12.01.2010

NaNoWriMo Aftermath: The Dude Abides

The enthusiasm going in was high. My goals, lofty. I wasn't only going to make my 50K with speed and gusto, but I was going to finish the entire first draft in one month.  But when I started, everything changed. The energy slowed. I became very laidback. It was no longer a race. It was a mosey. While people were sprinting ahead of me, I hung back, strolling along, stopping to pet a few dogs and smell some flowers. At some point, I bought a cup of lemonade from some kids and the little bastards didn't have change for a twenty...okay, this metaphor's gone far enough.

As such, I didn't make the 50K goal until about noon of the last day. But the best part is, I also managed to finish the first draft a few hours later. That was my original goal from the start this year, and though I had given up the possibility of accomplishing it, I did anyway.

The final count ended up being 54,460, including The End. Barring any major lightning strikes from the Idea Fairy, will probably be closer to 60K after revisions. Still on the shorter side, but it's a Young Adult story, and those tend to be a tad shorter.

I think my completion has a lot to do with the nonchalant approach I took this time. I refused to hurry. I took four days off last week for holiday prep and celebration without any real regret. There were days I only wrote a few hundred words. Other days where I wrote a few thousand. I didn't worry that I wasn't going to make the goal and I didn't care if I made it or not. Doubt, at least in the form of "will I finish this?" just didn't factor into the equation. I found a groove that worked, and when I do that, nothing can shake me from finishing it. When a story feels right, its completion becomes a foregone conclusion. And if I'd finished it December 4th instead of November 30th, so be it. 

There are other things I did differently this time around that I think helped a lot. I didn't focus so much on the plot or world-building. It was painful throughout certain parts, because some areas were total black holes, and as I was writing, I was saying to myself, "Nothing is happening. This is boring. This is bland. You're forgetting to put in that thing you wanted to put in earlier! Dammit, make something awesome happen!" But as I was writing those scenes, I was doing something else, and in hindsight, something better. I was getting to know my characters. I was fleshing them out, hearing them speak, nailing down their personalities. I was screaming back to that voice in my head, "Screw you, plot! You're not the boss of me!" I was ENJOYING myself, and sometimes I did hit plot pay dirt, especially when I wasn't trying too hard.

But the third act/climax went almost all according to plan. And after having paid much more attention to my characters the first time around, I was more emotionally invested in the story and their outcomes. I was also far less stressed out. Plotting is exhausting work for me, and it's discouraging when I'm not getting it right. I have now learned it's much easier to construct a plot around characters I actually care about, when I can look at them as real people and say, "Okay, you go here. And, hey, you in the back? Go there." And it's also easier to bridge additional story arcs off existing chapters than to build an entire structure as I go along while worrying about every other element in the process (narration, POV, dialogue, etc). 

When I go back for revisions, I'll fine-tune all of that, and I'll also lay down the "rules" of my magic world, do some much-needed research, and better establish settings that right now feel one-dimensional. 

As it stands, the first draft of Stargazers looks like a one of those crude handmade dolls, with its stitches all crooked and sloppy and those button eyes that are kinda creepy. But at least it's whole. And I'll always consider that a mammoth accomplishment for me, The Girl Who Doesn't Finish Much (take note, Stieg Larsson...oh wait, you're dead). At any rate, I'm going to take it easy and just let it flow. It's the approach that seems to work best for me. 


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