It’s that time of year again. The siren call of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) pulls me away from all other tasks to my favorite part of being an author…telling a story.
My last few years have been scattered, and not all successful, but I’ve tried to use the NaNo time for projects that weren’t in the raw beginning state. I tried to rewrite older novels, for example. That isn’t how NaNo works best for me. A solid NaNo starts not in November, but with at least a month of preparation (outlining and world building) on a new idea, so I can leap in on the first day.
I made a promise to myself, after the trials I’ve had in editing Apprentice, never to start writing before I have a complete outline. I thought this would focus my attention on preparing before writing.
It has not.
For the last two NaNos, including my uncelebrated 20th (!) year, I gave in to the scatter and worked on outlines for upwards of twenty different projects. An interesting experiment for sure, and I achieved progress on a bunch of different ideas. Some were brand new and others from ideas I’ve had kicking around in the back of my head for a long while. I can’t call those efforts a complete failure, but none of them reached a final state. This meant I had nothing ready to go this year, and besides, I need to work on one of the series you all have been waiting patiently for.
NaNo used to be my play time. I’d work on the “suppose to”s the rest of the year and leave November for pure creation. I wrote novels I’d shoe-horned into a short story (Shafter) and thought I could quiet the demand, ideas I’d been teased by for years, and even ones that sprang into being in late October. Some years, I’d decide to give NaNo a pass and others I put the work in. Still, come November 1st, whatever decisions I’d made and however much my health tried to keep me down, there I was, writing.
This year, I made decisions and plans that seemed viable, and should have been. I planned to re-read Volume One of The Steamship Chronicles, my steampunk adventure series, to get back into the heads of Sam and Nat. Then, I’d outline the first book of the last volume in time to start NaNo.
It didn’t happen.
I started re-reading around the 20th of October. This still should have been enough time, but even reading has been a struggle of late. It didn’t help that I was sure I’d written the first scene already and spent weeks searching through my hard drives for where it might have ended up. Fruitless weeks, sort of.
This diversion from my plan turned out to be fascinating. I found my initial synopsis for what I’d thought was one, maybe two, books back when Sam existed only as part of a fleeting idea. I had the whole thing planned out (at least Sam and Nat’s part of the story) up to the final scene. While I didn’t find the scene I’m sure I wrote, my initial synopsis has the key elements set out. Thanks to Sam no longer being half catatonic and driven only by her gift, however, only the very broad strokes still belong to the story. Also, when finishing writing Gifts, I completed at least half of the outline for the novel planned for this year, a gift for sure.
Not only was it a lot of fun to see what changed and what stayed true to the original, I now had a jump on the preparation I hadn’t completed. I still need to read all three books in Volume One, because it’s been years since I lived in those characters’ heads, but at least I have avoided blank page syndrome. It meant I could not start writing on November 1st, though, something I very much wanted to do.
Yesterday came up on me far too suddenly, and regret weighed me down until I decided once again to take a shortcut. I jumped ahead and used the read-aloud feature in Word to listen to the outline I’d found and then the last few scenes of Gifts. The final volume starts shortly after the last book in the first volume. (The second volume crosses over the timelines of the first and the last but involves a different cast.) So, I had to make sure things lined up. I’ll need to check again when I’m editing, but I don’t want to start out already broken.
Because of the last, there is a necessary step before I use the gifted outline. I wrote it to be the end of Gifts and the start of the next novel. Not only did Gifts find a perfect ending earlier than expected, but things shifted since I wrote that partial outline. I did start NaNo on day 1, maybe not writing new story text, but at least writing a modified version of the first scene blurb. Even better, since then, my mind has been playing with what other scenes should be in place.
The hardest thing I’ve had to learn with my health issues is flexibility. There’s an old saying that plans for an engagement rarely last past first contact. That’s definitely true for working around health issues, but the trick is not to double-down on a broken plan. Instead, keep what works and blend it with new until you can achieve forward motion.
I’m counting these blog posts, for example, because they are certainly writing and related to the novel if not part of it. That wasn’t in the plan for this year either. [Shrug] Plans change.
So, for day 1, I have written 394 words in a new scene for my outline. For day 2, I’ve written around 1000 words so far in this blog post with hopes of more outlining to come.
Wish me luck! And the same to all of you venturing into the lively waters of NaNo, whatever you are writing to do so.