If you’re reading this two and a half days from now, feel free to yell “GO” whenever the clock strikes twelve in your particular time zone.
Yes, we’re only a few short hours from the annual literary marathon known as NaNoWriMo, and I have to tell you, I wasn’t even sure I’d be running this year.
I had some grand ideas earlier in the month, which promptly crumbled in front of me when I sat down to sketch out my opening scenes.
Normally my novels start out a bit on the slow side, with background and introduction instead of bang-boom-crazy action. I’m generally okay with this (after all, I’m the one who’s writing it like that), but every time I send a manuscript off to an agent, they tell me the story didn’t grab them the way they wanted it to.
So this time, I tried making something explode in the first sentence. That’ll do it, right? Well…it turns out it’s hard to establish the right tone for your sensible, intelligent, domestically-focused character when you blow up her house without giving her a chance to say anything about it.
The subsequent confusion, blood, and urgency may be flashy, but it left Abigale Calloway with nothing to do but scream and be shocked and get rescued in her very first scene, since she didn’t know what the hell was going on and would not have the training or experience to do anything except panic in such a situation.
I have enough trouble writing female main characters (a subject for another post, maybe) without turning them into damsels in distress on page one, so I scrapped those thousand words. Then I wrote another scene, where someone else’s house exploded instead, but that didn’t work either. The logistics were all wrong, and Abigale would have had to run into a village under attack to do some things that would be entirely out of character for her anyway.
So I scrapped that one, too. Twice. I changed Abigale’s history; I changed the setup of her world; I changed the potential outcome of the story in an effort to get myself excited about writing it, but it all seemed dreary, dull, lame, and lackluster. And this is all a fortnight before NaNoWriMo was even going to begin.
Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have seen my angsty post about potentially throwing the whole notion out the window (where it would promptly explode in a dissatisfactory manner, no doubt), but as soon as I published something about my conundrum, I realized what I was doing wrong.
You know, sometimes in archery, I will start off the hour doing very well, and then something will shift without my notice, and I’ll end up with six or seven rounds of off-target garbage. I’ll get mad at myself for sucking, and try to fix one thing or another, and nothing will work.
Five minutes before I get so frustrated that I’m about to give up, I’ll realize that it all comes back to the one fundamental thing I lose sight of sometimes: my grip on the bow. I’m so busy worrying about the dynamics of pulling the string back and aiming each time that I forget how important it is to have a solid start. When I reposition my fingers and relax my arm, suddenly everything comes back into alignment and hitting the gold is easy again.
It’s the same thing with writing. When I grip the story wrong, nothing else works. I had planned to write The Night Heron’s War as a stand-alone novel and market it traditionally while I continue to self-publish the rest of The Paderborn Chronicles, just to see what would happen.
Agents tell me my openings are boring, so I was trying to wrestle my novel into a mold that would sell to them. I wasn’t writing for myself. I was gripping way too hard, approaching it from the wrong angle, and wrenching my storytelling out of alignment.
I’m all for listening to feedback and incorporating it appropriately, but this particular piece of advice just doesn’t work for me. If I don’t block out the world sometimes, I succumb to my inferiority complex and end up floundering around in a sea of self-pity. Some writers like to be pushed to write a best-seller, because the pressure inspires them. For me, it just makes me want to cry.
Maybe my stories do start off a little more slowly than commercial publishers like to see, but I feel like I do better work when I can do a bit of world building that puts the action into context first. Maybe this isn’t what will grab the attention of someone who skims through a hundred queries a day, but it’s what makes a good story, as far as I’m concerned.
So I pushed the explosion back a bit, and let Abigale say some intelligent, character-defining things first before I ruined her life forever. My excitement about the story is back, and I’m looking forward to writing it in a meaningful way. The rest comes later.
During November, it’s the journey that matters, and I’m ready to get as far as I can in the next thirty days. Are you?