Monday, October 25, 2010

To NaNo or Not to NaNo? That is the question...

It's been a while since I've posted any work-in-progress progress reports. That is because I am not making much of it. I got stuck about a month ago after a week of total brilliant writing. Then I realized how long my book had gotten. And how far from the end I was. And I freaked. I've had a bunch of seemingly genius realizations of how to finish the book, but so far none of them have panned out. I also paused and did some research after realizing that there were a couple of major story arcs that I had no idea how to write because I had no experience with them. I have to admit, I am usually a write what you know kind of writer. Was I ever in a band like Emily in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE? No. But we share the same passion for music and I have lots of friends in bands so I drew on experiences they'd shared with me. Was I ever a heroin addict like Kara in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA? No, but I've done my fair share of drugs and loved my fair share of addicts, so I knew that pretty well, too. Now you may be thinking, aren't you writing a bartender book? Aren't you a bartender? Yes, that part of the book is very familiar territory for me. But one of the characters is pregnant and I've never been. And one of the characters gets arrested and ends up in some major legal trouble. I've never been. So I spent the week polling people about that and I now feel solid enough to write about both of those things (and when I get stuck on those details, I know who I can ask).

So I was all psyched up for last night's writing group. I'd talked through the last part of my book with enough people that I thought I knew what to do. I'd taken a crack at a couple scenes and they hadn't flowed very smoothly, but my writing group (which is me and my neighbor Jenny and occasionally our friend Aaron, all of us graduates or soon to be graduates of Columbia College Chicago MFA program) is always inspiring. We adapted a workshop followed by quiet writing period that works well for us and never fails to get me seeing the scene before I write it. It utilizes the same techniques that I followed in college where I wrote IWBYJR and bits of BALLADS. And I was seeing and I wrote over 2000 words and the first page or two was pretty damn good, but then I flopped. I hit the same wall, I keep hitting: this book is too long, this is making it even longer and I'm not sure I'm on the right path. I panicked, stop typing and I'm not entirely sure where I'll pick up today, whether I will continue on the too-long path that I feel may be wrong or try something new. Either way, one things is clear. I will not finish this book by the end of the week as I initially hoped. Ha! "Initially hoped." I actually initially hoped this book would be done six weeks ago. Sigh. Try not to think about that. My usual technique of making deadlines for myself is only proving to stress me out more.

I really had hoped to be done because I thought I might attempt NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month for those of you not familiar with the term. I've never done it before, but basically it's where my crazy fellow writers try to write an entire novel in a month and it's done in November which is one of those evil months that only has 30 days and a freakin' holiday in it to boot. Yeah, writers are crazy.

I wasn't going to attempt it officially because I was thinking I might actually only do it for a week. Take a break from this damn bartender book and turn to the idea that I've been mulling for over a year. You may have heard me mention this idea briefly on twitter or facebook, referring to it only as the post-apocalyptic YA. That's pretty much all I'll say about it aside from the fact that it came from a dream I had on the night I turned 30 and I take great stock in my dreams. In fact when I was like thirteen, I had a few psychic dreams. So if I'm ever going to think that one of my book ideas is going to be *the book* that will really sell and make all my wildest writing dreams come true it would be the book I dreamed on my 30th birthday. (Note that my wildest writing dreams are to be able to afford to write full-time and move to Seattle, no huge JK Rowling fantasies. Or that other Stephenie. The one who spells her name like I did when I was thirteen and having psychic dreams and yes I know her big bestseller came from a dream too, but trust me, my dream was cooler than sparkly vampires.) Oh and there was flooding in the dream. And the one bit of research I need to do is find a map of what the United States would look like if there was crazy bad flooding, like which areas would still exist and which wouldn't. Anyone know where I can find that?

Anyway, so yeah, I've been going nuts wanting to try out this story idea for over a year now, but I had to focus on the two story ideas that I'd already been wrestling with. And now that I'm stuck with those (well, with the bartender one at least. I haven't even looked at the other one and am afraid it will freak me out just as much as the bartender book), it looks so bright and shiny and pretty and it is largely unplotted. And that is how I like to write. These other two books have been uncharacteristically plotted out because I felt like that is how I should write and maybe it is in fact holding me back. So I thought, maybe the first week of November, after I finished the rough draft of the bartender book, I would play with the bright shiny new idea. If it totally flowed and I thought I could actually achieve the NaNo goal, I would follow it. But even more so I just hoped it would remind me why I love writing again and while my brain was focused on it, the bartender book would fall into place and I could go back to it and finish a solid draft (ie. one I could show my agent) by mid-December as I originally hoped. (Actually I hoped it would be done by now, but since the rough draft isn't even close....)

Now I'm not sure what to do since I won't have the rough draft done in time. I guess it all depends on how this week goes. If I flail terribly once again this week, it will only be logical to take a breather and try the new thing, which may or may not lead to NaNo, or may lead me back to the bartender book newly inspired. If this week goes well, I may just keep plugging along and save the new book for January when I will do my own NaNo. A fresh year seems like a good time to start a new book (hence me wanting to finish the bartender book by the holidays so badly) and well, I'll just start on January 2 to make it 30 days. Oh and hopefully I'm going on a writing retreat in January too!

I should also note that one thing that draws me to NaNo is that the word count for your novel is 50,000 words, which is not a full length novel at all. Even a YA is usually between 65 and 85K and my books like most adult books is closer to 100k. I think that is because when most people rough draft or fast draft, their drafts are shorter and they go back and fill in details. Me.... well at the rate I'm going with this one, I will have to cut 50,000 words. Sigh. So the idea of starting with an idea that I only have a small inkling about and not a huge complex plotline to wrestle with like my current project, sounds like a great change of pace.

Though yeah, I'm not so sure I can make that change of pace right now. I guess I'll reassess at the end of the week.

But in honor of NaNo and also because the MTV Books blog is closing (don't worry, we are really just moving to a bigger space so to speak, a blog called YA Outside the Lines which will have a bunch of other authors) and though I know my posts will stay up there, I want to have the ones that chart my journey with writing this year here, I am going to repost four posts that talk about my highs and lows and writing plans and writing process this week. Hopefully they will help and inspire those of you preparing for NaNo. Not all of them are uplifting, but all are real and the best thing about NaNo is it allows writers to talk about the ups and downs of actually completing a novel, so I want to start that dialogue here. Then, I guess, at the end of the week or the beginning of next, I'll let you know where I stand and if I am doing NaNo. But right now I want to know if you are. Let me know your reasons or how you feel about it. Hell, let me know if you think I should put my project on hold and try it even if only for a week. Because I am in that seriously low self esteem place where I can't make my own decisions. It's terrible. The last time I was this bad was after the awful abusive relationship when I was sixteen and I literally did eeny-meeny-miny-moe to determine everything. Sigh. I probably shouldn't do that to determine which scene to try today, stick with the old one that started out strong but failed when I realized it was getting too long, or try the other option. I think I'll just try the other option and we'll see where that takes me.

Anyway, are you participating in NaNoWriMo? And stay tuned for the rest of this week to see my journey so far this year with my writing projects.


April Mosqus said...

Hmmm...taking on the daunting task of writing a book in a month could really stress you out. I've been stuck between two projects before and it is very frustrating. I end up not progressing far enough on either because my mind always seems to be floating between the two and not enough action gets taken and I just end up feeling stuck and unsatisfied. It might be a good idea to have more people read what you have already and point out the areas where you are stuck and ask for their help. Just resting your mind and getting away from something for a few days and coming back with fresh eyes can also be helpful. Be gentle on yourself :)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Oh I wouldn't be taking on that daunting task officially, April. I'd just be trying out the new material for a week and then if it magically clicked, I guess I would continue. I've let quite a few people read what I am comfortable having them read (or they are in the process of reading it), the rest is an unholy mess, and really it is something I have to figure out. The reason I was pondering starting something new is because I have tried taking a couple days off, but I still think about the book. Unless I occupy myself with something else, I can't take a break. So more than anything this would be my way of tricking my brain and also starting a story I've been excited about might remind me why I love writing since honestly this year I have been hating it. But we'll see what happens this week.

Amy Lukavics said...

I say go for it. Sometimes it's a good refresher to indulge a new idea that's been poking at your brain. You can always stop whenever you want, switch back over to bartender book, then switch back again if that's your fancy.

Anonymous said...

I say go for it! NaNoWriMo is first of all, a lot of fun...Just make sure to warn people that you have officially lost all sanity - this will be the second year I've done it and last year was the first time that I felt my insomnia was a gift. And when I did reach my goal, it was like the greatest feeling ever. It also gives you a break from your WIP so that when you go back to it, you can be all positive and possibly have new ideas. Even if you don't get NaNo done, it's still nice and refreshing to take a break from the story may let you be able to go back and remember why you loved it.

Annika said...

Jessie said...

I totally NaNo-ed! And it was one of the most powerful motivators ever!
But I was unemployed, so I had the time to do it. :)

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Glad it worked for you, Jessie! I hope you can keep the habit up and turn that project into something you can submit. And perhaps I'll do NaNo next year!