Monday, March 30, 2009

Novel Approach - They say everyone has a book in them. But do they have to hurt so much coming out?

It seems like everybody's writing a book nowadays.

I have a copy of my friend Scott Alberts's book, Below The Line, written with John McFetridge, on order from right now. The 30 Second Commute, Stephanie Dickison's nonfiction comedy about working from home, is available for pre-order.

Just in stores and available to order directly from Groundwood Books is Earthgirl, fellow TV scribe Jenn Cowan's first book from House of Anansi Press.

Hardcore Nerdity principal Lesley Livingston's Wondrous Strange is selling like hotcakes and has already spent time as one of Amazon's top youth sellers. So wake up, Twilight fans.

Actress and author Adrienne Kress, another Hardcore Nerdite, has a second book out, Timothy And The Dragon's Gate. Both of Kress and Livingston's fantasy works are garnering excellent reviews, like this one in the Globe and Mail.

And pals like actor Stephen Adams are taking matters into their own hands and self-publishing, like his first novel, Suit On The Run.

Sure, this post is partially a chance to shill for my friends and acquaintances, but the whole idea of putting a book into the world seems more possible thanks to the efforts of these colleagues. But it seems like writing a novel is becoming more and more common. The people above are some of the authors I know who are getting out there and getting it done.

Last November I posted about Chris Baty's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoMo Yes Or No?). I was tempted by the idea because of the power of a deadline to make the impossible happen. The NanoWrimo site's description of how it works is full of inspiration:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

The amazing thing about it is that it's all true. This sucker really works!

I never believed I had a novel in me but about three days before National Novel Writing Month was to begin the germ of a possible idea wormed it way into my head. And as the clock ticked down to the start, I threw caution to the winds and began. I found it invigorating and challenging and soon the need to achieve each day's page count burned in my heart.

Then I had to stop.

It soon became apparent that I had so much paid writing to do I could not do both projects without my "day job" suffering. It took a little while to see if I could actually reschedule my time to make room for work and NanoWrimo (NaNoMo, How many different short forms does National Novel Writing Month have anyway?) It turned out it was possible, with the support of a very understanding wife, and so I was the rest of the month went well.

I was surprised by some of the twists that flowed from my flying fingers. I was seeing the idea expand and grow despite never having enough time to explore each digression and character that arose. I knew the draft would be far from perfect but if I kept to schedule I knew it would be complete enough to really work with . Writing is all in the editing.

It was fast and furious creation. The fingers really had to fly across the keyboards too make up for a lost week's worth of word count. By coincidence, this year's month ended on a Sunday Night, allowing for a full weekend of laptop bashing. At sometime around ten I had passed the 50, 000 word minimum but it wouldn't be official until I fed it into the official online counter. Normally, I would just see my count rise by much less than I'd hoped. But I knew this would be different. A sense of triumph hung in the air. I hit ENTER and was greeted with...

Through storm and sun, you traversed the noveling seas. Pitted against a merciless deadline and fighting hordes of distractions, you persevered. You launched yourself bravely into Week One, sailed through the churning waters of Week Two, skirted the mutinous shoals of Weeks Three and Four, and now have landed, victorious, in a place that few adventurers ever see.

We congratulate you on your hard work, salute your discipline and follow-through, and celebrate your imagination.

You did something amazing this month, novelist. We couldn't be prouder.

I can't tell you what a heady experience it was to see that logo flash across the screen. And the congratulatory write-up does not exaggerate that feeling. I was a viking! A master of throwing words at a page in some semblance of readable order! I was unstoppable!

So why didn't I slap this all over the Blog when I reached my lofty goal? For one, simple reason.

I wasn't finished the damn thing.

According to NaNoWrimo founder Chris Baty, the last word you type really should be "The" and "End". There will be a lot of crap in between but you'll have something complete to edit with and you can begin the arduous process of polishing up a prose gem. But my last two words weren't "The End". My last two words weren't my last two words at all. I was far from finished. I figured at the rate of 1600 words a day or so I was over a week away from having a finished first draft.

I got down on myself. I'm a professional writer. Why didn't I pace out my story to end at the right point. But then I did some calculations and realized I was pacing myself... for thirty days. But with two or three days away from the novel for family functions and a week lost to paying assignments and reworking my schedule, I had only written on twenty of the thirty days allotted! I was still ten days away from "The End".

Baty warns you to finish quickly if you still have work to do. The energy of the deadline disappears fast and the longer you wait to return to the first draft, the less likely you are to return to it at all. And when you do, your head will be in a different space and you might have difficulty recapturing the original mindset.

Sadly, that bastard is absolutely right.

The Winner's Seal has been mocking me for months. There has been so much work and so many things to balance in my day to day life that I still have yet to write those final ten days worth of novel. I'd like to do it in one go so I can be as close as possible to that state of automatic writing I achieved in November. So after, script deliveries, after Easter and after preparing my taxes, maybe I can finally, truly feel like I've earned that Winner Seal.

Compared to that, editing will be easy. Right?


Live the adventure.