It.Is.Finished!

Yes, this.

Yes, this.

I’ve finally completed NaNoWriMo! For the first time in many failed attempts (some NaNo rebel style, some textbook), I completed 50k words, writing each day, on the same story. Mallory and Jake managed to take me on a great ride, one that I’m still taking. But I wanted to take a moment and breathe through this accomplishment, this milestone.

I never thought I could get 50K words on the page in 26 days, and it’s been surreal for me. There were a lot of things that contributed to my success, most of which I’ve mentioned here already, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate.

1. I outlined. This is not only my first year outlining for NaNoWriMo, but my first real attempt at outlining ever. I’m addicted to get the premise and major plot points on paper now. It guides the writing and keeps me focused so that every morning, I have some inkling of what needs to happen in a scene today.

2. I had a reader. My reader/accountability buddy kept me on track in a big way. Knowing that I had to turn over those pages kept me writing, and trying to write well. I felt so accomplished when she laughed at the right lines and threatened to murder me if I didn’t hurry up and write the next scene when I left her hanging on the cliff. I could actually gauge if my hooks worked with a reader, which helped me decide how to proceed.

3. I followed a routine. I got up each morning and put my butt in my writing area (there isn’t actually a chair down here). It didn’t matter what time I went to sleep, how unsure I was of where I was going next–I sat my butt down and wrote. Sometimes, after I got the rusty water words down and ideas were flowing better, I backspaced over the drivel and saved my reader from having to slog through it. I didn’t let a crap storm of awfulness stop me from continuing, but having that reader made sure I got rid of the really crappy stuff.

4. I allowed myself to edit. I’m not the type of writer who can write all the way through without looking back, put the manuscript away, then gasp in horror at what I’ve written a few weeks later. I read my output each day just like my reader. If it’s just a matter of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors, I fix them immediately. If a key transition is missing, I will either add it or note it for my revisions, depending on the size of it. I took advantage of Saturdays when I had more time to go back and add things in. I did what I knew I needed to do, just enough to keep the inner editor off my back. There are still too many weak verbs and tense things to fix, but making the surface changes helped me not to get bogged down in deep editing. My only rule? Don’t take away from the word count if possible.

5. I chose to write a story that I loved. I loved the idea for Delivering Justice from the moment I began working it over in my head. I loved the characters and the setup. I was excited at the opportunity to write something that was funny and suspenseful and a little cheesy. I wanted to write about cars exploding and criminals and undercover agents. I was looking forward to the challenge of remembering who was injured where. I was also open to the surprises–Luka and his showdown with Jake on the train to Orlando instead of tracking them down in Florida being my favorite–and throwing in more suspense of more kissing when I got stuck (which ALWAYS worked in this story–when in doubt, kiss it out…or blow it up 😀 ).

Bonus: I had fun. I’m usually so concerned about getting a draft right that I never get it finished. My characters are always so serious and brooding, so insecure and a hot mess train wreck. But Mallory and Jake, and their friends, aren’t. Mallory is a little neurotic and afflicted with verbal diarrhea, but she’s also an established businesswoman who will do anything to protect those she loves (including crawling into an air duct with nine millimeter handgun!), and Jake, while serious and by the book, is a former fat kid with a sweet tooth whose loyalty is unshakeable. I let the characters who wanted to be funny be funny. If a character had a thought totally incongruous to what was happening around them, I let them have it. If one went off having epiphanies about their relationship too soon, I kept it (I can move it later). If Mallory and Jake wanted to play kissy face with a hit man on their trail…you get the idea.

I started out the month with the notion that I wanted to laugh and gasp and nearly cry when I read this story, even if it was so awful it never saw the light of day again, and I ended up with a story I think is really special.

The next time I write, I’ll post an excerpt for you guys to read!

XOXO,

Erica

What Writers are Writing

Día del Libro

Image by clspeace via Flickr

On my other blog, I’ve begun sharing the link love. Each Friday, I choose the post that I’ve read and enjoyed and post them up for my subscribers’ reading pleasure. It’s my way of passing on a good book blog. Since I’ve started this blog, I’ve come across some fantastic writer’s blogs. I have decided that I should share my favorite writing related posts of the week on this here blog, and any other reading/writing related bits that don’t fit anywhere else on Free to Read Fridays! Hmm…that sounds a little lame. No worries, I’ll come up with something better by next week.

What’s been going on with me this week? Well, I finished Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. It was so different from the movie. It was so much better than the movie. Although the movie kept the trip to Thailand and some other scenarios, it veered deeply away from the major conflict. The way they resolved the conflict in the movie…cheap is the best word I can come up with. It was a cheap trick. Helen Fielding is a much better writer than the movies would suggest (even if she does write without using pronouns: Right, will just meditate…Must call mother….where are the pronouns here? Is it a British thing? Maybe I’m misinformed.)

I also began work on my memoir and decided to send out Candy Apples as is for publication consideration. I’ve already blogged about the tiny breakthrough I had with my memoir in “Rusty Water.” As for my decision to send out Candy Apples as is, it was a bit spur of the moment. I was debating on adding further examples of the main character’s addiction and some other things, but I want to see how it’s received. Besides, I can always add those parts and publish it in the alternate form as part of a short story collection, right? I want to submit it before my birthday (two weeks from yesterday).

Speaking of my birthday, I have set a goal of having one chapter of my memoir done by my birthday. I think this is a reasonable goal, as the chapters now focus of specific images, ideas, or periods of time and can be elaborated on and fleshed out in a moderate amount of time.

Now, the Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For…Link Love:

Here’s what I found fascinating around the blogosphere, writing/reading wise:

What were your favorite writing and reading reads around the web this week?

NaNoWriMo Novel: Trash or Treasure?

Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

You may feel like the writer and editor in you are two different people. Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like me, you decided to put away your NaNoWriMo novel as soon as December 1st dawned. I needed a little distance from my frantic efforts to come up with a specific amount of words. Whenever I finish working on anything, I like to put it away for a while so that I can come to the proofreading/editing with fresh eyes and a little distance.

Through the magic of time, your novel may begin to look very different to you. If you actually have the goal of turning your novel into something an editor and publisher could love, you find yourself in the difficult position of proofreading your novel for a different focus and purpose than it was written. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that the emphasis is on writing–as much as you can, as often as you can, whether it’s something you can use or not. Now, you find yourself more interested in the story–what advances the plot, what develops the characters, what’s weighing the piece down. You may find you have a lot of superfluous material in some areas while not having enough material in others.

So what do you do with your novel now? How do you know when you have the makings of a good story and when to shove your efforts into the trash before they start to smell? How do you go about editing and proofreading your first draft?

I found a piece of my NaNoWriMo novel far away from where I’d stashed the rest of my manuscript. Reading that one wide rule sheet of paper, front and back, I fell immediately back into the story. There’s something there, something I want to put out into the world for discussion and for people to relate to. It may be a lot of work to finish the piece and edit all of the NaNoWriMo out of it, but the story connects to something in me that says it’s worth pursuing.

Have you looked at any of your NaNoWriMo writing yet? Is your novel trash or treasure? What’s new on the writing horizon for you?

NaNoWriMo Postmortem

A Ford Escort automobile that has been involve...

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I wonder if failing is like lying. Can you fail by omission? Does it matter if you’re closer to success than failure? What constitutes failure? Is it up for debate?

NaNoWriMo ended yesterday. All of us participants are now wearily coming out of the basement to access the damage this tornado has wrought in our lives. Perhaps yours didn’t end up too bad; you got a good first draft of a novel and kept your sanity. If you made it to 50,000 words, according to NaNoWriMo, you succeeded. I know a few of you who discovered your novels weren’t done at 50,000 words, so maybe you view it a little differently.

I didn’t make it to 50,000 words. I wasn’t even close. So, in that sense, I failed. I knew, in the back of my mind, that with all of the things I had pressed into last month that I would fail. So the goal for me was to learn and let the experience teach me about myself as a writer.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There’s no such thing as a “dead story” when the idea and characters work. I thought because I hadn’t been able to write on a story in a while, or hit a wall that it meant the story wouldn’t work or I wasn’t a good enough writer to write the story. But using an old idea and characters for NaNoWriMo taught me that sometimes I just need to let a story simmer until the ideas are fully cooked.
  • There’s no such thing as a “writing mood.” I don’t have to be in the mood to write. I don’t need a writing desk and the perfect lighting. I can write anywhere at any time. Even when I feel like I have nothing to say, if I sit down and read where I left off, I can usually fall write back into the story. I have no excuse not to write now.
  • I can’t let my deadlines choke me. I’d always heard that if you aren’t published by the time you’re 25, you haven’t got it. I don’t know why I believed that. So many people in literary history have proven that wrong. But, I was so obsessed with getting published this year, while I’m still 25, that I was choking my creativity. I didn’t want to write down anything I couldn’t publish immediately. NaNoWriMo forced me to write everything. Even if I wasn’t sure or didn’t think it worked. Even though I didn’t make the deadline, I am OK with that. I wrote some great things; I wrote some silly things. I didn’t let the deadline bother me. I can still finish my NaNoWriMo story. I will still finish it. In my own time.

How was your NaNoWriMo experience this year? Were you successful? What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What will you do with your novel now?

You Got Real People in my Characters!

The Jolly Boat (the respectable middle- or upp...

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One of my biggest struggles with my NaNoWriMo novel has been keeping people I know in real life out of my work. It’s easy to begin borrowing characteristics of people you know or have known, yet in this age of sue-happy people, it is even more imperative to not fictionalize family, friends and acquaintances. But how far is too far to take it?

For example, my NaNoWriMo novel is populated with intelligent, upper-middle class African-American people who graduated from an exclusive private school. I went to an exclusive private school with affluent people. Some of them have names that would be perfect for my book. They were born around the same time as my characters, when those names were popular. I’m not basing the characters off of these people. In fact, they bear no resemblance to anyone I actually went to school with. Should I use the first names or not?

I haven’t used any of them, but I’m unhappy with some of the substitutes. Some may not have even been popular back then. Some of the characters just feel like a name they don’t have. Names are so personal, and do have a bit of an impact on the person. Names can be indicative of family lineage, and sometimes socioeconomic status, particularly in the Black community.

The other problem is my main male character, Nathan. He is beginning to sound a bit too much like my own boyfriend. He has some of the same views he does about marriage, for example. He is not my boyfriend. However, both the Nathan character and my boyfriend are grounded and logical, whereas their women are a bit more free-spirited and whimsical–one of few things I share with my protagonist.

How do you deal with characterization? Do you ever use names or characteristics of people you know? How do you avoid being sued? Am I overthinking it?

Note: I’m not entirely happy with the image, but it’ll work for now.

Perspective

Invisible Man

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I had a lot of trouble choosing the Point of View (POV) and the narration of my NaNoWriMo book. There’s a simple reason for this: I like one style of narration a lot, but it wasn’t the best choice for the story.

I love first person narratives in novels. Some of my favorite novels, works like Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, are told in first person. The intimacy, having unrestricted access to the interior life of the main character, feeling as if you are in that person’s skin, watching everything unfold and feeling every emotion–it’s a wonderful feeling of connection between reader and the character(s).

The only problem is all first person narration is somewhat unreliable. People never remember things exactly as they happened. There are emotions, prejudices, preferences and past experiences clouding everything that happens to them. This is very useful in some stories, this narrow perspective. For example, in The Secret History, it allows for mystery to build and for the reader to discover the true horror behind the crime as the narrator does in a way that keeps it fresh. His not knowing everything is useful to us. His shame and guilt allows him to speak freely, as he’s trying to get the weight of it off of his chest. But what about when the reverse is happening?

 I’ve already told you my main character is a compulsive liar. She is completely untrustworthy at the beginning of the book. She can’t help twisting things to her advantage. I can’t leave the story in her hands. I couldn’t choose a different first person to narrate, because it’s her story, and no one was close enough to get inside her head. So third person it is, right?

Now here’s the hard part. If I make it third person omniscient, I can get into a few people’s heads and swing the point of view a bit when I need to. But if it’s omniscient, it’s not as personal and connected to the story. What to do?

I started writing and let the writing take its course. I haven’t given too many characters interior thoughts or feelings besides the main character’s, and it will be easy to go back and use strong verbs and facial expressions to convey the other character’s interior thoughts…mostly.

How did/do you solve POV and narration dilemmas in your writing? Have you had to change POVs after beginning a story? How do you decide which narrative voice to use?

P.S.: I’ve never seen this cover of Invisible Man before; I like!