and will not pay full price for it if you succeed in editing it to professional quality and submit it. They pay half price or less for reprints and don't like buying them compared to buying brand new fiction that no reader outside your personal critique group ever saw.
So if you take your writing seriously, post it in critique groups and friends lock if you blog your chapters. If instead you treat your first one as practice and share it free on the Internet with anyone who reads it, you won't get paid for that one but you may get something just as precious -- encouragement from people who liked it and the idea that you can get good enough at this art to get paid as a professional, do book signings, sit around in a coffeehouse with other writers discussing the meaning of literature and how to barbecue human flesh in less than three paragraphs.
People will stop thinking of you as a psychopath when you need to find out how long it takes for a heroine's long hair to burn to her scalp and maybe set fire to a wig in your back yard to find out. Or research dinosaurs without citing your sources and writing academic papers.
If you ever in your life wanted to be a novelist -- taking the step along with a big open marathon is a lot less frightening.
You can count on forty or fifty thousand people not laughing at you at all, just commiserating your troubles and cheering your progress.
I've gotten to chapter six. Five chapters yesterday and one today. 27,576 words and I know this book will be a lot fatter than 50,000 words because I'm nowhere near halfway done with the plot. But that's okay. I've got 29 more days to go with it and I can't put it down.
See you on the forums.