Ever wonder why writers are crazy all of November?

November 9, 2018

It's NaNoWriMo. NaNoWhatMo?

National Novel Writing Month. The challenge: hammer out a first draft of up to 50,000 words in 30 days. That's right. And I'm in for the third time as I work on The Option: A Reschen Valley Novel Part 4. Here's a sneak peek into my intensive writing weekend starting Nov 1.

"So, when is the novel going to be done?"

A writer colleague of mine gave me a mug for my birthday once. It says, "You are dangerously close to being killed off in my novel." I laughed and said, "That's what I'm showing anyone who asks me when my next book will be done."


This time, though, I have an answer. I have completely changed my writing process. For books 1-3 of the Reschen Valley series, I was writing a lot of short vignettes in stream-of-consciousness writing sessions. I was getting to know my characters, so I would write short snippets about, for instance, Opa's shoes (in Part 2) and then was so in love with the scene, I built it in. What ended up happening was that I lost the overview quite often and had to work hard to figure out what was going on. It was like putting together a million-piece puzzle with no picture to work with and I loathe puzzles. Or it's like buying windows and telling an architect to design a house around them. (By the way, I didn't just make that up. I do know someone who did that.) In other words, it's no wonder it took me years to write the first books.


This one is going to be hammered out in six months, tops.

The first draft anyway. I run a business, but five years ago, determined that it would work for me. I now have four months a year off to write full-time (work part-time) and during the week, two full writing days not including weekends. So, a first draft by March, then I will give it two full weeks of rewrites before it goes to the editor, followed by another set of rewrites. We should have a polished baby by end of June 2019. But if it's not ready, it's not. And I will know whether that's possible by March.


So what's changed in my approach to shaping a novel? First of all, I have stopped "pantsing". There are generally two types of writers: those who pants (as in, write by the seat of their pants) and those who plot. I have always (and I mean always) hated doing outlines. However, hard lessons learned: I killed entire characters that never showed up in the end. I once cut 30,000 words out and started all over. I outlined after I'd written three drafts. And all because I was too lazy to outline in the first place.


In the end, I think I did okay. But by Book 3, I buckled down and did outlines early on. Suddenly things were working faster for me. And in the midst of finishing up Book 3, I wrote "The Smuggler of Reschen Pass" and in just three weeks. How? I plotted. I wrote what are called beats--short scenes and synopses, even dialogue--for each and every chapter and scene.


Once I had those done, the writing just flowed. Like non-stop. And yes, I strayed from some of the details (especially when I landed on new research that would enrich the story). Most of all, I proved to myself that I could do it, with characters I barely knew. Which only meant that I'd been using a whole heck of a lot of excuses to not get stuff done. In other words, it was time for me to become a professional.




But what about all that "meticulous" research. Doesn't that take forever?

I love that so many reviewers have mentioned the meticulous details, the fact that the landscape and Reschen Valley is like a character in itself.  The answer is, heck yes, and I am still the "other" writer! But I do things a little differently now.


First of all, I have the advantage of knowing my characters very well and any new ones I introduce just fit right in. I write a lot and it just gets easier the more you practice. 


Secondly, I have already spent all the time doing the preliminary research when I decided on five books for this series. I know exactly how Book 5 will end. I have to get my characters there. Now, there have been a lot of changes made to the original ideas (especially this weekend!) but that's okay, because there are a lot of ways to get to Rome. (This is, by the way, why writers should not fear other writers: if I gave two writers the very same idea, they would write two very different books.)


The third thing is this: once I have a general timeline and history of events, I allow my characters to live their lives and, all that political stuff? That may simply happen to them and I get to explore how that affects the goal they're after or the journey they are on.


Fourth, what I have done this weekend, for instance, is draft my plot and fill out the beats and did the research as I went along, which means I've got a hundred or so Internet tabs open at any given time. And notecards. And scraps of paper. And printed out pages I will never, ever read again. It can be a labyrinth, and my Netflix Watchlist, Prime Watchlist, YouTube Playlist and Kindle are overflowing with things I think I need for research.

Lastly, I make my husband sit and listen, then hash out plot lines, problems and solutions because he knows my people as well as I do. And just before we sit down to eat, I realize, "No! No! It's the other way around! X does this to Y! Not Y to X!" And I flip open the computer and dinner gets cold. Again.


Speaking of my husband...

He is my greatest supporter and deals with a lot as a writer's widower. For example, when I have to cook for myself and I'm "in the zone", you can bet your fortune that it will burn (and I really am a great cook when I'm not suffering from writing fever). He also makes sure there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's between tunnels.


So, my husband picks up the slack and makes sure I eat, leaves me in peace, and prepares the martini when I come rushing down the stairs, euphoric from a day's work and afterglow. My office and I are, in the meantime, sporting the most vagrant looking aesthetics: dirty dishes and cups, half-filled teapots (I got two), I've become addicted to pistachios and banana chips when I'm staring out the window and thinking. You wouldn't believe how many calories I burn from just brainwork!


I'm still wearing my pajamas from two nights ago, and the only time I get dressed (or throw a coat on over my sweats) is to walk the dog, which I do every day. I need that walk. I'm already sitting for approximately 12 hours a day. And it clears my head so I've can get back to work refreshed. In the meantime, my husband quietly goes upstairs and clears all the dishes without disturbing a single scrap of paper. That's love.


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