Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Do You NaNo? A Cautionary Tale

It's almost that time again, the month when writers get to work, some determined to push out that next manuscript and others hoping to push out their first, all in 30 days. It's almost November 1, which means it's almost time for NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month.

Do you NaNo?

I sometimes feel as if my life is one continuous NaNoWriMo but, in truth, I've only done it once. It was November 2010. I was in a 29-month holding pattern between selling my first manuscript to Tor and seeing the book actually released. (Yep, 29 months. I counted.) I had an idea for a new book. It would be great! It would be half urban fantasy and half paranormal romance! It would have a subtext about Stockholm Syndrome woven through it, deep and psychological! It would be Southern and Celtic and Gothic, all rolled into one. I would write it from six point-of-view characters, which would make it rich and multifaceted! It would have an apocalyptic sci-fi element! I'd finish it in thirty days, it would be called STOCKHOLM, and it would be brilliant!

I finished it! It was called STOCKHOLM.

It sucked lemons. Really, really big lemons.

I took it apart to see why it wasn't working. Then I had to fix it. Time to write it? Thirty days. Time to fix it? Twelve months. But I learned some things.

It really couldn't sit on the fence, as it turned out. Lesson 1: Be true to your genre or, if not, know why you aren't being true. As it turned out, I didn't really have a reason except 'just because'.

Lesson 2: It's genre fiction, not literary fiction. It can have a deep, psychological subtext, but not at the price of story. Literary fiction is expected to be pretentious and slow. Genre fiction readers would gouge out their eyeballs by chapter three.

Lesson 3: Yeah, it can be Southern and Celtic and Gothic--it is fantasy, after all. But mood is no substitute for depth of character or solidness of plot.

Lesson 4: It can have apocalyptic sci-fi elements but make sure they work within the world of your primary genre. See Lesson 1.

Lesson 5: If you finish it in 30 days, it's probably not going to be brilliant. But it can be a solid starting point.

A year later, I finished that NaNo book. Somewhere along the way, STOCKHOLM became REDEMPTION and it was published about the same time as its 29-month-old elder sibling, ROYAL STREET.

I can safely say I will not do NaNoWriMo again, but I don't regret doing it that one time. The lessons were valuable.

And I forgot Lesson 6: Write from a loose outline. Deconstructing and reconstructing the NaNo book is how I developed the plotting system that has seen me through another dozen or so novels so far. [Inserts shameless plug for the "Quilting the Perfect Plot" workshop I'll be offering through the Southern Magic RWA chapter from November 17-December 14. You can find more info here.]

So how about you? Are you a NaNo veteran, or does the idea send you screaming away from the keyboard?


Larynn Ford said...

Now my fears are validated. Some of your realities with NaNo are the fears that have kept me from committing to the idea.

Thanks Suzanne!

Meda White said...

I run screaming at the thought of NaNo. I'm proud for the people who do it, but I'll just cheer them on from the sidelines. :)

Suzanne Johnson said...

I think it provides a kick-start for a lot of authors, and I did eventually get that NaNo book published, but.....I'm with you guys. Not for me!

Louisa Cornell said...

I haven't tried it, but I have considered it. I'm willing to try anything that keeps me writing! But I have enough people and thinks trying to make me crazy at this point.

Cari Hislop said...

A friend of mine finished a mystery in the thirty days and let me read it. It was really good. I was very impressed. I think if people work well to time limit then it's a lovely tool to help push them forward. I find deadlines turn into wires around my creative throat. if I was ever going to publish a series through a traditional publisher I'd have to have all the books finished before I sold the first one. It's annoying! Being a mega pantser I just never know how long it will or won't take me.

I'm glad you got so much out of the experience though! I think it's brilliant the book ended up something you were happy with.