There is a scene in one of the Seinfeld episodes where Jerry and George are at a party in a women’s apartment watching the NY marathon out her window. In the scene, they are debating who is the king idiot between the two of them, given the recent screw-ups they have both had, and then the owner of the apartment yells out the window, “You are ALL Winners!”, and George quips, “ah, but there is another contender”. Well, I am a winner of this sort. The kind where “we are ALL winners!” – please note the 2009 NanoWriMo Winner banner on the side bar. I could not resist. Yes, this means that I completed the 50,000 word novel within the 30 days. If I may pat myself on the back, I even finished 5 days before the deadline. My prior relationship with deadlines (see former post) was, effectively, blown to smithereens. It was definitely an adventure. I have not re-read my ‘piece of work’, which is what I am deeming it until I deem it anything else, e.g. ‘piece of art’ or ‘piece of ca-ca’, but intend to do so. Strangely, I am having more trouble finding the time to read it than I did finding the time to write the whole thing. I thought I would share a few of my learnings from having taken on such an adventure. This way, you don’t actually have to do it yourself. Or you still can so that you can tell me that my learnings are also a load of ca ca. It might be worth noting, that I started this document in my 4th week of the novel adventure when I was doing some heavy-duty procrastinating. But I recognized that, so I left this behind and finished the novel instead. Now I share…
The first thing that I learned is that writing a novel is hard. A LOT harder than reading one and somehow, after reading so many novels, I thought that perhaps writing one would also be sort of easy. In fact, after some novels, I would turn the final page and think to myself, ‘huh, I think I could have written that’ (these were usually novels I did not care for so much, so I was not actually giving myself too much credit here). Now I realize that I probably could not have written any of them – not even the bad ones. Even the bad ones are one person’s original creative work, so I could never have recreated that. And even beyond the creative originality, I have to give every published novel writer credit for having gotten that far – because it is just not easy. I was stumped on day one just trying to figure out what narrative to write in. I could not start typing until I decided, so I literally spent my first hour browsing some of my favorite novels, figuring out if I should use first or third person. As it turned out, all but one (The Kite Runner) were in third, so I settled on first, and dove in. It just felt more natural. And it worked for back-ground and set up, but as soon as I got into present and things had to happen, then I switched to third. I never really decided and the novel flips between 1st and 3rd several times. I hope this gives you an idea how rough this first draft is.
As mentioned in my prior post, this is my first foray into writing fiction, so this has been much like learning a new sport – using muscles I didn’t know I had – and it was often times painful. And it’s not just making stuff up, but making stuff up that is interesting, and more importantly, making stuff up about different characters that is both interesting and has to tie together in some relevant way. My “novel”, while I don’t want to demean my work, but this first draft really can hardly be called a novel – that would be an insult to the genre – is very, very simple. It lacks both characters and action. Writing words has never been my problem, as you might expect after reading my lengthy blog posts. The reader gets to know every thought, in detail, that each character is having. But I really had a hard time making anything happen. I feel like I have 50, 256 words spread out over 5 months – the length of time that passes in the novel – and yet there are only 3 or 4 significant moments where anything actually happens. For me, writing dialogue and looking into a fictitious characters brain has been fascinating and a great exercise, but I have a feeling someone reading this might end up banging their head against a wall, waiting for something to happen. Much like ‘Waiting for Godot’, actually. See – this was not even original.
The second thing I learned is that worrying about writing something good will, indeed, hinder all writing. The “instructions”, or guide, that went along with this exercise said to check the “inner editor” at the door. The inner editor, in case you are not familiar, is that voice that tells you, while you do something, “oh, that’s not good. Oh, that’s not right. Your spelling is like a 3rd grader. You know, you are not very interesting, so what makes you think you can write something interesting?”, etc. etc. And it was true – whenever I did feel stopped in my writing, it was because I was worried about writing something good. Worrying and free-spirit creativity don’t really get along very well. So while I think I might have a handful of good ideas or sentences in this draft, overall, it is not good nor was it meant to be. Now that my inner editor has been unleashed, she can’t wait to get her hands on this thing and rip it to shreds. She has been pent up and is now gnashing her teeth, clenching her fists…ready to tear into the story with all her razor sharp words of judgment and good sense. She will leave a trail of blood and tears. I think this is why I am not finding the time to actually sit down and read it.
Many people are interested in what the novel is about, so the summary is this: 29 year old female takes 5 months off from her advertising career to go on a ‘spiritual journey’ to India, a trip lead by her French friend/spiritual guru, Francois. But Francois ends up being diagnosed with Cancer so the group chooses not to go on the trip without him. Our main character then decides to head to Paris first to help care for Francois and then head out on a ‘spontaneous journey’ after that with her remaining time. BUT in the airport on the way to Paris, her mom calls and says her father has been diagnosed with Leukemia (which had been in remission since he was in his 20’s) and that it is not a good idea to fly to Europe. So then, because her father is sick and she has no place to live (she had sub-let her San Francisco apt), she returns to her small home town to take care of her father. Francois ultimately dies toward the end of the novel, and so does her father. So she ends up having her ‘spiritual journey’ anyway, through the death of these two characters. And before you think it’s all gloom, before her father dies, she starts a romance with a guy who is staying in the Bed and Breakfast that her parents run (if you don’t know – my parents run a bed and breakfast – clearly the parallels between the main character and my own life are pretty tight – a phenomena that, I have heard, happens with everyone’s first work of fiction). It is light – the romance – due to the turbulent time in her life, but it provides for the glimmer of hope, the ‘life goes on’ message in the book.
Since I checked my inner editor at the door at the beginning of the exercise, I am going to release her now for just one moment to let you know all the things that are wrong with this novel. 1. Way too wordy without enough actual description. Somehow I made it to the end of the book without describing almost any of the characters, physically 2. Too few characters – with my first journey into tying people into a story, I didn’t venture out very far. The main character has parents, one set of grandparents, one sibling, one friend and one semi-romance. I introduced characters in detail like they were going to be a part of the story and then they never show up again. There’s a woman she meets in an airport that I swore was going to reappear somewhere, but it turns out she flew off to Paris and we never saw her again. She had one single friend (and an ex-boyfriend) in San Francisco, but we never hear from her again once she leaves the city – not a very good friend evidently. 3. Not enough action or conflict. The only noticeable antagonist is death. The main character sort of wanders through the novel, experiencing a few things, dealing with some heavy feelings, and that’s pretty much it. I’m even amazed that I churned out this many words without anything going on, just proving once again that, anything is possible.
And there you have it – the learnings, the synopsis and the review – all in one tidy-ish document. This document contains 1,629 words. This is ~ 37 short of the daily quota, just to give you a feel for what 1, 667 words / day feels like. And so to fairly check the daily quota box, I would write 37 more and then I sing a little tune, “fa la la la la la la la la”. What? La is a word. In French, anyways. And that is how one gets to 1,667 words per day. 1,678.
Thank you and good night.