In November 2009 I joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time. The NaNoWriMo goal is to produce 50,000 words in 30 days -- which amounts to 1667 words every day. The rules do not demand that anyone produce deathless prose. The goals are speed, creativity, allowing characters to develop, and ideas to flow. In November 2009, I produced 62,000 words in 28 days. I even got the certificate! But what was important was that many of those words ended up in my latest book, "Beyond All Price." Many of them didn't, of course, but I was off to a great start, and the motivation carried me right through to publication.
The NaNoWriMo process seemed easier in 2010. II was better able to just sit down and let the words flow. What was developing on my computer screen was by no means a finished product, but it served as a great base from which to build a real novel. I was getting a feel for the characters, and some of the individuals began to speak in their own voices, which is always a delightful turning point.
Now, I've done that, several times in fact. Technically I've won the darn challenge three times. But I finally had to admit that (1) 50,000 words is not long enough for a novel; (2) it is impossible for me to write without editing as I go along, partially because I can't type the letter “I” to save my soul; and (3) a story written without taking time to think about what you are writing doesn't turn out to be a very good story.
I have, however, learned a bit more about myself and about the writing process. Here are five rules I would now be willing to carve on a stone:
1. Don't start writing until you have some idea of where you're heading. These little daily chapters utterly fail to provide direction. An impartial reader can not tell who the important characters are, or what the book is all about.
2. Have a timeline. My events tend to be confusingly out of order.
3. Don't confuse "show and tell." My academic background reveals itself all too clearly when I fall into lecture mode. I thought I was writing conversations, but the result all too often sounds like a typical schoolmarm telling a class of students what they must know for the test. I wrote so quickly that I forgot to let my characters show what was going on through their words and actions.
4. Know your characters. Each one needs a distinct personality, recognizable in both their actions and in their speech patterns. If the reader can't tell the characters apart, the author has failed again.
5. Write because you have something important to say. The reader deserves to understand what is important about your story and why you care.
So I quit doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago -- swore I'd never do it again. And I haven't, except for a couple of summer camps where the goal was shorter. Still, when November rolls around, I get this irresistible urge to pound the keys. So here I go again, but this time I’m headed into a new novel with six months of preparation behind me. I have character sketches, a timeline, a complete chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and lots of notes on the accompanying history.
I'll keep you posted on progress. Cheerleaders welcome