NaNoWriMo Emergency Escape Plan

When I wrote my first novel, The Ace of Spades, it was easy. Well, okay, it wasn’t easy, but I remember it being so much easier than what I’m going through right now. If I was honest with myself, I would remember the dozens of sleepless nights, the months of rearranging and editing, and the agony of deleting thousands of words. None of it seemed to be working out.

However, for some reason, I can even seem to get the first draft of my new book down. The plot, which I thought I had some idea of, has completely abandoned me, and I’m left doing nothing but writing thousands of words of dialogue with very little action. I think I would be surprised it half of what I’ve written so far makes it to the final cut. And, despite the fact that I am on schedule, I’m not confident I’ll make the final cut this year, because I have truly run out of things to write.

In my desperate attempt to figure out what to do, I came upon a revelation.

Every book is different.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really that earth-shattering, but all this month I’ve been hoping to write my book the same way I wrote my first one- a tortuous structure of bone and wire that I could later reshape and fill out during the following months of revising. But my book refuses to come together in any way.

So, I’m breaking from the pattern completely. Because I am tired of writing things I’m probably going to delete in December, I’ve decided to write only the things I know will make the final cut. I’m disregarding the plot, because I no longer know what it is. Instead, I’m going to break my own rules and write pieces of the story wherever I can, and just try to give myself as much material to work with as possible by the end of November.

This prospect scares me, because I’m afraid that I won’t feel motivated to pull it all together again when December hits, or that I’ll just have such a mess I’ll want to start over. But I’m going to finish this damn novel no matter what.

Even though Menagerie of Sins has not come together the way I wanted it to, I still have my original vision for it, and just because it hasn’t grown up the same way my last book did, doesn’t mean I should discard it. It’s a different book, so of course the process of creating it will be different.

I just want to encourage anyone who is feeling frustrated at having practically nothing to show two and a half-weeks into this. Screw the plot, the formula, hell, even the characters if you have to. Don’t get locked into the idea of writing forward and only forward until you’re carving a plot out of your own flesh.  Remember what your book was originally supposed to be about and write that.

To hate what you create.

Everyone does this. After the joyous glow of creating something wears off (which usually takes an hour or less for me) we can suddenly begin to despise what we made. Maybe for a few days we’ll continue to go after our latest piece and admire it, like a proud father, but eventually most artists seem to inevitably begin to hate what they had created. Especially when they’ve started on a new project.

Invariably, if someone asks to see one of your completed novels, or perhaps peruse through last years sketchbook you might say, “Yeah that’s fine, but it’s nothing compared to what I can do now.” I know plenty of people who discard their old drawings and novels out of sheer disgust. “What was I thinking when I made that?”

But this is very, very much the wrong way to go about things. If you look back on something you created and see a myriad of mistakes, poor word choices, awkward character conversations and clumsily assembled settings, you should be proud. You should be proud of how far you’ve come.

The fact is, you needed to be that bad, to be as good as you are today. Each poorly written novel is a stepping stone on your path to mastery. If you can recognize what your novel needs, and you’ve improved on it, then there is no need to look back on your work with disdain. If that short story you’re so ashamed of didn’t have those silly plot holes, you may have never learned to recognize them.

And trust me, what you plan to write today, or during NaNoWriMo, will be laughable and pathetic a few months from now. But, that doesn’t mean you should laugh at it, because it was another step you took on your journey. Whenever I create something, I look forward to being able to go back to my old works, relive my experiences and patterns of thinking. To me, those old novels are trophies, sitting proudly on my bookshelf, each one, a struggle I overcame.

I really would love to end it on that note, but let me give a fair warning. I have a friend who writes more than anyone I know. Last time I checked, she had somewhere around thirty books under her belt. To her, writing is no less of a need than eating, sleeping or watching Game of Thrones. But she doesn’t improve. Not remarkably, at least, and she certainly doesn’t try to. Each piece is much the same, not that any are particularly bad.

I only share that to say this: If you’re not improving, then you don’t even have the right to turn your nose up at past projects. If you want to be disappointed in the poems and stories of yesteryear, then use that disappointment to drive you to new heights. You’re not trying to create a heap of words, you’re trying to create a path.