November 30 is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s the last day of National Novel Writing Month and for the past four years, I’ve completed a first draft, 50,000 words.
I’ve “lost” a couple of years, too. But I was naive then, unaware of the massive amount of focus it takes to get through those 50,000 words.
This year, I learned a couple of things.
First and foremost, have a cheerleading team. You don’t want to let them down any more than you want to let your writer self down. I know Kristie, Nellie Jane, Ivy, Alexa, Rose, A.R., and Kimberly kept me going—especially when the post-Turkey naptime kept me away from the laptop. On Black Friday, I still had 22,000 words to write. Nearly half a book. I counted on their cheers with every update I posted.
Start with an outline. I’ll never start with just an empty page ever again. It was easy to come up with the first sentence. And the second. Oh and so what if they disappeared from the first page in rewrites. I got them on the page. But when I wrote strictly by the seat of my pants, I got lost somewhere around Day 13. And Day 14, 22 and 28 were hard, too. Was my story wandering? Did I have a theme? A conflict? Motivations and goals? A story even?
This time I set all that down as I began the month. I knew what I was writing every day of the month. Since I was writing a contemporary romance, I wrote the happily-ever-after a week ago. Then I spent the past seven days filling in those 22,000 words that went before the last chapter. My outline was my roadmap. I discovered traffic jams and detours along the way but it kept me at least near the route I wanted to take.
Third, love your story. I didn’t the first day. It wasn’t what I wanted and so it was hard to write. My first win, now known as DIVIDED LOYALTIES, was a labor of love from the first sentence. Maureen, the heroine, is a child of my heart. This time around, I didn’t love Donna, my 37-year-old workaholic who hates boats and confined spaces and still finds herself on a cruise. So I wrote slowly until we got to know one another. Once my book had a title, THE LAST GIFT, I realized I loved Donna and had fallen hopelessly in love with Scottie, the crew member who never loved anyone or anything but the sea. This, in fact, became his story. With a title and a renewed point of view—still following the outline, I might add—I learned to love my story.
Fourth, revel in the win and then get back to work. I’m not done. For one thing, I left gaps in my story with comments about information I need to research. There’s some sloppy writing mixed in with the crisp dialogue and beautifully-turned phrases. If I’m honest, lots of sloppy writing. I also need to double check those goals, motivations and conflicts to be sure they are good and true. And that they are enough to make a reader keep turning the page.
Today, I’m all about reveling and cheering on my fellow Wrimos. Go, fellow scribblers, you can do it.
Tomorrow—well, maybe Monday—I’ll get back to work.