Monday, 29 April 2019

I Wrote a Book In 3.5 Weeks

   Yup, you read that right. It's true that it's not one of my 600-page monsters, but to get it done not only under a year, but under a month, and done well, shows that I've been doing something wrong.
   It's true that I let Camp NaNoWriMo take over my life from the moment I rose (I would usually spend my mornings doing other things like Etsy work or research or other fun things before my workout, then work on book stuff from midday to 11pm), but it also gave me the best opportunity to experiment with writing - from the creative to the technical.
   When I work on my trilogy, I tend to pace myself. But I also tend to try to get it down perfectly on the first draft, which leads to a lot of time spent staring out of the window thinking, then daydreaming. There's nothing at all wrong with taking a moment to think, but when all you have to work with for the contents of a whole chapter is 3 paragraphs written in the master book plan, you're hobbling yourself.
   "Get the words down - they don't have to be good, just get them down." This is the premise of NaNo. And I have issue with it. It sounds like you can just bullshit your way through; write utter drivel and call it a success. That's just wasted time, in my eyes. And while I still hold true to that angle, I did gradually realise what it actually meant: do your best, but don't fret. Because, despite my best efforts over the years, even I learned long ago that your first draft of everything is going to suck. That's why you redraft.

   This was probably the most valuable opportunity of my NaNo experience. I found a way to write quickly, albeit with personal pressure, but also well. I would draft out each chapter in note form - no prose, just 'and then and then and then'. That meant that, instead of it taking me 3 days to write 10 pages, I got their every detail noted down in about 3 hours, and then I could go back to the start and turn it into prose. I could get 10 pages done in literally half the time. And it all flowed really well, and I was more comfortable with what I was writing.
   No, I never really did shake my compulsive edit-as-I-write habits. They died down for a while, but if I wasn't happy with a paragraph or so in the prose phase, I would work at it until it was fixed. And if I wasn't happy with a whole chapter (or in this case each chapter is its own short story, contributing to the overall tale), I would read it back through and adjust it where it needed it.
   And yet, I still got a 150 page book down in 3.5 weeks, even with a slow start.

   The second most valuable opportunity NaNo provided was that in which I could put all I'd learned from The Art of Storytelling to work. He'd held a lesson on short stories, and certainly every word of that was ringing in my head all month.
• short stories are the best opportunity to experiment with voices
• they're the best opportunity to experiment with ideas that might not work with a full book
• they're a great opportunity to meet characters
• they could spark a story of their own
• the best short stories are the final chapters of books you didn't write (given how my short stories all came together to tell a single over-arcing story, this didn't apply)
• they're stories that can take you to another world and still be home in time for tea.
• in a book, lots of things have to happen; in a short story, only one thing does. And it doesn't have to be big.

   It was all a bit of a stress, but I'm so happy I did it. It was a personal project, a story I really wanted to know - not to share, or anything like that; it was for my benefit, and I knew it would help the planning for the last book in the trilogy. While my books focus on humans, this project was from the wildlings' perspective - the creatures that live in forests, all inspired by Scandinavian folklore - and focused on how they handled a certain even that spans from the end of book 2 and into a good chunk of book 3. I've been able to flesh them out more, as well as their queen, and when they come to having their moment of glory in the third book, I now have a much better idea of how that will go.
   I wasn't going to bother writing it at all, I preferred to just work on the third book, but I knew that if I didn't do it before I started writing book 3, it wouldn't be done at all. And when I was alerted to the existence of Camp NaNoWriMo by Gamer Mum Chronicles (I had thought it was NaNo in November and that was all), I figured I was in the best position to try. What was one month? If I didn't finish by the end of April, so be it. I would at least have a better idea even if I only got as far as planning out the sequence of events.
   I took 2 weeks to plan it before Camp started, and I got to work on April 1st. My word count goal (having never tracked words before) was 15,000. I adjusted it to 20,000 on the 13th when it was clear I was going to smash it too soon. Then I hit that 20,000 word count goal two days later.
   I finished writing the whole thing on the 24th with a word count, somehow, of 38,815. I've already been back over it making edits to words left in bold that needed revisiting. But I finished that on the 27th, and now I'm just sitting on it before redrafting it, which I'm going to do in May.

   May is going to be a busy month, but it should be my last busy writing month before I finally get back into a consistent flow. In January, I finished writing book 2 and then started redrafting it. I was then accepted to work on a book of short stories with Frenone, which I worked on between my redrafting. In February I started a writing course, and worked on those short stories. I finished redrafting at the beginning of March, and finished the final story for Frenone's book, and then immediately got to planning out the third book, as well as making adjustments to The Zi'veyn's book cover and starting work on the second's. Two weeks later I decided to embark on the above Camp NaNo project and put two weeks aside for planning that out instead, and then on April 1st I moved on to writing it, which I finished on the 24th and then edited for the following 3 days. For the next 4, I'm working on book covers again.
   May's work is going to consist of redrafting these short stories, because I'm very proud of them, and then I might decide to publish them, which means I'll need beta readers to tell me if it works. I wanted it to be enjoyed by people who haven't read The Zi'veyn or any of The Devoted trilogy, so I left a lot of details out (not difficult, given the perspective of the book), but I also want it to be enjoyed by those who have. I'm also going to be revising the first 5 chapters of The Zi'veyn before submitting them to literary agencies following feedback I've received, and also work on finalising the plan for book 3 (which was in a near-complete state in March, and why I decided I could afford to set it aside for NaNo), and then I'm also going to finish working on the cover for book 2. It's going to be a long month.
   Fortunately, the first week of May is going to be a much-needed and much-anticipated break. Unsurprisingly, I have some typing-related injuries, so I'll be glad to rest that up.
   But more on all that later...

   My hope is to start writing book 3 in June. Then, finally, I'll be back into a regular flow with my to-do list all checked off. I also won't feel like I have to write as fast as I did this past month, so hopefully these hand/elbow/shoulder injuries won't reappear too quickly. I might also consider enforcing a day off. But...what would I do?! The thought is, genuinely, kind of scary to be honest.


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