It's day five of the National Novel Writing Month challenge (NaNoWriMo) and I am thrilled to report I have just crossed over the 12,000 word mark. Like a triumphant triathlonor who just completed phase one, I am gasping for air and guzzling water. Writing is hard work. After having coffee with Jerod from Write On, Door County I said I would blog my NaNoWriMo process for Write On enthusiasts and other crazed NaNoWriMo participants who have set a goal to write 50,000 words in one month. It is no easy task, but with a little preparation, a lot of hard work, unimaginable amounts of caffeine, and the ability to ignore good grammar, it is absolutely possible. On October 30th I had no plot for my book's sequel. Nothing. Not even an idea. Today I am almost a quarter of the way done writing it. I have no doubt I will meet my goal.
I had no plans to join NaNoWriMo a week ago, but after my editor suggested a sequel to my upcoming novel, I started thinking up ideas. After struggling to come up with a plot, it finally appeared to me in a dream on Halloween. A quick email to my editor to confirm this was an idea worth pursuing was met with a resounding yes. The idea for the sequel to my book was born. Since NaNoWriMo was starting, I decided to utilize the momentum and attempt to write this book by the end of November. With my publisher's encouragement, I now embarked on the next stage of my writing process: the outline.
When I write a book I like to think of it as building a person from the ground up, like Frankenstein if you will. I write in a five-step process. First the general idea, or the "soul" of my book, as I like to think of it. This is nothing more than a very basic premise of a story. Once the soul is alive and well I start working on building the bones, the structure of the book that supports everything else to come. I break down every chapter into what I intend to happen in each one. Scene by scene, I jot down notes how I think the chapter should play out. By the end, I have a very specific outline for my book. This outline is like a GPS map to my final destination. It doesn't mean I'll stay on the road, Siri may start squawking "proceed to the route" on occasion when I wander off too far, but I have a destination and a general direction to get there. I spent the first two days of NaNoWriMo creating the bones.
After the bones have been laid out, the writing process is much smoother for me. I'm not scratching my head every few words wondering what happens next. This is what trips me up and causes me to stall out, sometimes for months at a time. When I started using an outline, finishing a novel became almost easy for me. With the bones laid out, the next part of my writing is building the muscles. This is writing rough and dirty. I don't stop to fixate on whether I'm overusing a word, using too many adverbs, or getting consistency in my sentences. I'm dumping my story onto the page as quickly as I can to get it out of my head. As Shannon Hale says, 'I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.' I keep this in mind when I begin the "muscles" stage of my writing process. It's easy to panic that it's terrible and you should never attempt writing again. You keep going anyways.
During the muscles stage I follow my outline and let the story run wild and my characters develop. Most times as I write, the story takes turns I never saw coming, the characters do things I didn't plan. For example, in the last chapter I was writing tonight I knew that they would be entering a large party and things would happen that would get me to the end result. The details were foggy at best. When my protagonist knocked at the door, a character I hadn't even imagined opened it. It was a complete surprise to me to see them standing there, but who am I to send them away? So off I went, following the plot of my chapter, but letting it expand to include the newest character in my book. I have to admit, I think the addition of this character has enriched the story and the dialogue immensely. I am quite pleased that she decided to arrive at the door. The chapter included all the important elements I needed, but expanded to allow for the story to grow into something more. This is how the muscles of my novels are built. When it's all done, I have the first draft of my novel. The muscles. It's ugly in all it's gory, exposed glory... but the worst part is over.
After the soul, the bones, and the muscles have been constructed, now it's time to pretty things up and put some skin and hair on that badboy. My second draft fixes my plot holes, pretties up my sentences, expands on my characters and in essence, turns that bloody first draft into something that could walk down the street without inducing horror movie screams and terror. There are plenty of times in the muscles stage where I'm staring at a blinking cursor trying to find the perfect word or sentence. I remind myself that at this stage it doesn't matter. I pop a horrible adverb in, sometimes even a note like "describe him better here" and keep on moving. It's the second draft that I'll take the time and the effort to get it right.
The final stage, is the hair and makeup stage. This is best left done to the professionals. As I'm sure you'll see from the errors in my blogs, I'm a terrible editor. I love to write but I hate to edit. The professionals know how to put the final touches on my manuscript and get it looking good enough to dazzle at all the parties and events. They are Professor Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle.
Tonight I started writing even when I didn't feel like it. The first words were painful, like glass tearing at my fingertips as I typed on the keyboard. I kept typing anyways. It got easier as I went on and soon I was off on an adventure again, excited to see what happened next. As the words poured out, my novel began to turn into a living, breathing thing that took on a life of it's own. I was glad I forced myself to write even when I didn't want to. A quote from Louis L'Amour is what inspired me to start. "Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." I turned on the faucet tonight, it was stuck and almost required a wrench, but once I did the water went from a slow drip to a glorious stream.
My writing break to update my blog is over now, and it's back to writing again. I think I've got a couple thousand more words in me tonight if I put mind over matter. It's time to strap on my tennis shoes and grab my pen as I go racing after my characters trying to journal everything they do as they go on their adventure.
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