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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NaNoWriMo: 30 days; 50,000 words; 100,000 plotholes

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month, the catalyst for this whole adventure. The premise is that you have thirty days during the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel. If you succeed, you get a big pat on the back, a discount on a t-shirt, and the self-satisfaction of knowing you (kind of) wrote a novel.

Congratulations! You wrote a novel that is still
20,000 words short of being publishable!

December. National Holy-Shit-This-Is-Puke-On-A-Page Month.  This is the month where you have 31 days to re-read your novel, to edit it and make it wonderful.

Instead, you take 1 day, get about 10 pages into the mess, and then try to resist the urge to drag and drop the whole damned thing into the recycle bin. And then empty the recycle bin. And then burn your computer for good measure.

Seriously, did you even write this? You don't remember ever typing the sentence "his knee bounced like it was full of kangaroos that had just eaten a bunch of Mexican jumping beans". Wait, was that really a whole chapter about the character picking up an eggplant in the supermarket? Did you really end the whole thing, "And then he woke up and it was all a dream"?

What is this unholy monstrosity that you have created?

And then you set the whole thing aside.

Far aside.

For a year.

Maybe a year and a half.

Okay, fine. Nearly two years.

Finally, pulling yourself together and summoning all of your courage, you pick it up again and begin to read.

And then you realize ... this really isn't so bad. There's something here.

Welcome, writer. You have just entered the first phase. We (the royal We, that is) call this phase: The Rewrite.

It won't take everyone two years to get here. That fact that it has taken me 21 months to get here should have no bearing on you or your expectations. I swear. It's not a contest (although if it does take you the full 24 months, then I have clearly won).

The first part of the Rewrite phase is to read what you've put on paper. The nice thing is, the longer you wait, the more honest and critical your eyes will be. You may even have forgotten the entire plot and, therefore, will surprise yourself (not that this is totally exactly what happened to me).

Important things to remember during your first read through of the Rewrite. Be prepared to lose a lot of words. If you're not prepared, then it's all useless. You've got to chop of the gangrenous bits before you can make its healthy manuscript.

And after two years, there's a whole lot of rot going on.

But don't worry just yet. This read through is proactive. Yes, you'll lose a lot of words. But you're probably going to make up for a lot of that as you encounter gaping plot holes that need immediate intervention.

For instance, your character is plodding along a river and gets a bucketful of water. They then carry the very heavy bucketful of water, taking care not to spill it, over a mile back to camp. Then, they proceed to DO NOTHING WITH THE WATER. Seriously. Not that I wrote that. Who would take the care to write a detailed passage about carrying a very heavy, sloshing pail of water and then not even have a reason or an end game for the water? Not me. This is entirely hypothetical.

No, really. Nobody would ever write that.

It was just an example. Stop taking everything so literally.

Okay, okay. It was me. I did it. I totally wrote the bucket of water thing.

Seriously, who would take the time to
write about carrying a bucket of water?
But the good thing is, small plotholes are easily thatched. And I promise you, whether you NaNoWriMo'd your butt off or you spent a year very carefully crafting your novel, you're gonna have plotholes. Don't think of them as a gaping abyss of your own ineptitude with which you are exchanging Nietzschean stares. Think of them as opportunities. Word count a little skimpy? Congratulations, here's an easy opportunity to get some words in without having to construct a whole separate subplot to weave in. Or are you more along the lines of the writer who couldn't stop writing, and now has a 300,000 word beast they're trying to sell to a literary agent?

First of all, screw you. Me an my 53,000 word manuscript don't want to play with you anymore, we're going home.

Second of all -- congratulations. You now have the opportunity to cut some extraneous words from your mammothean novel. Because nobody wants to read about your character carrying a bucket of water.
(Mammothean" isn't a word, you say? Well it is now. I just Shakespeare'd it)

The point is, the first read through is going to be painful. You're going to have to cut a lot, including passages you love because they just don't work. You're going to have to think -- hard -- about what you were trying to say over two years ago when you first wrote that train wreck of a sentence you just encountered. You're going to have to figure out how to get your character from Point A to Point B because apparently you didn't care enough about the silly things like "how did that happen?" when you were first writing.

This pain will be good for you, though. It's going to teach you something important. It's going to teach you that this is hard. And it's also going to teach you to deal with criticism. Taking criticism from yourself is the first step to developing the thick skin you're going to need in the months ahead.

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