It isn’t widely known, beyond a small circle of my friends and a writers’ group I drift in and out of on Farcebook (not a typo), but I have actually been attempting to write a novel. I won’t go into details about the story itself — as I tend not to in order to avoid boring the disinterested.
The process of writing, however, is another matter, and one I find fascinating. I love reading journals now-famous authors have maintained and letters they have written to friends in their own creative circles; for modern media, I love things like the production videos Peter Jackson has been releasing about The Hobbit — not for the sneak peeks at upcoming material, but for the little insights into all the effort that goes into the creation of something. I’ve actually been maintaining my own journal regarding progress, although I doubt it will ever see the light of day. It’s mostly so I can appreciate how far I’ve come, like looking back on a trail through the woods and wondering why I never saw that waterfall from the start.
It’s a confusing process, writing — you have to get into another person’s headspace, sometimes uncomfortably so. My own tendency to try to see things from others’ perspective (even if I don’t sympathise with the view) helps a lot. I’ve written characters I don’t particularly like, and sometimes invading their headspace can put me off, but the end result is better for it.
I started this particular novel years ago; if I recall correctly, the initial idea formed during a discussion in the pub when I was living in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006. I miss that pub — full of wonderfully geeky goths, a well-supplied jukebox, and bartenders who take their craft seriously. It’s where I met Charles Stross and he and his wife taught me how to drink whisky, although that’s another story for another time.
It was supposed to be a comedy, a fairly dark one, but still a comedy. That was before I learned that I’m terrible at writing comedy. I got a couple of chapters into it, discovered I had no idea where the story was going, and dropped it.
I do that with more frequency than I like, but it’s typically for the best: put a story concept on a shelf (or hard disk, rather) for an indeterminate time because I recognise that I don’t at that time have the skill to make it work. The good ideas never seem to fade, and they’ll recur every so often, until eventually I figure out how to build a plot around them.
That’s pretty much what happened with this one — it wasn’t until late 2012, maybe early 2013, when I was living in a miserable unheated house in Atlanta, Georgia, hashing out a completely different story concept in a spiral-bound mini-notepad whilst huddled under a blanket in front of an electric space-heater with my cat on my lap, that I suddenly figured out how to make this particular novel work. It was still full of holes, but I had more of a clue as to the route.
It became the first writing project I’ve ever planned out. They try to drill that stuff into you in school, but I always felt I worked better in stream-of-consciousness mode. Unfortunately, the end results were that I’d hit the wordcount limit at the halfway point and turn in a pared-down unfocused muddle that didn’t really have an ending so much as a lemming-leap off a cliff. The curse of having ADHD, planning doesn’t come so naturally, which is why we often get accused of never finishing things.
But this time I had it — major plot beats, an idea of timespan, and something approaching an understanding of pacing. On paper. Hjalti asked me once if I realised how batshit I sounded — in this modern age — when I said I had written thousands of words on paper. He’s right, but I tend to work better on the move — riding a bus or in a car, on a train or plane, sitting in a cafe or eating lunch somewhere other than home, and it wasn’t til I sorted out the tablet the company gave each of us for Christmas that I discovered the joy of not having to take a text home and re-type it into the PC, possibly the most tedious part of the writing process.
Armed with this awesome new technology, I moved to Reykjavik, Iceland, and almost instantly got hung up on another plot hole. I was just considering other story concepts to work on when I discovered that one of them, with a bit of tweaking, fit perfectly into that gaping plot hole. I was overjoyed, brimming with excitement, at which point I remembered that not everyone wants to hear all about the fantasy world in your head.
We’re 800 words in, here. What’s this got to do with National Novel-Writing Month?
I’m always torn. Every year, November rolls around, and I consider whether it defies the spirit of the game to use a pre-existing idea or a project which is already underway. I’ve never taken part, not once.
This year, however…
I’ve been feeling quite chuffed and happy with the novel I’m working on. Or I was, until I realised I had all of 16,000 words, slapped together like puzzle pieces which you know the locations of, but have yet to find the bits to connect them together. Sixteen k isn’t a lot, particularly for something that’s taken the better part of a year already.
So fuck it. The goal for NaNoWriMo is to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month (a little over 1,600 a day). And I’m currently out of a job, maintaining standard office hours for my hunt so that I don’t burn out. But I can write 2,000 words every evening. It’d be a pinch, and it would cut into not-so-valuable gaming time, but I can manage, I think. If nothing else, I’ll end up 50,000 words richer (although possibly badly in need of an editor!)
Better get moving, then. I’m already 8,000 words behind!