Today I’ve got Yves Fey on the blog talking about her own version of NaNoWriMo.
Sporadically, but for several years, I’ve been attempting NaNoWriMo, with varying degrees of failure. It is 180 degrees from my writing style and I feel intimidated, not freed, by its format. Usually I plunge in valiantly, land with a resounding belly flop, then slink off and resume my usual plodding pace. Nonetheless, this year I’ve decided to use NaNoWriMo as a goad.
My goal is simple, but significant—to further the second mystery in my series, which has been languishing for months. I have a precious few chapters and scenes that I wrote about this time last year, before I entered the months long final edits and market phases for the release of the first book, Floats the Dark Shadow. The method for my own private NaNoWriMo is to write 1,000 words a day developing my synopsis bits into actual scenes or possibly even chapters.
I’m a plotter, not a pantser. Tackling a novel is far too scary to me to attempt without the framework of an outline. I spend about a month or two brooding over what I want to happen, the order of events, the conflicts. This is combined with research, hunting for some intriguing historic bits to anchor the book in its era. In the case of my sequel, I knew that the Dreyfus Case would be the backdrop long before I knew what story would play against it. I have had my basic outline for some time, though I did a revision knowing November was fast approaching. Although I think of my books as character driven, my struggles with synopses focuses on getting the events into a timeline, blocking out the emotional high points occur, and trying to spot the problems that will trip me up. If I’m lucky, I will be granted bits of dialogue, the idea for an interesting twist, even a scene here and there. Once I have the vision for the book laid out, my brain shuts down on adding details. These outlines are fairly basic, and in the past I’ve tried to force development, only to find myself staring at a blank page for days or weeks. I’ve learned that I really have to start writing before the rest will come.
I begin to write, and proceed, for the most part, chapter by chapter. But I really can’t abide rough draft. I’m appalled by the flatness of the prose, the clichés, and the characters chewing uncomfortably on the words shoved into their mouths. Other plotters and pantsers forge ahead. I begin to develop. I work and rework until the story begins to come to life and the writing with it – a chicken or the egg sort of process whereby a good line of dialogue that I dream up suddenly fits the mouth it’s designed for. Or the characters wake up and tell me what to write (please). Again, others would forge on at this point. But once the chapter is actually half decent, it’s fun. I love revising! I get new ideas, I quest for stronger verbs, subtleties of motivation emerge, descriptions blossom. So, I enjoy myself until I have a finished chapter that I actually like well enough to move on. This is a slow way to go about it, but it grounds me for the leap into the uncharted world on the next chapter, with no more than my synopsis snippet to guide me. But despite doing a lot of preparation, as a writer I’m terribly dependent on inspiration, and often go through long dry periods of waiting for the muse to whisper.
So NaNoWriMo has always intrigued me because it does address one of my biggest problems—procrastination. And once again I’m undertaking it, but on my own terms. My primary goal is the 1,000 words a day. I’ve also let myself do some building on the chapters I have, but only if I don’t linger if stuck. I have succeeded more often than not, and I am also not berating myself if I don’t succeed, provided I do something. I am not allowing myself to burrow in. While I’m not going to attempt to write without editing, which I’ve learned is essentially impossible for me, neither am I allowing myself to sit staring at the page endlessly until the right word materializes. I don’t flee the room if it doesn’t (except for more coffee). If a few minutes of fiddling, sighing, and growling has produced nothing to further the chapter, I move on to another piece of the synopsis and see what can be brought to life from that segment of the novel. I have not been all that happy with the writing so far, but I am happy that I’m undertaking the challenge. I am going to do this for the month of November. I didn’t sign up on the NaNoWriMo site. This is my quiet sideline to the valiant frenzy I know is happening with the official participants. It’s a more modest challenge, but a big one for me.
Wish me luck.
About Yves: Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from Eugene Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. She has read, written, and created art from childhood. Floats the Dark Shadow is her debut mystery, set in Belle Époque Paris. Writing as Gayle Feyrer and Taylor Chase, she previously wrote four dark and mysterious historical romances. A chocolate connoisseur, she’s won prizes for her desserts. Her current fascination is creating perfumes. She’s traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia. She currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband and three cats, Marlowe the Investigator and the Flying Bronte Sisters.
Thanks for being here Yves. Loved learning how you’re approaching NaNoWriMo. Good luck!
November 14, 2012 at 5:55 pm
I can get caught up in reading a scene over and over again, but it’s usually because I like it, not because it needs heavy editing. (If it needs heavy editing, I probably don’t like it that well, lol.)
Most of the time I have ideas coming into my head faster than I can write them down. If I don’t get them on paper, they evaporate, so I write in a frenzy out of order and without much in the way of a plan.
And then comes the day when I run out of ideas and I have to actually look at what I have and start piecing it together, filling in the holes, and smoothing out all those rough edges. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time editing. (And I don’t write mysteries; you have to have to plot those completely in advance!)
Everyone has their own style, though, so just as long as you keep yourself moving forward, it’s all good!
(Interesting to see that I’m not the only blogger with a Hebrew script background.)
November 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm
Keri, I love those frenzies, and am lucky enough to get them occasionally, but first draft is usually more like pulling teeth!
November 15, 2012 at 9:43 am
Yves, best of luck to you. I admire your determination and like your idea of changing the NaNoWriMo rules to suit yourself.
I’m a pantser not a plotter, but NaNoWriMo hasn’t really worked for me either. I jumped in enthusiastically this year, thinking it would help jumpstart my own languishing novel, but the emphasize on daily word counts just stresses me out and discourages me. Having been a reporter for years, I can meet word counts – but that’s normally the last thing I think about in a rough draft.
With Thanksgiving approaching, I’ve decided to throw in the towel and resume my usual helter-skelter writing approach in December!
November 15, 2012 at 10:47 am
Thanks so much for sharing your writing process, Yves. I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences from the way I work. Like you, I like to revise as I go and find that the writing itself inspires me and that new ideas and characters come during that process (on good days). I’m also not a NaNo type personality, but when I am working on a first draft I try to aim at 1,000 words per day on those days when I can write (i.e., when not at the day job).
I’ve never been much of an outliner, and that can get me into trouble. I like what you’ve written about your initial process and want to save that for future reference.
Also want to plug Floats the Dark Shadow. One of the best historical mysteries I’ve ever read!
November 15, 2012 at 11:08 am
Hello Lynn, and Nancy too!
There was a time period when I was very stuck on Floats the Dark Shadow. My friend Judith Stanton convinced me to join a 100 words a day group she was forming with friends. That was a great number for me, and I always try to do that when I’m writing, but the 1,000 a day for this month is a good spur even if I don’t attain it. The 100 lets you feel like you’ve done SOMETHING, and usually leads to more words. Judith recently completed her own excellent mystery about horse eventing, A Stallion to Die For.