To tell a compelling story…

Did ya miss me?

Posted on: December 11, 2010

Pardon me while I blow the dust and tumbleweeds off the blog. Ah! That’s better.

Yes, I’ve neglected the blog and I’m sorry for that. November was a busy month but the good news is I finished National Novel Writing Month! (Pause for a brief fanfare.) NaNo, for those unfamiliar with this insanity, is an entire month dedicated to ‘literary abandon,’ according to the website. Participants have thirty days to commit a 50,000 word novel to paper – er, computer. There’s no ‘winner.’ It’s like the NYC Marathon. The win is in the finish. And yes, we’re all well aware that the finished product is well, crap.

This was my first NaNo attempt. I’m normally a dedicated outliner. I don’t write a single word until I know who my players are, what will happen to them and how their story ends. NaNo forced me to try “pantsing” and while it was much like flying without a parachute during the event, it nevertheless taught me a lot. I worked on a brand-new premise for which I had no plot, no research, no title, and no ending in mind. All I had was a character, a beautiful girl whose disfiguring injury gives her the chance to stop living her mother’s dream and start living hers. She was just one voice in my head begging me to write her. So, I did. About 2,000 words every day for thirty days.  About half-way through the month, I cursed when the panic set in. How will this story end? If I can’t envision that, how can I write it?

I did write it. One word at a time. Is it crap? Yep. But that’s okay! This is NaNo. I figured I’d end up tossing whatever came out of the thirty-day-trial into the trash.  But I haven’t, not yet.

Why? Because not all of it is actually trash. There are some great moments in there, moments where the words flowed, the characters came alive, the action thrummed and the emotion sizzled.  Somewhere along that thirty-day journey, the title appeared in a flash of brilliance (she says modestly) – PAST PERFECT. Deana, the beautiful girl, has a particularly strong mental voice for me. There was one night where she would not let me sleep. I’m not kidding. The voice in my head literally would not SHUT UP until I agreed to write things her way.  She wanted to sleep with Adam. I wanted this to be a YA novel and keep sex out of it but she wasn’t just persistent, she was downright adamant about it.

It’s one of the best love scenes I’ve ever done. It’s hot (whoo, boy, it’s hot) but it’s also sweet and awkward and painful because that’s what Deana and Adam are about.

During a recent conversation with twitta sista Jeannie Moon, I had a small epiphany. NaNo isn’t about quantity and literary abandon and even crap. Not really. No, at its heart NaNo is a personal competition – a marathon of sorts that tests your ability to trust your own instincts. Mechanics like plot and structure evolved organically during the process. I focused on one thing – Deana’s voice – to see how far it could take me. Amazingly, it took me all the way through the story. There were nights when the words surged. They sustained me for the nights when a single paragraph felt like childbirth.

I took certain liberties in this project. For example, I left myself notes where research would be needed to fill in gaps. Deana and Adam are both burn unit patients, so I needed to know about burn therapy like debridement, compression dressings, and so on.  I also left notes where I stopped and picked up again the following day. This turned out to be tremendously valuable in December, when I began re-reading the manuscript. With my start and stop points marked, it’s been easy to see where I was too tired, too stressed to write well and where I was on a writing roll.

I enjoyed NaNo. I’m glad it’s over, but I’m happy I tried it. I’m proud of my efforts. I admit, Past Perfect isn’t perfect. But it can be. I have learned to trust my instincts.

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8 Responses to "Did ya miss me?"

I did miss you! 🙂

Congrats on completing NaNo. That rocks!

My blog is also very dusty right now…NaNo partly, and life on the other hand. Something had to give–I’m sure you understand.

Congrats on reaching your NaNo goal. Giving yourself something to work with is half the battle.

Jeannie

Thanks, Jeannie. Superwoman syndrome! I am familiar with it. Something had to give, that’s for sure.

Good on you! You won!

It’s an interesting idea – the notion of treating Nano as a toss-away draft that enables you to brainstorm and get to know your characters.

It took some of the pressure off…. knowing no one had to read the nano version… but so much came out of the free-writing. I originally envisioned Deana as “Gwen” and she hated that name. Deana fits her.

I also envisioned her as brilliant at everything – a perfect person. Nope. She has a lot of flaws, the most significant being a lack of confidence I never imagined for her. That lack of confidence resulted in her inability to stand up for herself.

congrats on winning NaNo!

i think NaNo (used to write a first draft only) is a fabulous idea. it creates community, gets your butt in gear and sets up good writing habits. a damn fine thing if you ask me.

I enjoyed it but I’m not sure if I’ll do this again next year. November is a hard month for me.

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Hi! Welcome to my blog. I’m Patty.

I'm a writer represented by Denise Little, The Ethan Ellenberg Agency. I love to tell stories, to boast about my sons, to indulge in a serious chocolate obsession. (I often combine these passions.)

During the day, I write software user guides, but at night, I let my hair down... and write whatever I want. (I know. You expected something else. Sorry.) I'm currently working on a YA story about sexting gone horribly bad called SEND. I use this blog to explore my passions.

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