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NaNoWriMo Notes #8: 50,000 Words. Now What?

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Saturday November 19th: Eleven days to go. Word count: 55,392 +5,392

Yeah you read right, word count 55,392. I officially went over the top sometime Wednesday November 16th between 4:00 and 4:16 pm. At 4:00 my word count was 49,885 at 4:16 it was 50,508. Somehow or other I had done a major power crunch and tossed off close to 700 words in that fifteen minutes.

It was nice to be clear of it by such a comfortable margin, 50,002 would have looked like I chucked an extra and or but in somewhere just to make the grade. This way it looked like what it was, it just happened to be where I ended typing that day. I knew I was close when I started, but since I hate starting a new chapter at the end of the day, I was just going to have to live with finishing the next day if I couldn’t make it on Wednesday.

But there it was, staring me back in the face like a beacon testifying to my perseverance and lack of a life. Although you could look on it like I prefer to, that it is actual testimony that my life is genuinely committed to writing.

I was able to keep up with my plan of still posting at least an article a day to blogcritics, although there was a slight depreciation in quality. Typos and a few other slips made a bit of come back as my focus was wandering a little. A little too much of: “Must finish this so I can get on with the writing” thing for my own good.

The challenge of course is to keep going with this thing that I’ve created. It doesn’t want to let me stop. I tried to take Thursday off from it. I did my post in the morning and said enough is enough damn it; I need to walk away from the laptop for a day. Go out into the world young man and see what you’ve been missing for the last two weeks and two days.

Absofuckinglutly nothing is what. The whole time I was out, three hours tops, I wanted to be back home writing on my trusty laptop. What was I doing out here not writing, I could be filling pages with words right now, or at least moving onwards with the story.

There’s no longer any pressure to write words except for my own desire to write them. They don’t have to pile up as counters anymore; they just need to be written so that I can tell the story. It won’t let me go. I’m obsessing.

I’ll tell you it’s a relief too, because my big fear was, and still is, that I would lose interest in the proceedings once I hit 50,000. Get bored with the story or the writing or whatever it is I’ve gotten bored with the countless other times that I’ve started something and come no where near to finishing.

I hate to think of all those characters I’ve left withering out in limbo waiting for something to happen to them: there’s that group of hippies stuck in 1978 Banff; the guy living up in Sioux Lookout in the bush, hell he’s still having breakfast in the hotel bar as far as I know reading his mail: been there since early 1992; then there are those folk at the commune, couldn’t even get it together to decide on how to hold their meetings; and, even now, hanging out in the memory of this laptop, are a guy, and three mythical creatures stuck in a car driving back to Kingston Ontario. The woman they’re supposed to be meeting is stuck in some alternate reality in a temple out of Mists of Avalon(no wonder I stopped writing that one, even I couldn’t be that blatant a thief)I sort of looked in on them about a month ago, but it was only a half hearted attempt to make me feel like I was doing something.

Deep Breaths. Sorry about that last paragraph and the stream of conscience thing that’s been pervading this post. I made the mistake of readingDuke’s Belfast deliriums before starting and it left a bit of a hangover. Let’s see if I can’t get back on track.

After the first week I wrote something along the lines of this being easier than I thought it was going to be. I don’t mean to boast or anything, because I know there are people who are good writers out there still struggling through, but it was remarkably easy. I had originally envisioned a good day being 2,000 words. By the end of the first week I was considering anything under 3,000 a day a failure.

I don’t even think that I sacrificed quality for quantity either. I never once made the conscience decision to write a certain way that would ensure an elevated word count; I just let everything fall the way it wanted. Even the days when I had to struggle to find the right way of saying something, or to get the information out the object was to tell the story not inflate the word count.

I forced myself not to keep running to the properties tab in “Word” and checking the tally. The only times I would do that were at the end of a session. So in the morning when I was done I would check where I was to get an idea of how close I was to making my quota. Then when the afternoon session started I would try and put it out of my mind.

The only time word anxiety would set in was near the end of the day when I was starting to run out of steam. Then I would begin to hope that I had sufficient numbers to warrant giving it a rest.

It’s funny you’d think you’d be able to hazard a guess about your total by how many pages you’d written, but it depended on what you’d been writing. A bunch of short pieces of dialogue eats up the pages quickly without actually advancing your word count very much. Long descriptive passages on the other hand can only take up half a page but utilize a hundred words easy.

I’ve stuck to my original way of working, which was to basically improvise around the characters, the setting, and the information that I wanted to get out in that scene. It’s a technique that I used to use teaching acting; give everybody a motivation, a situation, a character and throw them on stage and tell them to resolve it.

It’s a little bit harder when you are the one playing all the roles in a scene, but it’s worked out rather well in the end I think. It’s also led to some interesting surprises as I find out information about the characters as the scenes develop. They’re interaction with each other allows them to be developed more fully as the book progresses. I’m not having to do any deliberate “character development”, it’s taking care of itself.

That’s what really amazes me so far is how much of the story has been doing that; writing itself. The more I think about it the more I get in the way. The day’s where I’ve struggled, and there have been quite a number of them, were the days that I’ve started worrying about what I was doing, and have tried to impose my will upon what they are doing.

There seems to be a fine line between maintaining control and controlling the action. I need to make sure that everything that happens is pertinent in some manner to the overall flow and subject matter, while leaving the details in the hands of the characters. I think of it as having a topographical map of the story; I know the rough geography of what’s supposed to happen. The characters and I then draw in and plot the roads that lead through this uncharted territory.

One thing that I have been very firm about is my refusal to go back and read almost anything that I’d written on a previous day. The most I’ll do is take a peak at the last paragraph if I’m having trouble remembering where I left off. I feel that the worst thing I could do at the moment was get bogged down in editing what I’ve already written. Not only would it eat up time, but I felt if would stagnate my spontaneity.

I’m planning on adhering to this rule until I’m finished a complete first draft. I’ve been saving the work in chapter format for this very reason. When I finally do finish I can then go back and start dissecting it chapter-by-chapter, paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence. I don’t actually anticipate doing very much actual cutting of words, but there will probably be a whole lot of rearranging, maybe even changing the order of chapters in the end.

My first challenge is to finish. Get the characters to the place I envisioned them being when I developed the concept for the book in my head. I also want to maintain the level of detail that I have included up to this point in the story. I don’t want to find myself rushing to complete something just for the sake of getting it done. I set out with a particular style of writing and I want to finish with that style.

I remember years ago a friend reading something I’d written and commenting on how it was very 19th century Russian in feel. By that I think he meant I would spend a lot of time on mood and atmosphere, setting the scene so to speak. Well I still do that, and maybe that’s my word total went through the roof so quickly, but that’s just the way I write. Hell how many other people write close to a 1000 words minimum on an album review and then worries about skimping?

So I’m going to take advantage of the momentum I’ve generated form this program and try to finish this sucker by end of the month, or at least before Christmas. It feels a bit strange not to be working for a numerical goal anymore, because it changes the nature of the work now. It’s no longer a concrete target I’m shooting for, now it’s back to the abstract challenge of finishing something with no defined end point except for the one I will end up giving it.

As far as I’m concerned the real challenge has only just begun. Fifty thousand words was the easy part, now I have to finish the thing.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://philobiblion.blogspot.com Natalie Bennett

    Well done gypsyman. And I’d add after “finish the thing”, then go out and sell it!

  • http://www.gnomestories.com parker

    First, congrats! I’m only at the 13k mark, but I’ll probably kick butt at the end (I’m off work that whole week).

    I hope you’ll do a follow up post. I’d like to know what you think of your writing in January or when you actually read it after taking a break.

    For myself, I’m concentrating on writing a nice outline for my story. I’m happy with what I’m doing, even though I’m going at a slower pace. I’ve got the outline done, in fact, and now I’m going back and filling in.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    I’m up for air (and back on the ‘Net) at last, and pleased to see you’ve neatly cleared the hurdle. And so early, too!

    I totally know what you mean about the novel “not letting you go.” I’ve had my own epic battle with writing my novel, and will be posting about it later today, I think.

    By all means, G-Man, finish and publish! That’s a “winner’s certificate” that exceeds any other.

  • http://andymeisenheimer.com Andrew

    I did it in 2008, and finished my story around 35,000 words. Nothing left. But in revising it, I’m up to 50,000 now, and only halfway through revisions.

    It’s tough to finish because I edit for a living (I actually help nanowrimo participants make their books better after it’s all over) and so I already have my fill of rough drafts at the end of the day!