Tag Archives: interuptions

Lessons from NaNoWriMo

The main thing I learned from National Novel Writing Month was how much I really like writing.

This might sound a bit odd if you know me. Almost all of my work has involved a lot of writing. I’ve written many television commercials, tons of videos, zillions of press releases, and googles of newspaper articles.

And I’ve enjoyed it, for the most part.

But this was different.

So, during November and then in December, when I had time to write, I wrote in my novel and ignored this blog.

Sorry.

So, I did end up doing well enough in NaNoWriMo. A large part of this has to do with the support of my wife trying to cover for me in my other tasks.

For a long time I didn’t think I would be able to hit the 50,000 word goal.

On November 28, I wrote 6,113 words, pushing me over into the “winner” category with 50,389 words for the month. That gave me 63,942 words total written on my work in progress (WIP) since I began it.

But after I hit the goal, it was a couple weeks before I could really get back to it. That was a painful couple of weeks.

Now, on January 4, 2015, I have 77,572 finished. That is beyond my goal, but the end is in sight.

Then comes the editing—getting it down to a reasonable length for a first YA book.

Some people like to quote Dorothy Parker:

“I hate writing, I love having written.”

The way I feel however is more like this:

“I love writing, and I love having written, and I look forward to more writing.”

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NaNoWriMo more or less

Not a ton of action yet in my NaNoWriMo leg of writing the novel. I’ve had several writing projects all hit me at the same time, which took priority.

That priority thing, however, is an interesting concept.

I give my all to my writing projects. People are paying me (or will soon) after all. This is good for my family, etc. I can’t even say that my heart isn’t in it, because often the work is fascinating and challenging. And right now, a lot of the work has been excellent for beefing up my resume as I look for more permanent work in communications, marketing, PR areas.

But.

But.

My heart longs to write this novel. I am quite surprised, to tell you the truth, how much I long to work on it and get so frustrated when I can’t. And mostly, lately, it has been can’t.

So, ten days into NaNoWriMo and I have a stunning 2,694 words total to show for it, written on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3. Ugh. That should be a daily word count.

According to the NaNoWriMo website, if I continue at this pace I will finish by May 5, 2015. I’m going to have to find a way to work on it more without lessening the quality of work I do for my freelance clients.

Onward and Upward!

Moving forward—What I’ve learned so far about writing a novel

I began writing the novel on October 7, 2014.

Let me tell you what I have learned so far. But first, here are the word-count numbers:

Oct. 7: 2,494 words
Oct. 8: 613
Oct. 13: 1,584
Oct. 14: 2,023
Oct. 15: 43
Oct. 16: 1,473
Oct. 20 2,764

So far, the novel has 11,092 words (the numbers above fall short if added because of revisions here and there). This means I have 58,908 words left to reach a typical YA length of 70,000 words.

How it is going so far

The first thing I noticed is how different writing fiction is than writing non-fiction. I always loved it when I could write a story for the newspaper where there were real scenes and, heaven, real dialogue between people—but that was rare.

I was surprised when I began writing the novel how easy it was to get into the flow. I love the creation of the paragraphs and the flow of scenes. I love the variation and pacing. The music of it.

At times, it is like watching a movie. I really love my characters and how they are coming alive. I love it when I look up and three hours have gone by and I’ve been in another world.

I really love when, suddenly, something happens that I didn’t expect and it is awesome.

What I don’t love is when I can’t get in a few hours a day. I feel like it is pulling at me all the time. Write me. Write me. Write me. But I have other responsibilities and writing projects (such as my non-fiction Visions of Freedom: Wilford Woodruff and the Signers of the Declaration of Independence book and freelance writing jobs). Nevertheless, I should still be able to push it along each day.

I’m amused that as I write, the needs of the story will require me to rewrite previous things. It doesn’t matter that I have the thing outlined. I need to go back and, for example, demonstrate that Verity has a trickster side to her. Another example, I need to change the role of Lady Diewell to be more involved earlier in the story for a payback later on.

I read the first four chapters to my 11-year-old (who is worried that it will have a romance. Sorry.) and she likes it. It was very helpful to see the parts that were not clear to her and needed more explanation.

I’m simultaneously pleased with what I have written and hate it completely. I gave myself permission to write, as the audio book version of Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, says, a “Crappy first draft.”

Shannon Hale describes it this way in a tweet: “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

The difference between what I want it to be and what it is is so vast. But I’m laying down the words in the hope that magic will happen in the revision process. I remember James Dashner talking about his novel Maze Runner and how much it changed as he revised it and as agents and editors gave him specific advice.

One of the things I was worried about before I began writing, was that I would hurry too fast through the scenes and that I couldn’t sustain the story. As I am working on it, however, I am pleased that I am able to come up with details and action and dialogue as it is needed. I didn’t know if I could do it, but indeed I did. So far.

I don’ t know if this book will ever be published. But I am determined to learn how to write a good novel. Regardless of this first book’s success or failure, it is the first substantial step in the right direction.

So far my 11-year-old likes it. That is, by itself, some success.

And so it begins

Everything was in place.

I had my outlines. I had my maps. I was about to begin the actual real writing of the actual first draft.

The document was open. At 3:48 p.m., yesterday, Oct. 7, 2014, I typed my chapter title and first sentence: Verity ran.

Then the phone rang.

Since I am looking for work, I can’t afford to not take phone calls these days. It was, indeed, an important phone call.

Then, I sat down again.

The phone rang before I could write another word.

This was a phone call to arrange an interview with Michael McLean with my daughter for her Deseret News “Connect 123” column, Ellie’s Bookshelf. Also important.

Then it was dinner. Doorbells rang. Etc.

It wasn’t until 7:28 p.m. that I was able write the second sentence. I hated everything I wrote. But I pushed through. Eventually, I seemed to get into the rhythm of the writing. Although I write for a living, this was very different. I can see right away where I need to develop the craft of writing fiction better.

But, as I said, it got better as I went along.

Because this is my first novel, I completely expect the first draft to be nauseatingly bad. I also expect it to get better as write more. My hope is, after revising, it will not be nauseatingly bad, but merely bad. Then, with advice and help, I hope to punch it up to passable, then good, then fantastic.

Well, that is my hope.

By the time I finished last night at a little before 9 p.m., I wrote a full first chapter with 2,494 words. That includes the seven words (chapter title and first two-word sentence) I wrote at 3:48 p.m. That isn’t so bad for a start.

Now, only 67,506 more words to go. At this rate, assuming I am able to put in four hours a day instead of just an hour and a half, I should be able to finish this up in, oh, about 10 working days. If I unplug my phone…

…and don’t eat, or shower, or work on my non-fiction book, or anything else, and if my wife doesn’t have any projects–like painting that stair railing, etc., etc., etc.

Non-fiction interlude

So much work had to be done to finish up editing my non-fiction book, Visions of Freedom, that I made very little progress on my novel for the last few weeks. It took forever to reformat my endnotes and bibliography. The book includes 56 biographies — one for each signer of the Declaration of Independence. Whew!

I did, however, continue reading Dave Wolverton/David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines. Boy oh boy does that make you think about what you are doing. Every part of the book has great questions and ways of looking at your book plan, plot, characters, and so forth. It is great for outlining, but, I imagine, also great for pantsers to use after the fact to revise better. Can’t recommend it enough.

My 11-year-old daughter* also interviewed Richard Paul Evans about his latest book, Michael Vey 4: Hunt for Jade Dragon and later got her photo taken with him before a book signing. He is a discovery writer, from what he told her. I’m more of an outliner — although I’ve pretty much had my fill with outlining.

Next step is to review my 3×5 card notes I’ve been taking for almost a year. Then I’m just going to write the thing. Yes, I think if I outlined more the first draft might be better. But I really need to get going on the actual writing. That way I’ll have something to work with and refine.

I’m really excited about the characters and want you to meet them and get to know them and the amazing world they live in. You will love them.

*Ellie writes monthly review columns for the Deseret News “Connect 123” section that also goes out to the elementary schools in Utah.