It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged anything of substance, and for that I apologize and offer the usual excuse that I’ve Been Busy. I’ve already mentioned the industrial work that took me right up to a flurry of workshops, cabarets and one-night events, not to mention the start of rehearsals for Gypsy at Signature Theatre; what I haven’t mentioned is that on November 1st, I started writing a new book.
See, there’s this thing called NaNoWriMo which happens every November. Essentially, you pledge that you’ll write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel during the 30 days of November. They don’t have to be polished words – in fact, you could be writing utter crap – but the idea is to just get yourself to put words on paper on deadline.
Now, you would think for someone with a journalism background that putting words on paper on deadline would be dead easy, but it ain’t so. I am a persnickety author with a very strong Internal Editor so my M.O. when writing is to write a few sentences, edit them, polish them, and then move on. It works for me (after all, I’ve already got two completed novels under my belt) but sometimes you’d like the Editor to back off a bit so you can just let the words flow. I thought trying NaNo this year would help me achieve that goal, and I’d made tentative plans to write a light romantic comedy for the competition.
Problem was, I was so busy in the weeks leading up to November 1st that I wasn’t able to do the necessary planning for the rom/com novel. Hadn’t anything but the roughest idea of a plot, hadn’t decided who the main character would be – in other words, all I had was a title (it’s a great title, though, which I will share once I write the darn thing). So I was a little panicked by mid-October.
I was already about 30,000 words into the third book in my fantasy series and was running into a series of hiccups with it, mostly centered around motive and personality for my lead protagonist and antagonist. Just as an exercise, I’d written some material about both characters’ childhoods and upbringing, and I was growing more and more interested in exploring that further. Why not write that book for NaNo? I asked myself, and myself, feeling exceedingly harried and irritable at the time, responded “YES YES DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.”
So on November 1st, in the midst of an extraordinarily busy week, I started writing a new novel. It was helpful that I had a good clear idea of where I wanted to go with the story, but it was hard making myself just spew the words rather than stop and polish. And I did need to spew. In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write at least 1,666 words per day. That’s a lot of words, particularly when you don’t have a lot of focused time. So I squeezed in the writing whenever I could, sometimes getting up a few hours early, sometimes writing while I ate, sometimes grabbing a spare 20 minutes between rehearsals, just to get the words down. There were days when I couldn’t write at all and had to make it up the next day; there were days when what I wrote was so heinous that the Internal Editor leaped in before I could stop her; there was a particularly awful morning when I discovered that I had somehow neglected to save my work properly the day before and had lost some 1300 words that I then had to recreate in addition to that day’s quota.
In spite of all this drama, what I was writing wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Maybe all these years of writing means that the ratio of Junk Spew to Decent Spew has tipped in favor of useable material. Once I got past the first couple of weeks, it started to come easier. Part of that may have been that when Gypsy rehearsals began, I wasn’t called all that often so I had more time. Part of it may also have been that I’d disciplined myself to grab those precious free minutes to write, rather than cruise the Internet or sit in front of the TV (or sleep). I actually ended up crossing the 50,000 mark a few days shy of the deadline and was able to call myself a NaNoWriMo Winner. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to log in my word count on the NaNo website that day and see this screen pop up on my computer.
Of course, that didn’t mean the book was finished, not by a long shot. I continued writing through December, difficult as that was what with the holidays and all, but since I had a great deal of downtime in Gypsy, I was able to write in the dressing room and log in several hours a week that way (witness the photo at the beginning of this blog). I continued the pattern in January, with a helpful push from like-minded writers at Absolute Write. I made myself a new, easier goal – to write 500 words a day – and a few days ago I was able to write THE END on my NaNo novel. I did a quick editing pass on it and put it aside, intending to give it a week to percolate, but impatience got the better of me and I rewrote the beginning, made another editing pass, formatted it into chapters and fired off an email to my faithful beta readers to see if they’d be willing to give this new book a go. It’s shorter than my other tomes – a mere 71,000 words – but I’m pleased with it.
The question yet to be answered is if this book is going to be right for the series. In other words, will I need to position it as the first book in the series and try to get it published that way, or should I view it as an interesting exercise and put it aside? Only time will tell. In any case, as Grand Experiments go, I’m calling my NaNo experience a success, and I’m already making plans to participate in the 2014 event. I still have that rom/com to write, you know.
This is just a quick post to share some haiku that I’ve written. I’ve mentioned in the past that I use a website called oneword.com for one-minute writing prompts, but this same site has a little haiku challenge that I do occasionally, too, just for grins. Here are a few of the challenge words and my resulting poems:
Fussy in fuschia
She pouts into the mirror
Posing and preening
The ocean curls its
Fingers into a huge fist
And punches the land.
And though you remain
I still smell your fear.
Aging hipster with
Gangsta clothes and attitude
Only makes me smile
This argument is
Like a mobius strip
An endless circle
“We are one,” you say;
“Kindred spirits, you and me.”
Then you lick your lips.
Count on your fingers
The times you didn’t listen
No wonder she left
Whiskered, weighty yet winsome
How’s your self-esteem?
Four syllables, which makes it
Tough to write haiku
The kiss was sweet but
Sometimes it’s not nice to share
When you’re infectious
Listen to your gut
They say. When I cock my ear
I hear rumbling
“Catch me if you can,”
The boy jeered, and so I did.
He was delicious.
The sequel is called Fiskur. I’ve been working on it for a solid year. I’m generally really happy with it, except that I think it’s too long. I’m not worried about that; I edit pretty well and can probably lose several thousand words just by tightening up my prose.
Why, then, am I sad as I write this last chapter? It could be because the chapter itself is sad. It could be that the last couple of chapters have been tough to write, simply because I have a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of new plot lines to lay out for Book Three. It could be that it’s been kind of a weird week and I’m just tired.
But I know it’s not any of those things. I know it’s because I’m having an attack of Major Self Doubt. I finished Kinglet last year and it isn’t published yet. I haven’t even found an agent for it – only a nibble or two. Who am I kidding? Have I wasted hours and days and weeks and months of my life writing a sequel to a book that no publisher will ever want? Have I been foolish in closing my ears to the people who tell me I should trunk this project and spend my time writing something more marketable? Am I a hack? A fool? And worse than that, a stubborn fool?
I know I am not unique in having these thoughts. Heck, you can go to any writers’ forum (I frequent this one) and find plenty of fellow writers in similar mental anguish to share your woes and keep you company. But as comforting as sympathetic company and shared misery might be, ultimately you have to return to your manuscript. Ultimately you’ve got to put your fingers back on the keyboard and your brain back into the world you’ve created and tell that story you want to tell – that you’ve been driven to tell all through the hours and days and weeks and months and hell, yes, the years.
And to do that, you’ve got to beat back the Major Self Doubt. You have to summon up your courage and your spirit and your muse and Get. Back. To. Work. But sometimes that’s real hard.
So I’m sharing a little tune here that comes from my other world – the world of theatre. This is a song called “Die, Vampire, Die!” and it’s from a musical called [title of show], written by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell. It’s brilliant. It should be the Fight Song for anyone in the business of creation. (In my opinon, the real meat of the song really begins at 1:40.) So I hope you enjoy it (warning: may not be suitable for playing at work or around small impressionable children).
Me, I’m headed back to finish that final chapter.