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NaNo is Over – For Me

I finished up yesterday (the 17th), with 35,000 words. Now it’s on to the heavy lifting, the slicing and dicing that I hope will turn Gift of the Ancien into a successful novel. When I look over the chapters and snippets that I’ve written since November 1, I wonder why the novel I see now was invisible to me when I created it several years ago.

But having gone through the long process of thinking about it, reimagining it, and understanding my characters better, I realize that’s why good novels can take years to write. And that says a lot about the current generation of writers who are boasting about how many novels a year they are writing, and how many copies they’re selling.

It’s possible to write a decent novel in just a few weeks, one that keeps readers engaged, that doesn’t trip you up with poor grammar, and that might even have a style of its own. But I seriously question whether you can expect that novel to still be around in a couple of years. A visit to any well-stocked used-book store will impress you with the endless shelves of novels you’ve never heard of, by writers you’ve never heard of.

I know I’m a decent writer. I hope to become an excellent writer. I don’t expect to write anything that will become a classic, something that’s still being read generations from now. But it’s a worthy goal to strive for, so I don’t regret that it’s been five years since I wrote the first draft of Gift of the Ancien. It was a good idea then. It’s a better idea now.

 

Focus, Damn it!

I’m trying to focus. It isn’t an easy job with so many WIPs pulling at me from all directions, but I’m settled for the moment. I hope. I pulled the longest story out of the prison stories collection to expand it, then publish it separately. I’ll add it back once the rest of the stories are done.

It was finished (I thought) at just under 10,000 words, but every time I go back to it I see how my spare writing works against the drama of a story. I know that I cut corners on emotional reactions and making the settings concrete, but for some reason, it just doesn’t occur to me to put them in right at the start. Maybe that’s something I’m not going to be able to change very much and will always have to work out through several drafts.

At any rate, the story is going well. I’d like to get it up to 12,000 words, but may have to settle for less. This particular story is a challenge to build out because for most of it, there are only two characters, and the others are too peripheral to add anything to it. It takes place in a secretive, top-security prison of the future. Its purpose is to hold violent criminals for the remainder of their lives, in total isolation. My usual bare-bones approach is guaranteed to kill whatever drama is inherent in that kind of situation, so I’m trying to learn not to be a story-killer.

 

 

 

How Long Does it Really Take to Write a Novel?

Like my last post asking how long it should take to write a novel, this question has no answer. It takes as long as it takes. But it’s a very interesting question for me to consider at this particular moment because I’m actively working on a complete revision of the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2012. In July of 2012, I started writing posts tracking the development of the idea up to NaNo. Somehow, that dropped by the wayside and I stopped posting about it in October. But I did write the novel.

The New Serfdom turned out to be the shortest novel I’d ever written for NaNo, and the length, just under 51,000 words, reflected my growing uncertainty about it as November went by. By the end, the novel I’d written was very different from the one I’d planned. And because I was no longer sure what kind of story I wanted to write, it was a mess. The basic idea was still there: a United States broken up into variously weak and strong local governments, survivalist enclaves, and personal fiefdoms reviving slavery, serfdom, and indentured servitude. But I didn’t know where I wanted the story to go. Which meant that I had no idea how it would get there, or how its central characters would relate to each other.

So I put it away because I can’t stand to throw away a good idea, but I didn’t think I’d ever have the heart to wrestle it into something worth reading. But there are stories that won’t let you go even if you choose to let them go. So, off and on, over the last year, I’d plug in some notes, mostly about the characters. After a few months of this, I began to see a different story coming out of it, mostly because I knew the characters a lot better than I had when I wrote the darned thing.

It’s coming along pretty well, even if there are still some questions about what kind of decisions the main character will make at the end and how that will influence what everyone else does. There’s no guarantee that I’ll finish it, but that looks like a real possibility. And if I do, there’s a load of posts about it that might just turn into something like The Evolution of A Novel.

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