halfway… or not

As of yesterday afternoon, I have written just over 50,000 words of the NaNoWriMo novel, which means technically that I’m finished, but! a) November’s not over, and b) I have a lot more story to tell.

I’d been thinking this novel was about 2/3 written. I know that my big flaw as a novelist is that I’m not always especially good at pacing, so this is of course subject to change, but I was thinking, “I’ve covered a lot of ground, there can’t be much left.” I also didn’t think I could write a 100,000-word novel. Not that this in and of itself is an impossibility—I have this 140,000-word monstrosity that I’m sure will never get published, at least not in its current form, because it is awful—more that I didn’t think this novel was that long. And probably it really isn’t and I’ll end up cutting out a lot of dead weight when I edit.

Before I went to sleep last night, I planned out the rest of the chapters. I’ve completely written fifteen chapters so far. According to my plan, there will be 30 total. That means I’m roughly at the halfway point, theoretically. And today’s the 15th, the NaNo halfway point, and that means I’ve been writing roughly a chapter a day, which, woah!

I think this is a “NaNoWriMo is what you make of it” lesson. Some people do use it as an opportunity to write that novel they’ve always wanted to write. Some just write whatever silly things pop into their heads and have a lot of fun with it. Some people just write as many words as possible, relative worth be damned. I, obviously, am not in the, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel but never have time,” camp, since I’ve written a few (and one will be out in February!), but I think it is about testing the upper limits of what you can do, writing-wise. The most words I’ve ever written in one month was 85,000, achieved in 2007. At this point, I just want to get a draft of this novel finished. If it turns out to be 100,000 words, so be it. And also, damn. And also, I hope I don’t wind up with carpal tunnel.

process is a strange thing

All writers work differently. I do this now less than I used to, but I always liked to draw, and when I’m really planning something out, I sometimes draw maps and diagrams. It helps me remember things.

Someone in my local NaNoWriMo forum posted a link to novelist Richard Kadrey’s plot outlines notes. There’s an odd familiarity in it, perhaps because I don’t think especially linearly.

The closest equivalent I have for that in a current work in progress is this: When I was working on my NaNoWriMo research, I sat through the penultimate episode of Ric Burns’ documentary New York. And I took notes. I feel sort of like a fraud now, because these are too neat and orderly seeming to be the product of a mind planning a novel, but I uploaded them anyway, if you’re interested: PDF. No, the crazier part of this process was, I think, the notes I wrote after I finished watching the film. I wound up not using a lot of this, so I feel okay posting the notes. They were:

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Marathon Mile 8

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo every year since 2002, and it kind of amazes me that every year I still learn something new about myself and my writing and what I’m capable of.

The comparison to NaNoWriMo as a marathon is apt, but for me mostly because it requires training and a warm-up. I made a resolution at the beginning of 2008 to make the time to write a little every day, which is something I’ve stuck with for the most part. It’s tough; I don’t know that I realized what I’d have to sacrifice to make that work. Some things were easy, like watching fewer hours of television. Some things are harder, like spending less time on my other hobbies, or making time to write when I don’t feel up to it, or even just forcing myself to trudge over to my favorite neighborhood cafe on a Sunday when I’d really rather stay in bed and watch TV.

Which is to say that it got to the point where writing 50,000 words in a month is still a challenge, but an easily overcome one, because I was already in the habit of writing every day. The last two years, I’ve written in excess of 50,000 words by a significant margin during November. So what’s the challenge?

I’m terrible at finishing things. I tend to lose focus on projects easily. NaNoWriMo at least forces me to focus on one project for a whole month, and to crank out lots of raw material. This year’s is rough, there are things about it I already want to change, but I like the idea and I want to keep going with it.

I was thinking the other day about some writing advice I read. I don’t remember the context, but I think it was a letter to an advice column, wherein a woman wrote that she wanted to be a writer, but by the time she went to and came home from work, fed the dog, fed her husband, folded her laundry, yadda yadda, she found that she had maybe an hour tops to write before she fell asleep on her keyboard. This one hour, she said, was not enough, because about half of it was used trying to get her bearings and remember what she wanted to write about.

Around the same time I read about that, I read about a writer who said she did all her best thinking while out walking her dog. This is something I was already doing. Well, not with a dog, but I also do my best thinking while walking, and I walk a lot during the course of a normal day. To and from work, plus usually I take a walk at lunch time to clear my head. I also spend a lot of time when I’m not working thinking about my stories, so when I sit down write at night, I’m usually mostly ready to go. I’ve got scenes worked out in my head, or bits of dialogue, or new characters or whatever, and then I just… type it.

So the NaNo novel is kind of this all-consuming thing now. I spent a good fifteen minutes last night at a bar talking to another participant about my story. (I said, “I think I’ve hit a wall,” and she said, “Tell me what the problem is,” and we brainstormed together. I think it’s crazy that my current work-in-progress is conversation fodder in a bar. But I love it.)

Current word count: 16,569.