What I’ve been writing, November 2011

No reading this month except for excerpts from No Plot? No Problem, the guide book to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo). Instead, I’ve been writing furiously, trying to meet the arbitrary goal of 50,000 words written on a single story in 30 days. That’s about 1,667 words per day. On Tuesday, November 29, 2011, I submitted my novel for an official word count and won. Final word count: 51,233 (according to the NaNo site; 50,776 according to my counting).

Here’s what all that work looked like:

Date Word Count Total to Date Word Goal
11/1/2011 1,985 1,985 1,667
11/2/2011 2,232 4,217 3,334
11/3/2011 1,233 5,450 5,001
11/4/2011 1,388 6,838 6,668
11/5/2011 3,883 10,721 8,335
11/6/2011 2,380 13,101 10,002
11/7/2011 827 13,928 11,669
11/8/2011 1,557 15,485 13,336
11/9/2011 1,563 17,048 15,003
11/10/2011 1,460 18,508 16,670
11/11/2011 472 18,980 18,337
11/12/2011 0 18,980 20,004
11/13/2011 1,781 20,761 21,671
11/14/2011 1,439 22,200 23,338
11/15/2011 3,180 25,380 25,005
11/16/2011 3,655 29,035 26,672
11/17/2011 1,944 30,979 28,339
11/18/2011 1,263 32,242 30,006
11/19/2011 1,365 33,607 31,673
11/20/2011 1,787 35,394 33,340
11/21/2011 0 35,394 35,007
11/22/2011 0 35,394 36,674
11/23/2011 1,352 36,746 38,341
11/24/2011 1,596 38,342 40,008
11/25/2011 4,318 42,660 41,675
11/26/2011 2,356 45,016 43,342
11/27/2011 2,417 47,433 45,009
11/28/2011 0 47,433 46,676
11/29/2011 3,343 50,776 48,343
11/30/2011 50,776 50,010

You will notice that there are four days with word counts of 0. Aiyiyi! And twelve more days (!!) that fell under the 1,667 daily word goal. But a couple days of 2k, 3k, and 4k word counts helped to keep me ahead of or within reach of the targets. I was never so far behind that catching up felt impossible, and I would try to keep writing at least something — even if not a full 1,667 day — to chip away at the total. Even the 3k and 4k days were broken up in to small pieces of 1,000 – 1,500 words. As I got closer to the end, I started getting excited and wanted to write as much as possible.

I had ~35 story ideas, but none that was grabbing me. So my story started out as a frame story, with four characters meeting together and reading their own stories. I used a random number generator to select which story I would write on next, and then had one of the girls read “her” story. I wrote about 11,000 words, which includes 4 of these story ideas (well, actually 6, but those got worked in to the frame story because I just couldn’t work out where to start with them). The early benefit to this method was that, after a story failed, I could have the characters discuss it and offer suggestions. And for a while there, I thought that this frame story might take over (there’s hunky MikeTheBarista hanging around, for one).

And then #13 came up in the random number generator. #13 was a fantasy story, standard horses and castles stuff. I knew the first scene for that story, but figured it would die out quickly as I had absolutely no idea what was supposed to happen after. And yet… the characters wouldn’t quit. I would ask, “What next?” and every time they had an answer. Sometimes they were wrong (like the time they wandered around in the mountains outside the castle trying to figure out which direction to go; took them 3 tries on that scene before they stopped coming to dead ends), and sometimes they did crazy things like jump in submarines or jump out of a blimp. Then they started flipping on light switches and flashlights because they kept ending up in dark places — lots of secret tunnels — and had run out of matches and torches, and I knew then that my story had become a steampunk novel. And later, as I figured out more information about my hero, so many things fell in to place and made perfect sense, including the steampunk.

#13 carried me through to the end (with a small break after the tournament for the frame story, while I tried to find my way again). I had originally wanted to continue writing and get all 50,000 words on this story alone, but I spent ~12k on the failed beginnings and the frame story, and my brain is just about wrung out entirely and has begged for a break. So, we wrapped up at 50k, total, for now, and will revisit this new world later.

Some people have asked to read it, but I repeat, it is universally terrible. I am not trying to stealthily ask for compliments; I’m trying to plainly tell you that it is a large collection of words that is not worth reading in its current state. If it were a Kindle freebie, it should still be burned and the author publicly shamed. A NaNo novel is what a first draft looks like after you dump it in a blender. Things are out of order, unexplained, overexplained, make zero sense, do not fit the story, repeat themselves, and a lot more. A lot of that is also due to my not having any clue about what was going on in the story before I started. (However, my NaNo from 4 years ago, which was written to an outline, is also pretty terrible.) But if I’d stopped to fix all those things, then I’d’ve never made the deadline.

Anyway, I’ll concede enough to offer two excerpts that I think are not too terrible. (Except Mary would never say “Sheesh.” And the first paragraph in the other is confusing as to whether the piece actually blends in or not.) I repeat: these are some decent parts in their unedited glory. (Although I’m seeing typos now, and I’m itching to fix them.) It’s all downhill from here.

Excerpt from the frame story

Kate paused and looked up. The other three faces were turned expectantly towards her. “Er,” she said. “Er, I mean, well, that’s all I have.” She felt as if she wanted to melt away and slip under the armchair. The story was terrible, of course it was, so why had she insisted on reading it? Because she felt guilty that she hadn’t read anything in a while. So she had cobbled this together in an effort to appease the guilt-gods. Now she was just mortified.

She watched the sideways glances between the other girls. No one would talk first. “Oh, just say it already,” she finally said. “It sucks. I know it sucks.” Allison seemed on the verge of saying something, but Kate plowed ahead. “It’s just, I don’t know, you all always have something to read and all I ever have are bad starts that never go anywhere. Most of the time I don’t even save the file.” Tears sprang to her eyes. She looked away and struggled to bring herself under control.

Surprisingly, it was Mary who stepped in to comfort Kate. “You know,” Mary began, “you don’t always have to start at the beginning.”

“I, what?”

“If it’s the beginning that’s giving you a problem, then skip it. Start in the middle. Sheesh, start at the end even.” Mary shrugged. “The important thing is not to start at the very beginning and write straight through to the end. Stories rarely get written that way. You just can’t think of a whole story like that unless you spend forever plotting it out — and all that is is almost telling a story for a long time before you start writing it down.”

Kate looked from one face to the other in confusion. Elizabeth nodded. “I do that, too. It’s one reason I like the five-subject notebooks — I can write any background or plotting information in the first section, and then use the other sections to put information that applies to certain parts of the book.”

Allison chimed in. “I rarely even think about the beginning of the story. I get ideas for the middle or end, and I write those.”

Kate stared at them all. “So you mean I’ve been doing it wrong all this time?” The tears threatened again.

“No!” “Of course not!” burst out from the other girls. Mary again was first to dispense her writing wisdom. “I usually think of a scene, and that scene suggests a larger story. I write that first scene down and then spend some time thinking about the rest of the story. I like to plot out my stories before I start writing–” Kate almost rolled her eyes, thinking of the elaborate outlines Mary had pulled out in the past — “but that doesn’t mean that I have to start writing at the beginning. Sometimes the end looks more fun, so I’ll start there.”

“There’s no right or wrong way to do it,” said Allison. “You do whatever you like best. But like Mary said, if the beginning is what’s hanging you up, then skip it. Do it later. Start on the part that you want to start at, not on the part that you think you ought to start at.”

“Thanks,” said Kate. “I… Thanks.”

The other three girls settled back in their armchairs, seemingly smug for having provided this valuable insight. They all sipped their coffee in silence for a few moments.

Excerpt from #13

In one corner of the workshop was an odd looking piece of woodwork set in the wall: a rectangular piece that almost matched the other planks that lined the wall, but not quite. She hadn’t noticed it before because it blended into the wall very well. A casual inspection — or an inspection of the room done with someone standing directly in front of this place — would probably not notice anything odd. She stepped over to the plank and looked at it for a moment, then reached over and pushed in on both sides of the over large plank. There was a small click, and then a desk high shelf slid out from the wall. The inside of the shelf was hollowed out, more like a drawer.

Here, at least, were master level tools and craftsmanship. This was likely Pitchen’s personal workspace. The tools were well cared for and the machines were detailed and intricate in a way that far surpassed the baubles on the tables. The three partially assembled machines here seemed to different stages of clocks.

A sound behind her made her turn. Pitchen stood in the doorway of the cellar door.

“Ah, so you have found it,” he said. “I suspected you might. You have the look of someone…”

She picked up when he trailed off. “I trained with Canselas at the castle.”

A smile broke Pitchen’s face. “Ah, yes, my old friend Canselas. How is he doing?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” she said. “Since we left– I don’t know what my father might have done. He will be so angry with me. You don’t think–?”

Pitchen held up his hand. “I am sure old Canselas is fine,” he said. “He has been around a long time. I’m sure he could smell trouble coming from miles away.”

She wasn’t very reassured, but she turned back to the secret drawer anyway. “These are yours?” she asked.

Pitchen crossed the room to stand near her. “Yes,” he said. “I make little clocks for the ladies’ dressing tables.”

“So why the charade of the false workshop up here?”

Pitchen grinned even broader. “He said you were a clever one. It is not entirely a false workshop. The children and the human apprentices use this workshop, and it satisfies the town council to find this place here. So I must have a little place in here where I display my own works in progress. The town council is especially pleased to find that I try to hide my own work. But you knew all that.”


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