Previously on A Writer’s Journey Parts One, Two, and Three – I accidentally discover the plot for my first novel, suffer through the first week of Nanowrimo, and discover a gold mine – namely a devoted beta reader.
That first day after letting Murph read my work, I managed to write a little over my word count before calling it a night. The next morning, I woke to new comments from him, along with a few questions about how I planned to execute some of the ideas I mentioned the day before. I had a few hours before I had to get ready for work, so I sat down and wrote a loose, stream of conscious style outline/timeline to give Murph an idea of what the book would look like. Once I finished, I checked my word count out of habit rather than necessity. After all, I didn’t plan on using the outline as part of Nanowrimo. I mean, it wasn’t real writing, just a sort of reference tool for Murph. (Also, I ended up not following the outline at all – the original version had Lucien as the villain of the novel, but as the story progressed and I worked on his character, I realized that didn’t make any sense.)
That’s when I realized I wrote over five thousand words. In a couple of hours! (I actually think it was closer to four, but still!) And I hadn’t checked my word count once. It was like some sort of magic book-writing fairy had chanted a spell over me while I slept.
I went to work, practically walking on clouds. I talked nonstop to my coworkers about my book during my entire shift that evening. Five thousand words in a day sounded pretty darn impressive, and I wanted to tell everybody.
When I got home that night, I wrote a thousand ‘real words’ to add to the story before bed. I didn’t stress too much about writing a little less – not with that huge chunk of outline sitting at the end of my document. My momentum lasted for the next few days. I consistently wrote 1,800 to 2,000 words a day. Even more astonishing (to me) is that I wasn’t paying as much attention to the word counts anymore – I started focusing on the story, rather than numbers.
Through it all, Murph read, and commented, and praised, and stoked my enthusiasm in general. He had a knack for asking really good questions – ones that made me think about my world and how it worked. World building questions. Questions I never thought to ask myself. Questions that revealed potential plot holes before they became festering, gaping wounds in the manuscript. I made a lot of tweaks and changes to the story with his help – I think he still hasn’t realized what a huge role he played in shaping Myrillia, even though I tell him frequently.
Unfortunately, my writing superpowers didn’t last the entire month. After about a week, I started struggling again. I didn’t get quite as bad as the first week – I didn’t go crazy checking word counts, and I could usually get 1,200 words down fairly easily – but I started struggling with where the story should go. By this point, I’d deviated from my original outline, and I didn’t have a clear idea of what to do.
I started using some of the recommendations that came in my Nanowrimo emails and pep talks to keep up a daily writing habit. There were a few that discussed how to handle writer’s block – which I didn’t quite have, but I was getting close. One suggestion in particular intrigued me – they suggested putting your characters in an unexpected location (like a closet) and describing how they react. So I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised at the results.
To anyone who’s read UnBlessed – yes, this is where the pantry scene came from.
From this point on, I see-sawed a lot. I had really good days, where the words flowed effortlessly and I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Then I had really bad days, where I was lucky to get 900 words. It didn’t help that by this time Murph realized that if he waited a few days, he had a lot more to read in one sitting. This is when I realized that I’m an incredibly needy writer. It wasn’t that I needed praise, per se, so much as affirmation that I was going in a good direction and that I was still making sense. (I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still get angst-ridden when I’ve written more than 20 pages of manuscript without someone’s feedback. A good part of it is the soul-numbing fear that I’ll make a poor decision with the plot that will result in having to go back and scrap the whole thing.)
The week of Thanksgiving arrived – the last full week of Nanowrimo – and I was still plodding along. However, I started to get a little concerned that I didn’t know how the novel was going to end. Remember – my original villain got scrapped pretty early on, so I didn’t even have a ‘bad guy’ for the book. What sort of fantasy doesn’t have an evil villain? For that matter, what sort of book doesn’t have any sort of antagonist? (I’ve since realized that Lucien was my antagonist, just not my villain. Apparently, the terms are not synonymous.)
Mid-week (I honestly don’t remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday … it might have even been Monday. It’s been a few years.) I sat down to do my daily typing. It was one of my bad days, and I sat staring at the screen, completely stumped. After wasting a good half hour, I decided to write a ‘what the heck’ scene (my version of the writer’s block exercise.) For whatever crazy reason, I liked the idea having my main character create an explosion of energy. So I started free-writing a random dream sequence where she talks to the Spirits to learn about her powers. Roughly a thousand words later, inspiration struck and I knew who my villain would be. Even better, I had the beginnings of how the book would end! I took a quick break to run downstairs and start dinner (kids, don’t try this at home – you shouldn’t ever leave food unattended on a different floor … even if it is in the oven.)
By the time I made it back upstairs, Murph had come online and commented on my dream scene – he loved it and thought it added a good layer of depth and interest to the fantasy element of the book, all while presenting necessary information to the reader. (Yes – those were his words, albeit not verbatim. I’m telling you, he’s the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer. Other authors take years to find a beta reader as thorough and dedicated as he is.)
My epiphany and Murph’s exceedingly well-timed praise provided the necessary momentum for me to finish Nanowrimo with a bang. On November 28, 2013 I completed my first novel, with 52,630 words.
I’m not sure what thrilled me more – writing ‘the end’ to my first book or validating my word count on the Nanowrimo website and getting the ‘Congratulations!’ spam.
When I say I lost my mind, I’m not joking.
There was a lot of high pitched shrieking, jumping, and a mad dash downstairs to confront my husband with my achievement. I felt a little disappointed by his lackluster response – but in retrospect, I don’t think he understood a word I said when I babbled at him and bounced around the kitchen.
I simply couldn’t believe that I’d done it. I’d written a book. Maybe not a best-selling book, but a book dammit. How many people can say that?! And in a month, no less!
The inexperienced author that I was, I delved through all the resources and articles that the Nanowrimo website had to offer. One of the first pieces of advice they provided was to set my masterpiece aside for the month of December. December was the month to bask in my achievement – and more importantly, that month would allow me to view my work with fresh eyes when I started the revision process.
I lasted a week.
To be continued November 25th …