I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do for Camp Nano this year. I had a word count goal of 50K, and I planned to write at least that many words of a second draft of my novel — in first person.
Because why not?
Well, about 20K words into it, I realized I needed a better outline.
I didn’t exactly hit a wall. I could have kept writing, splashing words along merrily without regard for how and where they landed, but I failed to see the point of doing that when my story clearly lacked a strong foundation.
The clues were there — legions of them — in my first draft.
I think I was hoping that in the process of writing a second draft, the missing pieces would come flooding into my mind when I needed them most — hopefully not seconds before one of my kids screamed “Ouch!!” or before the phone rang or before something hit the kitchen floor and shattered, sending sharp splinters around the bare feet of my five-year-old.
I can tune out quite a bit while I’m writing, but these are a few things that will get my attention.
So, anyway, I reached that point where I looked at my story and had to admit that pantsing my way through my first draft had gotten me …well, to the end of my first draft.
And part of the way through my second.
Somewhere in the middle of writing one of my scenes for that draft, I found myself thinking, “If I were reading this, I’d be skimming over this part. What am I even trying to do here?”
And I had to admit my story needed more direction. It needed more tension.
Yes, I’ll say it: it needed more structure.
I don’t call myself either a plotter or a pantser. I’ve always figured I was somewhere in between, and I think most writers are.
For NaNoWriMo 2015 — my first NaNoWriMo — I pretty much pantsed my way to 60K+ words. I sailed right past the 50K mark before the end of the month, and I was pretty proud of myself.
And then I left it alone for all of December. Didn’t finish it. Didn’t look at it.
In January, I picked it up again and decided, “I want to finish this story before my next birthday (in mid-February). So, I starting working on it again on January 19th, and in order to get to the end, I asked myself, “How would I end this story if I changed nothing?”
I changed nothing, and I finished the first draft by the first week of February.
Again, I was feeling pretty good. I finished a whole first draft of a novel, after all. Hadn’t done that before. And I hadn’t even celebrated my 43rd birthday, yet.
Only when I decided to stop ignoring my first draft (I gave it a month and a half) did I start paying serious attention to the warning signs. They were there.
“Bridge out ahead.”
“Your characters are boring.”
“Speed limit: about 100 times faster than your story is moving”
So, rather than just push through and finish that second draft the same way I’d finished my first, I let myself ask the questions that were bugging me about my story.
“What does my lead character really, REALLY want?”
“Does she have to end up with her male character friend in the end?”
Answer to that one: no. No, she doesn’t. And the more I thought about my lead character and about what she really wanted, the less I wanted her to end up in a romantic entanglement with the guy she couldn’t help being attracted to in the beginning.
I allowed her to be attracted to him, ’cause he’s an attractive guy. And she sees that. And besides good looks, the guy has plenty going for him.
He feels bound to my lead character for reasons I won’t disclose here — and she to him — but that doesn’t mean they should end up together in the end (or at any point in the story).
Another question I had to ask was about the story’s turning point: what James Scott Bell, (in his book, Write Your Novel from the Middle) calls the lead character’s “look in the mirror moment.”
First, though, I spent a day just sketching out a complete list of scenes for the novel — a rough outline with a brief description of each scene.
Then, some days later, after boring myself while writing a scene from that list, I wrote a list of “critical scenes for TLD” — eliminating the boring in-between scenes I’d thought were necessary but that turned out not to be.
The critical scenes are way more fun to write, anyway. Night and day.
In between writing sessions, I’d get ideas for Maura’s mirror moment, for the climax, and for the story’s end (for her and other characters) while working at my part-time lunch lady job or while reading a book or while driving.
Or while overhearing other people’s conversations. Or watching people. Or playing on Twitter.
Playing counts as work. My kids keep reminding me of this. Playing with them totally counts toward becoming a better writer. What my kids want gets my mind working on what my characters want. And sometimes their imaginations lead my mind to undiscovered territory.
Plus, I know I need a break when I become instantly and loudly angry whenever one of them jerks me out of my writing zone with a jarring noise or a question (repeated insistently and with increasing volume) or the sound of milk or juice splashing over the edge of a glass, onto and over the edge of the table, and onto an upholstered dining chair (worst invention ever), and then the floor.
I need to re-read K. M. Weiland’s book Outlining Your Novel and maybe use the workbook, too. I’ve been brainstorming and voice journaling (one of my favorite ways to play with a story), and to my mind, all this matters more to me than whether or not I wrote 50K words of my second draft, which was supposed to be my experiment with first person.
I ended up writing a first person short story with the material I’d originally considered my novel’s prologue. I like it better as a short story that serves as a prequel to my novel, though I also want it to be able to stand alone. I’ve finished the first draft of the short story and will need to give myself some distance from it before I begin the editing process.
But taking all this into consideration, I’ve accomplished more for my novel this month than I would have if I’d stuck to my original goal.
Goals should serve the one who sets them, after all — not vice-versa.
So, no, I didn’t fail Camp NaNo. I re-purposed it.
Besides, my tent is bigger on the inside. That was one of my conditions. Non-negotiable.
So, how did you rock Camp NaNo? Or how did you make the best of your April writing time? I always look forward to your comments.
Take care, and have a great week!