Thursday, October 21, 2010

Always Learning

My, how time flies! November is just around the corner, and each November for the past six years (sheesh, that's a long time!), I have participated in National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. If you've never heard of it, I strongly recommend that you check them out. The basic goal is to write 50,000 words of new fiction in the month of November. I have met or passed that goal every year, although I did not always finished the story. Each time I have participated, I have learned something important about myself, and about my writing.

My first-ever finished novel came from the draft that I started during NaNoWriMo in 2004, called "It's All About the Shoes". It was utter crap, unfortunately, but that year I learned that I really can finish writing a novel, even if it's not a very good one. Up until that point, I had written a lot, but I had never managed to get to 'The End.' I would get bored, or a shiny new project would come along, and I would abandon my WIP for something else. This first year, I learned that it feels good to finish something. After 30 days and slightly over 50,000 words, I was invested in this piece – I needed to finish it. So I did.

During my second round of NaNoWriMo, I wrote "Fae," an adaptation of the story of Sleeping Beauty. That year, I learned that the best-laid plots can end up resulting in big, steaming piles of poo. I hated every word that I had written. The style was old-fashioned and hard to read. I didn't finish that one. I hit delete and actually got rid of the whole file, I hated it that much.

In 2006, though, I wanted to try it again. I took the same premise that I had used the previous year, but changed everything else – the character's names, the POV, the settings, you name it. That time around, I learned that sometimes, an idea just doesn't work for me. I really, REALLY loved the idea of the story, the idea of taking Sleeping Beauty and making the princess a horrible brat and all of the other bits and pieces that I tried to use. Finally, though, after scrapping the 50,000 words I wrote that year, and scrapping two other false starts in December and January, I gave in. That story was just not meant to come from me.

The next lesson was one that I probably already understood, but had never put into practice on such a large scale. In 2007, I wrote an untitled piece about a young woman in a bad relationship. It was dark – the woman's fiancĂ© was a troubled man, and he took out his issues on her. His family was cruel, her family didn't get it, and on the whole, it was an unhappy piece. I did not write any more of it after November, but I learned that writing can be cathartic. That young woman was me. I had been in a bad place in my life, and in a funk, and I could not find my way out. As I wrote, though, something happened inside of me. I healed. By working out my issues on paper, I worked them out in my heart. I didn't finish that story, but I didn't have to. I felt better by the end of the month, and I was, finally, ready to move on with my life.

After NaNoWriMo 2008, I learned that I can fall in love with something I've written. That year was the year of "Happily Ever After," another princess story. This story, though, did not get trashed after the month was over. It took me several more months to get around to writing 'The End' for the first draft, but I did. I then put it away for a long time – over a year. When I picked it up again, I fell in love with the story. I did not, however, fall in love with my writing. I liked the overall tone and voice that I had managed to create, but a lot of the story felt slow, probably because of the adjective-related padding that tends to show up during NaNoWriMo. Now, "Happily Ever After" is a piece that I consider a WIP, because I am editing it. I am being ruthless, and I LOVE it! For the first time, I feel as if I have written something that (with some work) could be published.

Finally, last year, I learned that I cannot write a mystery, at least not with the writing technique that I prefer to use. In order to write a successful mystery, one must know whodunnit. You have to have a plan. If you don't know who the bad guy is, it's really hard to drop subtle hints. I did have some very impressive red herrings, since I hadn't really chosen the bad guy. I am too much of a 'pantser' to write a mystery right now. An outline is, well, mandatory. I decided, after NaNo, to read more mysteries, to see if I could figure out how to do it successfully. I learned something else – I don't like to read mysteries!

Novemeber is just around the corner... I can't wait to see what I'll learn this year!


Jamie D. said...

This sounds so much like me (this will be my 7th year too). Last year's was the first I cared to edit, and I'm quite pleased with how it turned out (or is turning out). I'm really looking forward to another year - best of luck with yours! :-)

FranchiseSaysSo said...

I've decided to try this. Probably have no idea what I'm getting myself into but I'm going to try, you've inspired me. Thanks for putting this out there.