The Continuing Education Of A Writer
November came and went like it does every year and this year, like I have the last four, I participated in NaNoWriMo. First things first, I didn’t reach the 50,000 word goal that I set out to. Mad? Disappointed? Hell no. Let me explain.
Having only met the 50,000 word goal once in four November’s, one would think it was time for me to call it quits. The first year I knew nothing, and I mean nothing, about how to write a novel. I did the competition after hearing about it from a friend. I thought, like most readers, that I had a story in me that begged to be written. I signed up for the competition, opened Microsoft Word, and typed my ass off for thirty days. I didn’t make it, but three months later, and quite a few bottles of Malbec later, I finished that story. I did some light editing and printed the 70,000 word manuscript. It’s under my bed. Weird, I know.
Much like reading a good book and thinking about it even when you aren’t reading, I lived that story the whole month. I still think about the characters. The arrogance of the main character, Jimmy. The beautiful Mexican girl, Maria, who wore short skirts and caught the attention of everyone. The characters were real inside me and I tried my damnedest to bring them alive on paper.
After enjoying that first year I read some writing books, including Stephen King’s, On Writing, and kept writing fiction. I heard that a bunch of writers hung out on Twitter so I resurrected my account and found some. I read how-to blogs, motivational blogs. I did #1k1hr challenges. But throughout, I kept one goal, have fun.
The next year I went into November with what I thought was a great story. A coming of age story of a boy whose father killed his mother. The kind of story I would like to read. I was armed with some knowledge now. How to start the thing with a bang, a hook, and to stay away from those damn adverbs. (That’s a King pet peeve). I typed and typed. Sipping red at the kitchen table. That was the year I typed a bunch of it on my phone using the My Writing Spot app. Try typing for an hour on a phone and you’ll need copious amounts of red wine too. I crossed the finish line and kept writing. That story is still unfinished but sits at better than 60,000 words. I’ve thrown a few chapters of it up here on the blog just for fun.
Last year was a bust. I never even started. I was writing some short stories at the time. Having fun with that and a bigger story never came to me. Stories usually come to me when I run, last year it didn’t happen.
This year I was ready. I read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and learned a ton. Outlining, plot points, foreshadowing. Once I had a solid outline, the writing part was kinda easy, especially the foreshadowing of what was to come. Everyone loves a page turner. The kinda book that keeps you reading way past your bedtime. You reach the end of a chapter and the last sentence begs you to start the next. That’s foreshadowing. I tried to throw those little hooks at the end of chapters and scenes in my writing before, but I never knew what the practice was called.
So I didn’t get to 50,000 word goal. Who cares. I also had a few other goals and those I did accomplish. Consistency. I set out to write everyday and did just that. Some days it was as little as a sentence or two, but it was progress. My other goal was to follow the outline and write with direction. Crafting the outline was hard work, but following it was a breeze. I knew what to write next. I knew at what word count I should reach a certain plot point. It was all laid out in the outline. All I had to do was steer my characters in the right direction.
I do it for fun. I don’t have long term goals other than writing the stories. Crafting characters in my head that I would like if I was reading. Letting the story fill my thoughts all day. Writing notes on scraps of paper. Listening to people interact and trying to write dialog that matches.
I don’t drink much Malbec anymore, it’s been replaced by bourbon on the rocks. And just like the evolution of what I drink, the evolution of how and what I write changes with the years.