Day one is officially over! I’d been hoping to write 5,000 words to get off to a great start, but then life happened. I wound up at 3530 words, which is still a very respectable number. Today, I’m shooting for 5,000 again. Yes, I know that’s not the point of NaNoWriMo, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the seven years I’ve taken part in this challenge, it’s that there’s a whole lot of life later in the month. Yes, I will still write every day this month, but I like having a buffer in place so I don’t feel like I’m behind the eight ball on Thanksgiving weekend.
And if I finish this book early (which is very possible, but more on that in a minute), I plan to jump straight into the next first draft. For me, NaNo has become a time to build a habit. I need that habit. I want to have 31 days of writing every single day in by the first of December, because I know words will be hard to come by. It’s that life thing again, and in December life will take the form of a “spirited” eight year old who will be home. All. Month. Long. As much as I love his school calendar, I could happily slap whoever decided giving him an entire month off when it’s too chilly to force him to spend his days outside playing. But I digress…
So, what’s different about this year?
Story Genius. Seriously, by the end of the month, you may be sick and tired of hearing me talk about this book. The first time I participated in NaNo, I was a proud pantser. I didn’t plan anything, I simply wrote and let the characters take me on their journey. That worked for a few novels, but then I felt I needed structure. Unfortunately, I’m like a camping chair that never goes back into the bag the way it was when it was new. I resisted outlining. When I tried outlining, I deviated so far off the path that the book was unrecognizable. It eventually became a joke among my friends every time I told them I was planning the next book, because we all knew it would never work.
I’m not a plotter. I know this. I accept this. But I still felt like there had to be a better way. Thanks to seeing Story Genius in a friend’s picture on Facebook, I’ve found that way.
I’ll admit it wasn’t easy going through some of the planning exercises, writing words that will likely never see the pages of the finished book. Six. Thousand. Words. That’s over 10% of my word count goal. And all of it is for my eyes only. Yeah, so that sucked, but I kept with it.
Instead of staring at the blank screen yesterday afternoon when I finally had time to write, I had a crystal clear vision of what needed to happen in the first scene. Not only that, but I knew why it was happening. Had I moved forward with my original thoughts about this project, that scene wouldn’t have been anywhere in the same area code as my mind. It wasn’t even a possibility in those first few exercises I’d worked through. But by the end of my planning — or should I say the middle, since I’m still working through the book as I write — I knew this was where the book needed to begin.
I know my main character. I know what drives him. I know the basic plot that’ll take him from point A to point B. In the past, I’ve sat down to write, sent eleventy billion messages to a few of my friends, bemoaning the fact that I was shit, my writing was shit, and the story would never sell. Being the loving friends they were, the reminded me that I wasn’t shit, that I’m not a shit writer, and that I always convince myself my books won’t sell. Then, they tell me to STFU and get back to writing. That didn’t happen yesterday. I don’t think it’ll happen today. Or tomorrow. Maybe in a week or two, but that’s still normal to an extent.
When I was on the road yesterday afternoon, pieces of the plot that I hadn’t worked out became crystal clear. There’s an inanimate object that needs to be part of the story for reasons. It has to come close to being a character, but I wasn’t sure how to fit it in. If I couldn’t do that, my goal for this project would never be realized. But now, it’s there.
This morning, I was reading the next chapter of the book, the one telling me to write a scene that’s near the end of the book. What??? There’s still a part of me that’s anxious about this directive. I’m a linear writer. I need to know what’s happened before I can write what’s next. Now, I’m supposed to write the end, or something close to it??? This is a first for me, but I’m going to give it a shot.
I have to write this scene. Not because the craft book told me to, but because since I started brainstorming the scene with one of those amazing friends, I’m dying to see it play out on paper. I’m excited to write this scene so I can start filling in the gaps. And it dawned on me this morning that writing this way, I’m creating the outline of a picture, which will then be filled in with all the pretty details. Bob Ross would not start his painting with happy little trees; he always started with a basic outline, which he’d then layer with everything that made the finished scene beautiful. Along the way, he screwed up, but he didn’t get down. He called them happy accidents. Well, today, I’m ready to keep plugging away, and there may wind up being some happy little trees along the way.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re a damn trooper! Here’s a snippet from yesterday. It’s completely unedited and may or may not appear in the final version of the story.
Somewhere beneath layers of spit up and other bodily fluids I’d prefer to not think about, I could still see traces of the first man I’d ever loved. Sadly, the sentiment had never been reciprocated, but against all odds, Grady and I had become and remained best friends. He was the one who convinced me it wasn’t necessary to be in a committed relationship to enjoy sex. And now, he sat across the living room from me, his newborn son cradled in his arms, his beautiful wife in the kitchen working on dinner. Yes, the former self-professed lone wolf had become the picture perfect family man.
“I know Jen’s a good cook, but why are you really here?” Grady asked.
I took a long draw from my beer, setting it carefully on a coaster. No water rings on Jen’s furniture. Just another way Grady’s life had shifted over the past year. I’d give my left nut for what they shared, but wouldn’t, because that meant trusting someone with both my secrets and my heart. Some risks in life weren’t worth the casualties.
“Talked to my dad last weekend,” I said, as though that should’ve been enough explanation as to why I’d made the ninety mile drive to see him.
“And?” Grady shifted in his chair, little Pax nestling deeper into the safety of his father’s embrace. How pathetic was I that I was jealous of a tiny human incapable of voicing his needs beyond random grunts and cries? I longed for the innocence of believing everyone in the world lived to protect you, that they’d always be there for you. I prayed that little boy never knew the harsh realities of the world he’d been born into.