Word count: 220    Reading time: 1 min

As NaNoWriMo draws to a close, I’ve almost finished ploughing the field of my next YA novel. That’s right: I almost have a 50,000 word starting point. Or to borrow from Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird, I almost have a shitty first draft, a SFD. Emphasis on S.

That’s okay because I know the field needs more than ploughing. It needs harrowing and levelling as well. Revision is the harrowing and levelling of writing and I won’t start that for at least a month. What I will do is let it lie fallow so I can come back with a fresh perspective that allows me to see the plot lumps and the character weeds. Then I’ll read the whole thing, cover to cover, and try to sustain an attitude of confident optimism as I splash the pages with red ink. 

Before then, I have another field that needs attention. From January to October this year I rewrote last year’s NaNoWriMo effort many times. A YA novel, Lockdown takes place in Vancouver during a natural disaster. I believe it’s almost ready for harvesting.  

What’s growing in your paddocks? Are you working several crops at once? Do you rest your work? Or are you the mythical being who can produce a flawless tale in a single writing?

Photo by: Anna Fredriccsson

Best laid plans

 Work count: 234                           Reading time: 1 min                 

Abraham Lincoln once said: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” How long he had to chop down that tree and how long he’d spend sharpening that axe varies from source to source but you get the idea.

Many creative writing experts advocate sharpening the axe before starting page one. So in January this year I took my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel and applied the snowflake method to it. Over many hours I distilled the story into a single sentence and then expanded it layer by layer. At the end of the process, character charts and spreadsheets gave me a detailed flight plan of where I was headed.

That exercise taught me one important thing: the part of my brain that imposes structure on the world is not the part of my brain that unearths the stories and finds the characters.

So I started this month’s NaNoWriMo with a character, a vague plot idea, and the determination to finish. I’m up to 34,000 words now and every time I sit down to the keyboard it’s another day in a kayak. Some days I paddle in still, boring water. The rest of the time – most the time – I’m shooting the rapids, wondering where I’m going to end up next.

How do your stories emerge? Through careful planning or by a leap into the deep end?


Photo: Joe Michl

Keep on plugging

Word count: 307                                         Reading time: 2 mins.

The NaNoWriMo week-2-slump is right in front of me. I can feel it. It’s like when I’m hiking and I think I’ve bagged the worst part of the hill only to turn a corner and find a bigger, uncharted rise in front of me. This happened to me recently and if I’d been alone I would have gone around it. I believe in the path of least resistance.  

On that hike my three friends were navigating the fallen timber and thick bush like it was a walk in the park. Super-fit people really irritate me, especially when they’re fifty feet ahead on a steep hill. Still, sometimes the hard way is the only way to get there.

Next week is the NaNoWriMo sharp rise. So far I’ve been walking small undulations. The first 21,000 words have flown off my fingers. Only now one character has had a stroke. What do I know about strokes? Not much. Her daughter is shop-lifting to supplement the family income. More research needed.

I decided to send myself a greeting card for encouragement. I found an $8 one, wrapped in a cellophane envelope. Printed on heavy stock paper was this quote: With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable. (Thomas Foxwell Buxton) I didn’t buy the card because I could remember what it said. Is that a form of shop-lifting? Hmm maybe that was a research trip after all.

So I’ll take those words to heart and keep pushing along. When I’ve reached my daily goal today I think I’ll take a walk, somewhere long and flat.

How do you keep the story moving forward when faced with the side of a mountain? Do you start up the side of it or do you work around it, on the parts that are less challenging? 

Photo: Aidan Cassie

Remember, remember - have fun in November

Word count: 197               Reading Time: 1 min.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you started the challenge of producing an entire, 50,000 word novel in a single month?  

I got an idea for the 2011 NaNoWriMo just last week. I was poking it with a stick when a tweet from Writer’s Digest delivered three essential questions: What is going to happen? What does the main character want? What are the turning points? Once I knew I could answer these, I took my lump of clay and waited for the starting gun.

Last year I discovered that finishing a first draft in thirty days was satisfying. However, reaching one milestone took me to another starting point. My NaNoWriMo 2010 draft took months to move to an almost-satisfactory state. I think it’s there now but I’m giving it a rest.

Am I daunted by the prospect that this novel might need the same reshaping as last year’s? A bit. Will I add thousands of new words while deleting thousands of existing ones? Definitely. Will I have fun? Absolutely. To be sure, I’ll keep Steven Pressfield’s thoughts on the fun of writing close at hand.

What’s on your potter’s wheel? Is it fun to watch it take shape?

Photo: Richard Rudisill


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Writer’s Digest – How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Steven Pressfield – Is Writing Fun?