Novel Journal Entry: Counterproductive Fast Drafts

When I was writing my novel during NaNoWriMo last month, The Write Practice featured an article entitled “Why Fast First Drafts Aren’t for Everyone.”   I didn’t think about that applying to me until now—nearly a month after completing my NaNo novel—but I now know that fast first drafts are not for me.  In her article, Natalie Wenstrom claims:

“I’d just poured countless hours into getting my story down, but it still lacked critical pieces of backstory, character development, even some plot structure.  I had a ton of work ahead of me.  It took longer to go back and address these issues than it would have to think things through in the first place.”

This is precisely what I’m experiencing with my NaNo novel.  I’ve been letting the novel sit and stew this month.  I’ve been recording voice memos to myself of ideas and jotting down notes in my journal.  This draft is all I think about.  It’s become my obsession.  I’ve always been an insomniac, but now that I have this sloppy first draft of an entire novel, my insomnia is even worse.  And it’s great that I think about my writing like that, but the problem is that all I think about is how sloppy it is and that if it was done right the first time, the revision process would be a bit less painful—just like Wenstrom says in her article.

Earlier this week, I opened my Scrivener file where I wrote my draft and began reading the opening scene.   I got four sentences into it and closed the file in frustration.  The slop that I wrote, even though I wrote complete sentences and thoughts for the entire 50,000 words, is just not me.  There are so many aspects of that draft that needs to be changed and researched and organized that I feel like shelving this novel and writing something completely new.  Writing to fill a page to meet word count goals with sloppy sentences that lack description and emotions is not my writing style.  My brain works in a linear way when it comes to writing.  Being the outliner and plotter that I’ve grown to be, this sloppy first draft has showed me what kind of writer I truly am.  The disorganization is slowly killing me, adding on to the restless hours I spend in bed trying to fall asleep.  I keep fighting with myself in my head over whether or not I want to deal with the daunting task of sorting through the disorganization and creating my draft into a real novel.  I change my mind about it multiple times a day.  One minute I’m up to the challenge of organizing the chaos that is my first draft, and the next minute I want to forget I ever wrote it.large__14906481278

I was so energized and motivated before and during NaNo—putting scenes together that I plotted out and seeing my characters come to life.  It was rewarding to meet my daily word goals and see my story go in directions that I hadn’t planned.  But now that it’s time to edit and revise, I see how fast drafts aren’t for me.  The quantity over quality notion doesn’t make sense in my head.  I want things be right, and I want things in order.  That’s how many aspects of life are for me:  right and orderly.  And to have this sloppy, disorganized first draft of a novel sitting on my desk is not only making me crazy, but also more sleep deprived than I’ve ever been.

At the end of November when I won NaNo, I felt so accomplished.  I wrote a novel, I told myself and my friends and family.  I felt like a true writer.  But now when I revisit that novel, it’s far from fulfilling, and I feel like the world’s worst writer.  My husband, always supportive of my writing, sees the torment that this fast draft has caused and said, “Maybe you should shelf this one and begin a new one.  It’s not a waste.  You learned what kind of writer you are.”  He’s right.  I did learn tons from writing a fast draft.  The problem is, I can’t let this one go.  It’s still all I think about.  It continues to haunt my dreams when I finally fall asleep.  I think that the driving factor for me now is to makes sense of the nonsense; to deal with the chaos and the slop and agony of sorting through it and making it into something I can share with others to enjoy.

NaNoWriMo Winner Sleeps with iPhone

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

I am beyond happy to announce that I’m a 2014 NaNoWriMo Winner!  I’ve had a wonderful experience this month with writing my novel, and now I have an entire first draft — a beginning, middle, and end — to work with.  It’s taking everything in me not to begin revising and editing.  I need to let it simmer, mull it all over.  There’s many, many changes I want to make, but I’m going to hold off for at least a week.  I want to think deeply about the things I want to add, delete, and completely recreate.

Every time I get in bed to sleep, ideas swirl in my head about my novel to the extent that I cannot sleep.  To fight the urge to get out of bed and write, I’ve been keeping my iPhone in bed next to me.  I know that sounds utterly insane, but it’s extremely helpful.  Here’s why:  the other night when I was trying to sleep, an idea came to me of how I want to alter the physical description for one of my characters.  I reached for my phone.  Luckily, I had dimmed the screen before turning the lights off, otherwise, I would’ve been blinded from the brightness.  But the problem was, I laid there trying to type on the tiny iPhone keyboard, which was fruitless — even with autocorrect.  And I hate Siri.  She never understands me.  No matter how clearly or slowly I speak, Siri does not get me.

I certainly don’t want to roll over, turn the light on, and grab my notebook and pen.  The best way to get my ideas out of my head so that I don’t sleep them off is to launch a voice memo app and just speak my ideas.  It’s okay if my voice is sleepy, at least I can understand myself when I go to listen to my memos the next day.  Once I’ve let my first draft sit for a bit, I’ll revisit those sleepy audio memos and get to work on my second draft.

Writing Advice: “Stop When You Are Going Good”

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.  If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never get stuck.” —Ernest Hemingwlarge_3882941631ay

This writing advice from Hemingway has proved extremely helpful.  Day #16 of NaNoWriMo and I’ve reached 28,065 words.  I never expected to be this far along.  I was going to be grateful if I finished November with 10,000 words.  Now, I’m more determined than ever to finish with at least 50,000 words.  I haven’t “hit a wall” yet.  And I’m confident that I won’t, and that’s because I always, always stop writing in the middle of a scene.  Every day, every writing session, I stop in mid-thought.  I’ll jot down a few bullet points about where my thoughts have left off and save them for the next writing session.

When I do that, I’m constantly thinking about the scene I left off with.  Holding it close to me, the unfinished scene burns in my brain and itches to be complete.  But I let the scene continue to unfold in my mind’s eye, picturing the characters and the setting and the action, allowing it all to simmer and go in directions I hadn’t included in my bullet points.  Before the next writing session, most times I have the followup scene already in mind and have jotted down my bullet points for it.

This has been my practice every day since November 1.  And what’s great about this is that when I finally satisfy the desire to complete that simmering scene, I write even more than I what I had planned and quicker too because it’s been yearning to be completed — not only contributing to my word count, but also leading me to explore new ideas I didn’t know existed.

Thank you, Ernest Hemingway, for saying in simple words how to not get stuck when writing a novel!

Highs and Lows of NaNoWriMo

It’s been a whirlwind since NaNoWriMo started. Being the planner that I’ve come to be, it’s such a struggle to not edit my writing or look at my research that I’ve been compiling since April. I was off to great start and still am. I’ve consistently stayed ahead on my daily word count goals. While I refer to my outline, new ideas come to me as a I write, driving me and my story forward. I’ve completely changed some things, though, and added new things and discarded others. I’ve rewritten scenes, which I need to stop doing. I must stop going back to read what I’ve already written.

Along the way, I changed my protagonist’s name and gave her an entirely new personality. Once I reached around 7,000 words, I origin_3875374318decided to completely changes things. I deviated from my original plan and shifted the point of view to another character. Through all my plotting, I had never considered changing view points from chapter to chapter and character to character, but I’m glad I did. It’s been great fun. I feel as though it gives my other cast of characters a chance to tell their side of the story. I’m using three different characters who take turns showing and telling their story.

When I decided to use other character’s points of view, I steamrolled through a couple thousand words. Then BAM! I hit a block. I began panicking. My plots and plans had been turned upside down since switching characters. So what did I do? I strayed more off course and did a bad thing to another character — one who isn’t a point of view character but a major player in my cast. I made it so that she was under suspicion of murder. I was so proud that I deviated from my outline. I felt like a total NaNoWriMo’ing panster. I wrote for another 1,000 words and then BAM! Here I sit wondering how the hell to get this character out of the local jail when my outlining did not allow for this plot twist.

 

photo credit: Silvia Viñuales via cc

NaNoWriMo Day #1

I ended NaNoWriMo Day #1 with 4,438 words. My experience thus far has been liberating. I choose the word “liberating” because as much as I was in denial about being a plotter (as opposed to a pantser), my months of planning my novel are over. It was time to toss aside all of the outlining I had done since April. I sat down two days before NaNo to go through my scene spreadsheet, elaborate multi-paragraph scene summaries, and my character charts. Compiled all together, all that planning was forty-one pages total. I realized how crazy that was, put my plans aside, and just started writing. large_3983736496It would take days to read through everything I had written. Within those forty-one pages, I had a short summary (several pages long), a long summary (ten pages long), character storyline summaries, and full blown character charts. I also had 6,081 words already written, which I trashed and started from the beginning.

Aside from all my outlining, plotting, and planning, I had pages and pages of handwritten notes in a Moleskine notebook. It contains all the research I had done. Since it’s a historical novel set in Elizabethan England, I did a lot of nonfiction reading and research about the time period — men and women’s fashions, middle class daily life, criminal laws, religious laws, what they ate, et cetera. If November hadn’t come and NaNo hadn’t started, I would still be surrounded by research and adding to my outlines, summaries, and plans. That is why I chose “liberating” as the word for my first day of NaNoWriMo. It’s liberating to get all these plans out of summary form and onto pages where characters are living — crying and laughing, screaming and whispering!

Poem: ‘Twas the Night Before NaNo

‘Twas the night before NaNo, and I was pacing the room;
It’s Halloween, I should be out riding on a broom.

But ideas bubbled in my brain like witches’ brew;nanowrimo-logo
Did I bite off more than I can chew?

Counting the hours, watching the clock;
Please, don’t let me have writer’s block.

Can’t wait till midnight;
Holding back words with all my might.