A Different 50K Finish Line

NaNo-2017-Winner-Badge

I did it! I did it! I did it! Okay, I promise I’ll stop screaming like a schoolboy now. But I DID IT!! Okay, now I’m done. We are now in the month of December which means that NaNoWriMo is over (most of you just call it November) and although I had to push at the end I got my 50K words worth of novel done. It’s not the full novel yet, I still have a lot to put my protagonist and antagonist through before I am done. But it is more words of a novel than I have ever put down and is a huge step towards the ultimate goal of being published.

More valuable than the words on the page is what I learned about myself and my writing through the experience. Like many writers, I have trouble getting out of my own way and just writing. With a deadline and a goal I was less worried about the words themselves and more focused on getting words on the page. A rough draft is meant to be precisely that. Rough. The story and the writing will get smoothed out in editing. But only if you get a draft out of your head and onto the page first.

I also discovered a tremendous amount about my story. As I mentioned in the post Ready Set WriMo, I went into this event with an outline. It was a fairly bare bones outline and I found myself adding chapters and expanding as I went, particularly as it came to back story. Getting the words on the page and seeing where the story went has allowed me to find the layering I didn’t even know I was looking for.

I also learned that I can do this. I can take longer stories and start fleshing them out. That I can write the longer concepts. I gained a higher level of confidence in my writing as a result of this event, and had fun doing it.

And for the first time I feel like publishing a novel is not just a dream, but an obtainable goal. That lesson alone was invaluable and makes this experience so rewarding and gratifying.

I am excited to finish the first draft and for all of the steps that come next. And grateful to NaNoWriMo for giving me momentum and more tools for my toolbox. I also learned that writing a book can be just as fun as reading one.

Submissive Submitting

deareditor

Part of my re-dedication to my creative path is to write and submit short stories. And the first thing that I learned was that I have no idea what I’m doing. I wrote a story called Sirens that came in at about 8500 words (which makes you thankful for the relative brevity of these posts, doesn’t it). After several rounds of editing, and input from some trusted friends, I decided that the only way to get over my fear of submission and rejection was to actually do it. So like the big boy I wasn’t I signed up for Duotrope (website database of places accepting submissions) and got to work. Turns out my story is considered long, and only eleven places accepted horror stories of that length, and only five of those were a fit on further research.

I still haven’t heard back from any of them. That was two months ago. I guess it’s not called ghosting if it’s completely one-sided.

In an effort not to be discouraged, I immediately began work on a second short story. It’s called Power’s Out and it is much shorter than my first offering. In my opinion it is better in some ways but worse in others. I plan on submitting it nonetheless. As such, I plugged the parameters into Duotrope with the reduced word count and all of a sudden there are one hundred and thirty-two options that fit. That is twelve fucking times as many options.

That is insane to me. Lesson one, don’t ignore the short in short stories.

That first story was actually the first time I sent anything to others to read since college. I still have nightmares about those workshops. For those of you who have never had your work submitted to a writers’ group for their critique, medieval torture has nothing on that. Seriously, it’s like getting kicked in the balls repeatedly by someone wearing steel-toed cowboy boots. The pointy kind.

But it did make me a better writer. Both by being critiqued by them about what worked and what didn’t. And by reading their work, critiquing it and learning from them as well. There was also a sense of “we are all in this together” with each group.

Getting critiqued is part of being a writer. So is submitting to unknown editors who don’t know you or your talent or your potential outside of what they see on a page. Part of that process is getting comfortable with the fear of putting yourself out there (it never goes away, and is also the motivation for this blog). I’ll never stop writing for myself, but knowing I am going to put it out there for other people to consume makes me want to sharpen my A game.

Snowfall of Pain

snow

In one of my first classes as a creative writing major a professor told me that snow was a significant literary symbol meant to serve as a great equalizer among humanity. She said something like “Social status doesn’t matter, everyone has to deal with snow and it shows we are all struggling with the same things on the inside.” I call bullshit. And I say this as an avid reader and aspiring writer, no one should have to work that hard to see the symbolism and its meaning in an author’s work. Plus, snow is setting and sometimes snow is just snow.

In terms of equalizers in fiction I have a different idea to throw out there. It’s pain. Pain is something everyone can relate to on some level. Some more than others, and seeing different types of pain on the page, screen or stage will affect people in different ways, but it will affect everyone. Also, pain is part of every story. The agonizing background of the anti-hero that propels him through the narrative. The physical wounds of a soldier trying to fight his way home. The angst of unrequited love.

Pain is a part of all narrative precisely because everyone can relate to it on some level. It will always conjure up emotion. Sometime it’s fear. Other times it’s anger. Still others it’s grief. Almost always there are feelings of empathy.

Pain helps us identify with the story. It helps us stop looking at characters as characters and makes us start looking at them as people. It makes the story more real to us. We identify with a character’s failures, and his suffering. But that also makes us rejoice in and celebrate in his triumphs even more. In short, making it real enriches the story for us.

My favorite novel is Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The story is driven in large part by the protagonist’s fear of a cookie cutter lifestyle, the internal pain it causes and his rebellion against it. It was a concept that intensely resonated with me and allowed me to feel every page of the novel, and every frame of the movie.

Pain can invoke feelings of anger, fear and grief. Wait a minute. Actually so can snow. Maybe my old professor had it right all along.

Ready Set WriMo

Louis L'Amour quote

November isn’t just about Thanksgiving and leaves changing and fall weather, it is also National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. The description from the official website, www.nanowrimo.org, reads as follows:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

I will be participating in this event for the third time. My first two attempts were failures. Writing is harder than it sounds. It is much more than coming up with a sound story idea. It is about coming up with the story, from start to finish, including plot, character development and setting. It’s also about getting out of your own way, your own head and putting pen to paper.

In the previous two attempts, I had a vague story idea and just started writing myself into corners and walls. So I am trying a different approach. I already have my story idea, and have my characters defined, and am working on an outline. I am making sure that this story not only has legs, but also the eyes to see where it is going.

NaNoWriMo is wonderful for a number of reasons. The organization is amazing at creating a strong sense of community for its participants. There are word sprints (set times of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc) to see how many words you can get on a page or hit a goal that force you to get out of your own way and just write. Endless writing prompts for any genre and a website full of forums for whatever you need. The experience has helped me tremendously as a writer, and in the past that has been more valuable than meeting the goal.

I am going in with more focus this time. This isn’t something I want to just play at. It is something I want to do for a living. Acknowledging that the writing is harder than it sounds, and starting to look at it less like a hobby and more like a profession is already making a significant difference.

I see this as an opportunity, a catalyst, to getting a novel off the ground. I am under no illusions that I will emerge from the month with a finished draft ready to be published, but I will have a draft (or at least 50,000 words of one) that can generate the momentum I need to keep moving forward with my craft. And I intend to have an action packed and fun-filled month along the way.