One Post to Update Them All

If you follow me here–or anywhere–you’ll have noticed that, despite having all the usual channels, I don’t post much at the best of times. When you’re a slow writer, like me, there just isn’t time. It’s tough enough to juggle novel-writing and making a living with maintaining contact with the humans I love. Over the last year, having been not-so-gently nudged from salaried employment to contract work, I’ve been scrambling more furiously than ever.

And now, I’m heading into NaNo. The book I’d been working on has run over by about five months and is still 2 chapters shy of a complete draft (and several hundred hours shy of a final one). And even so, I’m heading into NaNo. That probably sounds counterproductive to you. Unless you’ve experienced NaNo the same way that I have. As I blogged back in 2011, “NaNo is not to be missed.” It seems somewhat ironic (in the classic, not the millennial, use of the word) that the “jolly little workplace comedy” I was kicking off that year is the same bear that I’ve been fighting to finish off (it turned out to be neither so jolly nor so little after all).

This will be my fifth consecutive November writing marathon. I look forward to it with a mixture of excitement and dread. I expect a particularly difficult run this year, a combination of escalated time pressures and a project that is fraught with emotional baggage. The book I’ll be working on, Chasing Fireflies, is something I’ve been waiting my entire adult life to write. Waiting and preparing. In my mind, the novels I’ve written before–whether completed or not–have been training to write this one. Am I finally ready? No matter how much you prepare, you never feel as ready as you’d like to be. Even if I am ready–enough–is NaNo the right engine to kick it off? NaNo is relentless; it’s brilliant at pushing me forward by not allowing me the luxury of deliberating over every word. But for this novel, I want to deliberate; I want to write with the beauty and fluidity of a much better writer than I am. I know (and yes, I understand it’s probably a self-fulfilling prophecy) that if I manage to push through and “win” another NaNo, I’ll end up with mostly dross.

And yet, I’m doing NaNo. Because the focus and the confidence it gives me are a gift to be treasured. I write nearly every day of the year, but it’s the month of November, National Novel Writing Month, when I feel most like A Writer. On the other hand…don’t expect to read any of my work anytime soon!

Holding the dream in your hand.

There hasn’t been any Extreme Marketing for a few weeks, because I’ve been up to my eyeballs in wrapping up another writing project.

Back in November 2010, when I decided to take the plunge and try National Novel Writing Month for the first time, it "The Upsilon Knot" book coverseemed more than a little crazy to try and write 50 thousand words in a single month. I knew I’d only be able to write that much if I found a whole new way of working. Instinct told me this would be easier if the story were completely different from any of my other work. I especially wanted to have some fun! After all, except for the hours spent in my office, I would be writing almost every waking minute of every day. If it wasn’t fun, I’d never make it through the month.

I started noodling around, mind-mapping random thoughts. My first scathingly brilliant idea was to think about Steampunk. I’ve always loved building worlds and, having spent a lot of time (before, during and after college) in “our” 19th century, an alternative one seemed like something I could whole-heartedly embrace. My next inspiration was my heroine. A few years before this, I’d had a flash of “Claude” in a castle corridor. I’d immediately known quite a bit about her (including her name, by the way). Claude came together perfectly with the world I was developing. That was enough to get started.

At the end of November 2010, I had about a third of the story and a whole lot of notes. And then I had to set it aside. Over the next 18 months, I lost the agent who’d signed up The Breast of Everything, started a new job, and embarked on a self-publishing adventure. When I could find a few hours, I’d look back at The Upsilon Knot and review what I’d blurted out during that initial month. At that remove, I was able to make notes about missing links in the plot, glitches in the timeline, etc.  Along the way, I stuffed my Scrivener project file with draft pages, character sheets, mind maps, action maps, timelines, flow charts and a sometimes strange collection of research. Last summer, I was finally able to return to writing and push forward.

I’ve been living in—or at least with—this world for almost three years. I don’t know that the execution ended up Steampunk so much as Historical Fantasy. No matter. The world and its people have been clear as day to my mind’s eye. This is the week everything changes, because now I know that, very soon, you are going to be able to see this too. The printed proofs arrived and, for the first time, I hold The Upsilon Knot in my hand.

At 500 pages, I expect that the ebook edition will be more popular with readers. For me-the-writer, however, there is nothing to compare with the solid reality of that bound volume. Holding it (okay, hefting it; it really is a chunky little book!), I feel a sense of completion wash over me. My mouth smiles before my thoughts catch up to it. I walk in a fleeting state of grace. And while this feeling lasts, there is nothing so great as being a writer.






At the halfway point…and loving it!

I know, it’s not November 15 yet.  But last night I reached the magic 25K half-way point to the NaNo finish line.  So I’m halfway there before I’m halfway through.  This is a very good feeling, even though finishing NaNoWriMo won’t in the least mean I’ve finished this book.

The beauty of the NaNo experience for me is that I stop worrying over every bitty word and just write.  And when you just write — anytime, anywhere (yes, the morning subway ride is still my very best production burst of the day) — you can make huge gains toward telling any story you really want to tell.

Last year, I started out with all sorts of outlines and timelines and flow charts.  This year, all I had was an odd “to do” list of things I wanted to be sure to say.  Every day that I’m not picking up where I left off the day before, I choose something from that list that hasn’t been checked off, and then I write everything I can think of on that topic.  I have no idea how long this book is going to be.  I’m only now now first starting to see a shape emerge.  It was one hell of a relief, let me tell you, to finally get a sense of that after almost two weeks of writing.  Turns out (whew!) I wasn’t downloading random thoughts after all, but there is truly a big picture to which all the scraps belonged.  This is a good baton to pick up at the halfway point.  Now all I have to do is run with it to the finish line!