Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009: Thoughts

Well, it's been a strange November.

I started two different novels, writing a combined 91k in the process, and didn't come anywhere near to my original goal of completing an entire first draft. I sort of feel like, 91k aside, I failed rather miserably. Why? Well, I have no book. I have the beginnings of two different books (both of which, I fear, are quite badly written, though there's perhaps more hope for the second one than for the first), but nothing, well, substantial. In the previous two years, even though I didn't actually finish my novels during the month, I wrote hefty chunks of them and at least got halfway through.

I don't know.

It's like, it's like...

I know what it's like. It's like my piano recital senior year of college. Specifically, Beethoven. More specifically, Beethoven's sonata nicknamed The Tempest (for obvious reasons if one happens to play it/listen to it). Now I never had a very good relationship with Beethoven (I much prefer Chopin and Bach, though that's beside the point), but I practiced that sonata until I was blue in the face, and was as prepared as was possible for my recital. The first six pages of the first movement went marvelously, so marvelously, in fact, that I psyched myself out and managed to totally blank on the last page and a half. Which, in a manner resembling a train wreck or a cascade of perfectly placed dominoes or a really bad horror movie, derailed me on the other two movements. I got through them, but I didn't play them nearly as well as I was able to, because my mind was still chewing on what exactly had gone wrong with that first movement.

Rambling anecdotes aside, I think that's partly what bothered me during this year's NaNoWriMo. After penning an alarmingly awful 41,000 words of a novel I had been planning on writing for almost a whole year, starting completely over was more than a little disconcerting. I had never written such horrific prose before. It was shocking, I tell you! Shocking! Don't get me wrong, previous NaNo's have produced some wince-worthy passages, but they were always balanced out by some (in my mind) rather lovely writing.

This year? I found myself writing the same phrases over and over. I didn't connect emotionally with the characters, the scenes, the settings, the situations. I began wondering if I had somehow cracked and was incapable of writing a nicely-crafted paragraph ever again. I began wondering, in fact, if I had ever written a nicely-crafted paragraph in my life, or if I was deluding myself.

I got depressed, of course. It wasn't very pleasant, but you'll have that.

So I started The Blind King, which went a lot better, and had its moments, and got me comfortably to 50k, but still left me feeling restless and lethargic about my writing (and life in general—you know how it is with creative types).  I'm pretty sure TBK could be a super awesome book, but a few of things need to happen before I revisit/restart the draft:
  1. It honestly needs outlining. The beginning is worked out pretty well in my head, and I vaguely know what happens at the end, but the middle is completely nebulous in terms of actual form.
  2. I need to finish the rewrite of On Journeys Bound, the book it's a sequel to. It only makes sense. Plus then I can make sure I'm properly continuing threads instead of sort of remembering previous events and inadvertently creating loads of inconsistencies.
  3. I need to do some more world building, figure out things like the layout of buildings, roads, towns, and firmly decide what level of technology these people have.
 In other words?

I'm not going to have a shiny new first draft of anything any time soon. Rather disheartening. I feel like I ought to have gleaned some sort of a useful lesson from this. Maybe:
  • Some ideas can't be forced.
Or:
  • Sometimes not even extensive outlining helps.
Or:
  • This just wasn't my year.
 Hmmm. This all sounds rather depressing. I am, to ease your minds (is anyone still reading this? I feel like I've been rambling on for at least 50,000 words at this point), feeling much more optimistic about things. I've decided to dive back into the rewrite of On Journeys Bound while my mind is noodling on ways to rework The Last Garden (which, incidentally, I am still planning to write at some point). I'm also seeing revisions of Seraphine (which, incidentally, I've decided I like quite a lot) looming in the near future. **determined eyes**

All that to say, it's been an odd month, and I'm kind of glad it's over. But in a good way. Mostly.

Happy December,

Joanna

8 comments:

Anne M Leone said...

I read an article recently where the author said the different between city people and farmers was that city people expect each year to be better than the last, whereas farmers know there are good years and bad years. It really struck a chord with me, because of course there are good times and bad times and sometimes all the work in the world can't make something work if the time isn't right. I guess I took some comfort in knowing that sometimes a bad time isn't necessarily my fault, but just the way life is. I'm sorry Nano ended up being such a difficult time for you. Maybe you'll find having done all this groundwork will be useful in the future, though, when you return to your stories?

Joanna R. Smith said...

Anne, thanks so much for sharing that, what an awesome quote!! I think both of those novels will eventually get written... it just wasn't their time yet. Thanks for the encouragement!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

It's all a learning experience. Thanks for sharing here.

silent_librarian said...

This does sound very depressing, but I know you will go on to write great things despite this set-back of this month's Nanowrimo. It is the creative mindset to go through these highs and lows (love and hate) with what we create. It is something I deal with in my art and it often time discourages me from doing anything, but it is in those moments that you create anyway. You just have to get through them. Your analogy of your horrible Beethoven experience ( :-( ) makes it understandable about what happened with your first novel. However, I am glad to hear you are optimistic and going to start working On Journey's Bound. The Last Garden will also be another good novel, I mean how can you go wrong with mermaids and ten worlds? ;-) Haha! And even if you won't have a first draft of anything soon, that is okay. Good things *always* take time, lots and lots of time. Michaelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel in a day! Nope day after day after day he laid on his back starring at the ceiling and painted excruciatingly detailed scenes. That must have gotten REALLY old REALLY fast. Haha!

Creating is like giving birth, it is a long and painful process but the end reaps great rewards! Haha!

I know you would appreciate that analogy. ;-)

Joanna R. Smith said...

Indeed it is, Terry!

And Danielle, you wouldn't THINK you could go wrong with mermaids and ten worlds, would you? At least I'm not painting ceilings. :-)

Miss Bethany said...

Oh Joanna...:( I'm sorry to hear you struggled this year. I'm really proud and impressed with you, though; don't let it get you down. You're my favorite author!!!

Anne M Leone said...

Oh good, I'm so glad you found the quote as encouraging as I did. Best wishes on all of your novels!

Hope you don't mind, but I've written a post on my blog about others' NaNo experiences and included a link to here. Please let me know if you want me to add or change anything.

http://critically-yours.blogspot.com/2009/12/nanowrimo-round-up.html

Joanna R. Smith said...

Aw thanks, Bethany. You're the best. :-)

Anne, it is indeed an encouraging quote, and I'm honored to have made your blog!