Tuesday, November 27, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 27: Done! 50,062 Words!

Incredible as it may seem, I managed to finish the 50,000 novel in 27 days. There was a lot of fun in the first three weeks, a lot of moments when the prose just flowed out of me and I was amazed at the ease of the thing. There were moments of uncertainty, but the writing kept it fun, and I eventually was able to come up with a good story arc.

Then the fourth week came, and I started coming to the end of my novel-- 8,000 words too early, This part was painful. The ending point I chose seemed stiff, contrived. And I found myself writing the words THE END three days ago. Which meant I had to go back and invent scenes I had not thought about.

In the end, those were some of the most fun scenes to write. I realized when I got to the end of the book that I had neglected my protagonist's relationship with his parents, so I put in a good number of conversations between them. That was good for at least 4000 words. I also realized that my character had about a month during Christmas Break from the Naval Academy when he had nothing to do. So I put him on restriction and had him sit around and talk to the rest of the criminals. The book is not about me, but this was pretty similar to when I was on restriction for Thanksgiving my second class year-- again, I want to emphasize that the book is not about me. Honest.

I should emphasize something: no one in their right mind would write a novel in 30 days. I know that. Real Writers would not even attempt a first draft in 30 days. But I also know me well enough to know that I needed to do this in 30 days or I would not get it done.

So here's to my novel. I don't know if anyone but me will ever read it (that is, I may not let anyone else read it). But there's a lot of me in that thing.

One thing I'm sure about: I'm pretty sure I'm going to try again next year.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 24: 40,000 words!

Today is quite a milestone. I just passed 40,000 words and am well within my goal word count. Apparently the last 10,000 words are pretty much of a slide. I'm thinking about when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1991, though. I finished off the first 20 miles and realized I had 10,000 meters to go, and thought how nice it would be to stop right then.

One difficulty is that I already know what the last two scenes in the book are going to be. So my options are starting to get limited for new scenes for my actors. But I've found finding that every aspect of this exercise so far has somehow made me squeeze out some new aspect of writing, and I expect that this restriction will make me do just that as well.

NaNoWriMo Day 23: 38,839 words

Night before last, I sat up until 3AM and finally caught up my word count-- in fact I got an entire day ahead. Tonight I realized that I was going to fall behind again, so I bit the bullet. When Sònia went off to bed, I stayed up and made myself write until I was caught up again.

I actually think I'm going to make it. I think I know how the book is going to end, although I am not discarding the idea of some new plot twist injecting itself at the eleventh hour.

I can't express what an awesome experience this has been so far. I have had to dredge up memories I had not thought about for ages. Parts of the book are starting to connect together in weird, magical ways. I'm also starting to really notice the craft of other writers-- I was reading a passage from The Lord Of The Rings the other night and was struck by how much of what Tolkein wrote had nothing to do with moving the story forward and everything to do with setting up environment and helping develop the characters.

I've gotten so cocky that I told my dad about writing this thing and he offered to edit it. My initial reaction was to accept but internally reject this idea-- I mean, what's my dad going to say about all the parts that involve genitalia? But then I thought, how many guys get to do something like this with their dads. So I guess the first person who will read my book will be my dad, if I finish it. Which I will.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 19: 29,060 words!

This morning I was getting ready for work and saw that today was the 19th.  Which means (yikes!) only 11 days until the end of National Novel Writing Month!  I managed to catch up a little over the weekend, which was good.  My writing session in Annapolis was shorter than I wanted it to be.  I spent a lot longer than I had expected looking over the Academy grounds.  So little has changed there in 21 years!

I've been doing some minimal sketching out of the plot and leaving un-written some of the passages that just serve to connect more interesting passages.  This is paying off.  The story is flowing along nicely.  I really understand what writers mean when they say that the book takes on a life of its own.  There have been several times when I've decided to take a character in a new and different direction only to find that details of the story up to that point support the change.  It feels like someone else is planning out the book for me.

This weekend I had dinner with my old Glee Club director from the Academy, Dr. John Barry Talley, and his wife, Marcia Talley.  We were talking with a group of other alumni from the glee club about a bar in Annapolis, and I found myself saying, "oh, thank god you know the name of that place, I'm using it in my book."  My book.  How very weird.  Marcia Talley is a renowned published writer, and she looked over at me and beamed proudly when I said that.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 15: 22,547 (halfway day)

In theory my word count should be at 25,000, but I'm feeling pretty good about this. Almost all of my story takes place in Annapolis, and I'll be taking a trip up there tomorrow to meet up with some of my old friends from the Glee Club and Dr. Talley, the director who just retired after 35 years. So I should have some time to get some writing done tomorrow while I'm there, and maybe research a couple of the bits where my knowledge of The Yard has gotten foggy.

I finally took a few minutes (I'm talking like five minutes here) to outline the rest of the story. I'm not 100% committed to all elements yet, but I kind of have an idea of what points the storry will be building towards now. I have the whole semi-plan written out in BIG HONKING CAPITAL LETTERS at the end of the novel so far.

One bit of advice I got today was to leave aside all of the connecting passages and concentrate on the juicy bits that drive the story forward. The connecting stuff can stand as some instructions ("AFTER THIS X LEAVES THE PARTY AND SOMEHOW GETS TO Y'S HOUSE WHERE THEY WILL HAVE A FIGHT") that would be fixed in editing. I'm going to try that tomorrow and see what happens.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 14: 20,338 Words

My lovely wife, Sonia, has patiently allowed me to write during our normal DVD viewing time for the past two nights, allowing me to almost catch up with my word count (I should be at 14 x 1,667 = 23,338 words).  It's still not great, but definitely do-able.  Also, a quick check of the NaNoWriMo founder's web page shows him at only 17,905 words, so I feel like I'm doing okay.  Day 15 is the halfway point.  As I understand it, things should actually get easier from this point on.

The novel is definitely set at the Naval Academy right now, which I didn't really expect (hell, it started out in the UnderDark world of Dungeons & Dragons).  As if I hadn't stressed this enough, you should definitely try doing this.  I have had to take a hard look at some of my old memories and realize the complexity of some of them.  Almost no experience in this life is 100% good or 100% bad.  Trying to extract detail out of my memories so I could make my precious word count has forced me to relive some of what I had considered the worst times in my life and made me remember that there were positive elements to all of them.

Aside from that, my support network has been positive so far, and the people I have told about it have said they'd like to try it (if only to humor me).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 13: 18,187 words

The last couple of days haven't been as productive as I had hoped-- now that the first week is over, life has crept back in and I'm finding that I have to return to my obligations outside of novel writing. So tonight I played a little catch-up and made up for most of the 5000 words I had fallen behind.

These scenes in my novel are coming from scenes in my own life, intentionally or not. I'm finding that writing about them is making me think about parts of my life that I had pretty well decided not to think about. And I feel really strongly about some of the stuff that I've experienced. I didn't realize that there would be this unexpected side effect. There are many parts of my life that I have distilled down to a caricature of reality because that kind of shorthand is just emotionally easier to deal with. Writing about them forces me to re-consider all aspects as I try to wrest another 300 or 400 words out of it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 9: watch out for research

I'm still ticking along with NaNoWriMo. At 13,941 words I have 1062 to write before midnight to make my quota of 15,002 words tonight. I got a little behind over the last couple of days, primarily because I got bit by the research bug. My protagonist is still at the Naval Academy. Although I remember a lot about USNA, I have had to resort to the web to remember some of the layout of the actual campus. That's fine, I probably could have cleared all of that up with a couple of trips to Wikipedia, but day before yesterday my research just simply turned into web surfing and I didn't make quota.

I realize this may sound like an unhealthy obsession with making quota, but there really is something to this. I have tried writing a novel several times before. In general I have carried around a notepad and a pen and just written whenever the spirit moved me, and got some very good scenes out of that process. I've also tried following a structure in The Weekend Novelist that was supposed to allow me to write a novel in one year, writing only on the weekends. I found my enthusiasm for this was not something I could sustain more than a month and a half. I find that by writing a set amount each day I am producing some pretty good stuff every day, along with some things that are regrettable that will have to be edited out in the end. But in the past, that regrettable material would have stopped me dead in my tracks. Since I'm writing with the understanding that this is a first draft that will have to be edited, I feel a lot freer to get my material out. Different stuff works for different people.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

National Novel Writing Month Day 5: 10,002 Words!

I have to say that I'm surprise at myself. I've managed to keep on track with National Novel Writing Month for five days now, and have written my 10,000th word (well, 10,002 exactly). At this rate, I will have written my 50,000 word first draft on the morning of the 30th of this month.

I would have liked to have built up a little cushion by now, as I understand that the second week is harder. But I'm happy to be at least up to quota. I've had to leave behind the idea that I was not going to write about my years at the Naval Academy. It turns out that this is the story I've been waiting to tell. At least part of it. I dunno. Anyway, my protagonist is now firmly into plebe year. That's all I can say. This still might turn into a dragon rider fantasy novel in the end. Okay, I've said too much now.

If I haven't said it before, you definitely should consider doing this. It is crazy, but in a good way.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

National Novel Writing Month Day 4: how I got to hate the number 1,667

I can't believe it, but I'm still on track with the novel. If I keep cranking along as I have been, I can actually produce 50,000 words this month. The good thing about this is that no one said they had to be good words. I'm not proud of every line I've out down. However, I have to say that I'm pretty proud of a lot of them, which I think is about as good as it gets for a first draft.

One thing I'm not really too happy about: I had sworn to myself that I would not write a lot about the Naval Academy, but here my character is, showing up for Induction Day. Guess there isn't much I can do about it except wait it out and hope the next part is something more or less original.

National Novel Writing Month Day 3: Sleepy but made quota

Today was the first time since I started NaNoWriMo that I didn't write in the morning. I didn't plan it out too well this time. I kept meaning to sit down and write, but Daniel woke up, then we had to go play for a while, then this that and the other. Finally, Sònia and I went out to dinner with friends, and I had still not sat down to write. I knew this meant trouble.

You see, I have consistency issues about my hobbies. There have been times in my life when I have had a very consistent running habit, for example, only to miss a couple of days, then realize that I had not returned to running for several months. So missing a day's writing could add up to not finishing out the Novel Writing Month for me.

So when we got back home from dinner, I told Sònia that I was going to have to sit down and write, like it or not. So I did. I needed to up my total word-count to 5001 words. Fortunately I had written a little extra on Friday, so I didn't have to make the whole 1,667 words tonight.

I'm happy to say that I made quota: 5,005 words. I fell back on that old tried and true formula: personal experience. I've got a pretty good mix going on fictional elements and stuff that actually happened to me. One good thing about being 43 is that a lot of stuff has happened to me. I hope I've learned my lesson. I feel pretty tired now and need to go to bed.

Friday, November 2, 2007

National Writing Month Day 2: still alive

It's day 2 of National Writing Month and I haven't quit yet. I got up and wrote my quota again this morning. I re-read what I wrote yesterday and have decided to take the attitude that even Sinatra cleared his throat before he sang. After the first paragraph it wasn't half bad. Maybe some elements of what I wrote won't make it all the way to the final draft, but that's why this is called the first draft.

Except for the first paragraph. That was crap. Utter bat guano.

But this morning things started rolling pretty well. I dredged up stuff I hadn't thought of in ages. I realized that I've done some pretty weird stuff that could probably be wedged into a work of fiction somehow. I chirped along merrily and wrote until Daniel woke up.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

National Novel Writing Month starts

National Novel Writing Month started this morning at Midnight and goes for the entire month of November. The objective is to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. For reference, The Great Gatsby was about 50,000 words long. In case you're wondering, that works out to right at 1,667 words a day, or about three and a half pages in a normal Word document.

So this morning I dutifully sat down and wrote 1,667 words. I should preface this by saying that I have done some writing in the past, some of it quite good (that's just my opinion, but for these purposes it's the only one that matters). What I produced this morning was garbage. Really very bad writing. Right on up there with Vogon Poetry.

I thought that maybe I was exaggerating, but I just opened the document and started reading it, and couldn't stomach it. I wouldn't read what I just wrote if you paid me.

Part of me is a little depressed about this. I mean, after all the good stuff I've written in the past, the one time I make a committment to actually finish something, it really stinks.

But I'm going to continue with this. First off, the goal is to produce a first draft. As Hemmingway said, "The first draft of anything is shit". But more than that, it occurred to me that I'm a pretty good writer when you look at me at a tactical level-- I write funny sentences. I write pretty good paragraphs. I probably could (had have in the past) pull together a decent short story. But I have never even tried to maintain the strategic level required to write a full novel. So why should I expect it to be great the very first time I do it? I think what I mean to get out of this exercise is to prove to myself that I can do it, to learn the logistics of fitting writing into my life, and to get better at seeing a longer story from a strategic level.

Besides, I think I get a t-shirt or something for doing it.