During November I hope to report daily on my progress in the National Novel Writing Month competition 2011. The goal is to complete 50,000 words by the end of the month. That’s 1667 word a day. Blimey!
This is a whole new experience for me – the competition itself, the intensive writing sessions and the whole blogging thing. The novel is changing shape minute by minute – it’s quite scary how it’s taken on a life of its own already – I hope I can keep it under control. Whatever happens, I’m going to have some fun here.
The novel’s working title is ‘Background Feature’ – go to the tab and read the synopsis and excerpts.
Word count: 5761 – a little over 10%.
Sounds impressive, but there’s a moment of panic. I don’t want to be running out of plot before I reach the finish line, so I quickly check over the storyline to make sure I’m not getting ahead of myself.
I’ve written a lot of much shorter pieces that really gobble up plot lines – this huge daily word count requires a completely different discipline. Rather than just galloping along, I have to slow down, stopping sometimes to look around, check out the scenery and interpret what I see from my characters’ perspectives. I’ve given them lives; I want to see them in their environment.
Word Count: 8046
I’m trying to get ahead of myself because I go back to work next week and snippets of writing time will have to be grabbed whenever possible.
The story is still flowing, though new characters and situations introduce themselves frequently. Until I started writing seriously I never believed those people who insisted that characters would go their own way. How could they? They’re in my head, they’ll behave how I want them to.
How wrong, how very wrong….
Word Count: 10,755
Lots of writing today in many unexpected directions. Where did that drunken confession come from? And what is the relevance of the silver bangles on page18? Maybe they’ll turn out to be completely superfluous to the plot, but one thing’s certain; I’ll have to keep plugging away to find out, because I don’t know yet.
Word Count: 13,091
Long old haul today, but satisfied that I’m still on target.
A new situation has appeared in the plot – remember I mentioned this phenomenon – where one of my main protagonists reveals a surprising new aspect to his character. It’s not ideal, and it may only lead up another blind alley, but I have to follow him. It’s quite an exciting development, so I’ll stay with it for a while.
Word count: 14,397
In 1921 Pirandello wrote a play entitled ‘Six Characters in Search of a Plot.’ My characters have run away from me slightly today so I’ll take the liberty of quoting a favourite line: ‘When the characters are really alive before their author, the latter does nothing but follow them in their action, in their words, in the situations which they suggest to him.’
I’ll also take heart from Somerset Maugham, who said that there are just three rules for writing – but no one knows what they are.
Word Count: 15,576
Thought for the day:- Procrastination is the thief of time…. surely it must be time for another cup of tea and a biscuit?
Fell behind slightly with the daily total today – work does tend to get in the way of this enterprise – but I’m not losing heart. I’m still ahead of the game and it’s not all bad news. I’ve discovered a colleague who’s also signed on for this mad caper, so I now have a real person to compare word counts with. Will we get competitive? Watch this space.
Word Count: 17,334
It’s been one of those writing days when I’m tempted to put everything I’ve written straight into the bin. But no, I can’t do that, so I have turned my internal editor off. She was getting far too loud, chuntering away in the background and trying to impose her will on my overstretched imagination. There’ll be time enough for rewrites when the challenge is over. As James Michener said, ‘I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.’
Word Count: 19,014
I can’t afford to wait for the muse to descend; she might be having a day off. Far better to glue myself to that chair and churn it out. I can’t edit a blank page, after all. Not that I’m editing, you understand.
The best book I’ve ever read about writing is Stephen King’s, On Writing. Not a how-to book as such, it’s a fascinating chronicle of his writing experiences.
“Don’t wait for the muse … This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”
King suggests writing a thousand words a day – kid’s stuff!
Word Count: 21,723
I’ve committed a crime today. I really didn’t want to but they made me do it. Sometimes you just have to murder your darlings.
Jack London said: you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. So after a staring competition with a blank page I put my metaphorical club over my shoulder and set off to find some stimulation. I can now report that fiddling around with twenty-five different fonts, however satisfying in the short term, is no way to keep up the word count.
Word Count 24,002
The ‘2’ is important. E.L. Doctorow said that writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Every word is important in this exercise; it’s how I’ll get to the finish, feeling my way in the dark.
Word Count: 26,619
If the thought really is father to the deed I should be finished by now.
But I’m over half way and to ring the changes, I’ve just introduced something I’ve never considered before – a murder. When Raymond Chandler was stuck he would have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand, so at least I’m in good company.
Word Count: 27,731
Good, natural dialogue is difficult to write. Not done skilfully, it can sound stilted and awkward, as if it’s being spoken by puppets.
I’ve been writing a lot of dialogue today, moving the story along with what’s revealed in conversation, rather than in narrative and description, and I was heartened to find this quote from Elmore Leonard: All the information you need can be given in dialogue.
Says it all, really.
Word Count: 30,145
Half way, half way!
Sometimes this challenge feels like an insurmountable task – I’m Sisyphus, condemned to push that damned stone up that damned mountain for all eternity, for ever having it roll back to the bottom before I can reach the top.
Word Count: 32,277
Things flowed quite well today. A couple of new characters introduced themselves but I don’t know if I’m going to let them stick around yet. They’re rather peripheral at the moment, but things could develop. This means the plot will veer off at a completely new tangent, but hey, this was always going to be a voyage of discovery.
Word Count: 32,912
Writing, per se, took a bit of a back seat today, hence the poor word count. However, I haven’t been idle.
The most productive part of my writing day is spent staring into space. Agatha Christie said that the best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes and I would have to agree with the sentiment. Lying, sleepless, in bed is another good time, much to the disgruntlement of my long-suffering partner. The intermittent illumination, the scratching of my pencil and the turning of the pages of my notebook to catch my thoughts before they disappear into the ether, never to be recalled, do nothing for my relationship.
I’ve tried waiting until the morning, but I’ve discovered, to my eternal regret, that mostly I remember nothing. Nada. Zilch. Sometimes, if I’m very unlucky I remember that there was something I wanted to remember, but I can’t remember what it was.
Like Man Friday’s footprint, a ghostly impression on an otherwise blank canvas.
Word Count: 34,516
A good day’s writing today. Words flowed, the plot thickened. But I eventually found myself in a blind alley with nowhere to go. I had to retrace my steps and find the place where the story veered off so madly, pick up the thread and start writing in a different direction.
Nothing’s wasted, though. The exercise has given me some fresh ideas for developing the storyline in the next chapters. I should listen to my characters more often; they know more about the plot than I do.
Word Count: 36,414
Jean Paul Sartre said that Hell was other people and he definitely had a point. Visitors often interrupt the creative process, but without this constantly refreshed pool of encouragement and inspiration, I’d be an impoverished writer. With notebook to hand, conversations with friends, full of incident and recent experiences, provide a valuable seam for the writer to mine.
So I might complain about the disruptions, but as long as my visitors come armed with some tall tales, I’m pleased to break off and listen. Anything of interest is written down, of course, that’s the agreement. But the names will be changed to protect the guilty.
Word Count: 36,414
Still on course with the word count, so we took some time out today and went to the seaside. I thought it might be the last opportunity before winter starts to close in – this was seriously sunny weather
There were lots of like-minded people on the beach, strolling along like so many Lowry matchstick men silhouetted against the sun, low in the late afternoon sky.
The sea air did the trick – my mind is cleared and I’m off and running again.
Word Count: 37,694
A lesson learned – yesterday’s day off was not necessarily a good idea in this challenging situation. Getting back into the swing after a day off was more difficult than I expected. I had to reacquaint myself with some of my characters and what they’re supposed to be doing. However, I think I’ve managed to arrest the slide and now I’m back in the saddle.
It’s all too easy to say I won’t write today, but I can’t because that might extend to several days and all too soon I wouldn’t be a writer. I would become, in the words of Dorothy C Fontana, just someone who dreams of being a writer.
Word Count: 39,404
Not long to go now and I’m still ahead.
Whilst in the midst of this challenge, I often feel guilty about taking time out to read. But it’s a passion and I can’t do without it.
Luckily, one of my writing heroes, Stephen King, agrees. ‘If you want to be a writer,’ he says, ‘you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot…reading is the creative centre of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.’
Word Count: 40,459
I was on local radio this evening, reading one of my short stories. Go to the Short Stories tab and read it. It’s titled ‘Leaf Tea’ – I’ll add more in due course. During the interview I talked about the NaNoWriMo challenge and what effect the pressure to produce has had on my writing. There’s no time for finesse, I said, that will come later; and there’s a great temptation to narrate, without developing character.
I’m reminded of Anton Chekov, who said ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ At the moment I’ve got no time to show, I’m just telling a story. But this isn’t good writing practice and there’ll be lots of editing at the end.
Word Count: 42,393
I’m creeping forward, word by word. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, and just as painful.
‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,’ said Virginia Woolf. I’ve got the room, what I need now is enough money to give up work and concentrate on writing.
Actually, what I really need is a rich benefactor.
Word Count: 43,712
On the final stretch now and the words have to keep coming. Where do I find them?
William Shakespeare knew a thing or two about writing. In Act 2, scene 2 of Hamlet, our eponymous hero utters the immortal phrase, ‘Words, words, words.’ He’s obviously done this challenge, too.
Ray Bradbury said, ‘You fail only if you stop writing.’
With this kind of pressure, I can’t possibly stop until it’s over. Only 5 more days and 6,288 words ….
Word Count: 49,007
This has been a most productive and exciting day. Over 5,000 words. I’ve tried to make them sensible words – and I hope the story hangs together in a pleasing manner. But where did they come from? I’ve no idea – there’s obviously a well of words inside me and I hope it never dries up.
Tom Clancy once posed the question, The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense. There can be no unexplained happenings and certainly no coincidences, because fiction abhors a coincidence, just as nature abhors a vacuum.
Word Count: 51,735
I’ve done it! More than done it, I’ve exceeded the word count and the story isn’t finished yet. I’m very pleased.
I’ve never been very good at finishing things. That’s why I needed the discipline of a writing group to get my first novel off the ground and molded into a product.
The list could go on: the weaving classes I started but never finished; the fitness regime that was doomed to failure, though I blame the fixation with reading and writing for that particular let down.
Floristry, present wrapping, bath bomb making – I’ve toyed with them all. It took me a long time to realise that my only abiding passion, apart from my long-suffering partner (who had pink champagne on ice for today’s celebration – what a star!), has been, and always will be the written word in all its incarnations.
So, what do I do now?
Actually, it would be nice to have a break. I’ve created these characters and I wish they’d have the courtesy to stay on the page. But no, they accompany my every waking thought, butting in with their twopenn’orth – usually when I don’t have a pen to hand.
However, I’ve had an idea………..