I, as I imagine lots of others did, received an email on October 16h from from ‘[My] Novel’. It begin:
“Dear Burgeoning Novelist,
I’m writing to tell you I need you. That’s right, I’ve been swirling around in the breathtaking labyrinths of your unconscious mind for a while now, and I’m itching to leap into the world. The only way I can come out, though, is if you commit to writing me in November.”
I think I just got guilt tripped by my not yet formed novel.
As a seasoned pantser (that’s someone who writes “by the seat of their pants” rather than planning it out) I don’t really tend to think about my novel much before November. I have a working title, a one line plot idea, and the first name of a character (not even my main character – just a character) which I gained from answering the question “What is the first sentence of your novel?” on the unofficial NaNoWriMo Facebook group.
Okay, tell a lie… as I wrote that, I decided said character will die in the first two pages. So definitely not my main character.
Last week I woke up in the night and my brain switched to NaNo. Probably because from the bed I can see my thick folder of notes and the printed version of We All Fall Down sitting on my desk. (Now that IS guilt tripping me as I haven’t done any editing in two weeks.) In my sleepy state, it began ticking over ideas.
I’m creating a fictional town in England to base my novel in. I’ve done fictional worlds before but never a fictional town in the real world. I decided I’m going to do this properly. Usually I just dive in, write, and then have the horrific task of remapping my novel to make sense afterwards. We have a huge whiteboard which I plan on accommodating for November and I plan on drawing a map of my fictional town as I go along.
When I woke up, I decided my town was going to be centered around a cemetery. I then decided it would be circular, and then my brain threw out that the plan of the town should be related to the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. I feel back asleep at this point.
I’m not even sure I could incorporate the Wheel of the Year into a town map, and if I could, it would take a LOT of planning and I don’t think I could link it to my plot idea. However, I did really like the idea of having the layout of the town related to my idea, rather than just a randomly built town.
(I was also impressed that I remember my thoughts when I woke up the next morning.)
Right now, it’s hard not to think about your upcoming novel – pantser or not. It’s hard not to feel it clinging to the edges of your consciousness, peering over the edge with wide eyes, giving you a nervous little smile. It’s waiting for your permission to climb up and run about in your mind. Come November 1st, you’ll be pulling that little novel up to your level and you’ll be running with it. Hell, you’ll be taking it sledging and rolling in the snow with it. This is your new best friend.
So, yes, please write your novel. It will be sad and lonely without you. Do this whether you know your only poor unsuspecting character will die soon or not. Listen to your mind when it gives you ideas, and listen to your novel when it calls to you on November 1st.
Every so often I’m going to dip into my memory and regale you with stories of previous NaNos. As far as I can remember anyway…
By 2006 I had wracked up three successful NaNo’s and was about to embark on my fourth. Previous years involved writiing a teen angst story, a rip off of Underworld and a fantasy involving another world that I actually kinda liked but never got anywhere with it – it was competing with Lord of the Rings for pointless walking about.
I started 2006 with a title, rather than a plot. It was called ‘Phoenix Rising’ (to this day, I still love that title) and I’m not afraid to admit that I got the idea for the title after watching X-Men 3. Twice. (Can you believe I paid to see that sorry excuse for an X-Men movie twice?) For those of you who haven’t seen X-Men 3, the movie’s antagonist’s X-name was ‘Phoenix’. But I digress.
It’s rare for me to start with a title. Usually I started with an idea which floats around for a few weeks/months and then I’ll suddenly come up with a title. But that year, I started with the title. And I didn’t know what to do with it! I knew I wanted to use it but I obviously needed a story which would fit the title. I ended up taking the idea of ghosts and where ghosts come from and why some people see ghosts and others don’t and running with it. And boy did I run! I took that idea and before I knew where I was, I had an alternate world which nested comfortable on top of ours which was about to reach a climax in a years long battle that would affect the lives of everyone on Earth. I was hot! I had a prophecy and everything. And, more importantly, I fit the story around the title. You want somebody to rise out of the metaphorical ashes? Then, by hook or by crook, you are going to get somebody!
I seriously loved that novel. I had to rush the ending as I wanted to finish it by the end of November so the Big Battle was reduced to about two pages, if that, but I did reach the ending. That was the first novel I had written which meant anything to me. I loved the story, I loved my main character. I did start to tentatively edit it and even submitted the first chapter as part of my final creative writing portfolio in university. I still have full intentions to return to the story one day, even if it means re-writing it from scratch. It could be turned into a trilogy as well so I’m already thinking that when I’m done with my current trilogy, I’m dust off Phoenix Rising and get to work.
But why am I babbling about my first novel love? Because I want to make the point that you shouldn’t dive into NaNo expecting to walk out with the Next Biggest Thing. I walked into three NaNos and knew by the end those stories would never again see the light of day. And, with the exception of my teen angst novel which my friend giggled over a couple of years ago (with my permission), they haven’t. But you are practising. You are writing rubbish that you don’t care about and you are sucking at it. You are preparing for the Big Novel. The one that means something, the one which lights up your eyes and you fall in love with and want to cherish and care for it. The one that nestles into your heart and stays there, no matter what happens next. It might not be the greatest writing ever, but it’s a story you want to keep safe. Because one day you’ll be able to work with it the way it deserves (almost walked into another excuse to use the Dark Knight Quote then!) Not everything you write will deserve editing. It won’t. But they are paving the way for the stories that will be everything you want them to be. It’s why you should never stop writing.
I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t until another three NaNos had passed until I fell for another novel of mine and that’s the one I’m editing now. (It makes me worry if that’s the trend seeing as I’m writing the sequel this year!) I even had one novel that not only was utterly ridiculous but I also hated my MC and killed her off before the story was finished and had to bring in an entirely new character to be the MC until the novel was over. I am never touching that mess again! But that’s a story for another blog…
I don’t know about you, but I find that whilst I can write anywhere, I need a certain set-up in order to be able to edit. I need a desk. Well, a table of some description, with a chair. It needs to have space for my netbook or laptop, a drink of some sort and a notepad and pen. You may be thinking “well, that’s not particularly a lot to ask for” but it is. You see, I don’t have a desk. I haven’t had a desk in over two years (something which continues to pain me). Before I moved to London I had the box room at my parents’ house. That’s the smallest room in the house, for anyone unfamiliar with the term “box room”. It was seven foot squared (I measured) and had a bed, a bedside table and a wardrobe in it. The TV was mounted to the wall and I had shelves inside the wardrobe for my books and DVDs and boxes under the bed for storage. I sat on my bed with my laptop for writing and Internet. It wasn’t the best, but I made do. I didn’t really edit at all when I was in this room but didn’t think much of it.
I have since discovered that I cannot edit without a proper formal setting. In London I now have a bigger room but still no desk. The infuriating thing is that I have a lovely desk and chair in pieces in my parents’ loft and the room to have it set up. I just can’t get it down here! I’d have to pay to rent a van or something. So, I sit on the floor mostly. My laptop sits on top of my bedside table (which is not next to my bed) where it remains plugged into the mains (it’s old) and I use it for Internet and TV. My netbook is usually on the floor next to me for everything else computer related. I have a mug with writing impliments in it and notebooks scattered around me. I eat sitting on the floor and that’s where I rest my candles when I burn them. I call it my “floor-desk” which as fun as it sounds, is not very practical.
Before I started paying rent and commute on a temp salary, I could afford to go and sit in Starbucks or somewhere for a while and use one of their chairs and tables. This worked and was fun and I got to people watch and drink hot chocolate. Now, however, I find myself illogically monitoring my money. I say illogical because I’m more than happy to fork out £12.50 to see The Dark Knight Rises (worth it!), and £80 for two Olympic tickets for the swimming but then I question paying £3.25 for a hot chocolate at Starbucks. I don’t understand my own mind sometimes but it does mean that when I have the time to sit in Starbucks, I worry over the £3.25 and end up not bothering.
I’ve tried taking my netbook into work and using the hour I spend 4 days a week covering the reception to edit. But it’s incredibly hard to concentrate when I can’t quite move the computer’s keyboard out of the way to make enough room, have the phone ringing at uneven intervals and staff coming by to pick up post or to chat.
I always viewed editing as something I didn’t enjoy. There was something about poking through the dregs of a novel written at speed which wasn’t really that thrilling. And I always made this the reason I didn’t edit when I was living with my parents. But then in February 2012 I began to edit what was to be the first book in my trilogy. And it was interesting! I enjoyed re-writing the parts that I knew needed re-writing, getting to know the characters again and analysing their relationships with each other, and I loved finding all those little golden parts that are awesomely written but you’ve forgotten about and it’s like you’re reading someone else’s work. I came to believe that in order to edit something, you really have to believe it’s worth editing. I’ve tried editing novels before (with a desk) and just got nowhere. But then, We All Fall Down is something I really want to work with. It kills me that I can’t settle into a good editing session anywhere, it really does.
At the moment, my answer is to buy a cheap desk. I can get one for £12.99 from Argos with has decent reviews for the price. And a cheap chair. My boyfriend says I should trawl second hand stores for a better desk for a similar price ’cause he got lucky wih his desk that way. I’m willing to have a look but if I can’t find anythig, it’ll be Argos. I really want to turn it around and have a proper working space. It might not be the lovely desk I have in my parents loft with spaces to keep folders and space on the desk itself for various things, but it would be a flat surface that will hold my netbook that I can sit at. Right now, I’d be content with that.
Maybe I could edit for a couple of hours at a time regularly, instead of five minutes every so often.