It’s October 6, meaning 25 days to National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. This is an annual event initially created by some writers in California to encourage children and teens to write. Of course, the adults horned in, and now hundreds of thousands of writers worldwide dash out 50,000 words in 30 days every November.
Some do it for the challenge. Some do it never intending to publish. Some do it and publish far too soon. Some do it for a rough draft of something to work on later. That’s me. I’ve used NaNoWriMo to either create rough drafts of story collections or novels or to rewrite one of those previous rough drafts. I’ve also used it to experiment with different genres. I’ve written two contemporary mysteries involving small town secrets and one, uh, romance. I did the romance on a dare, and it’s bad. I mean, really bad. When I shuffle off the mortal coil, my kids have strict instructions not to publish it. It’s that bad.
NaNoWriMo can be frustrating and daunting, but it can also push you as a writer and show you that as hard as writing is, it can also be rewarding.
This year, 2021, will be my 14th year, and I’ve finished every year, usually with more than 50,000 words. (Pats self on back ’cause affirmation is good.)
What Am I Writing This Year?
In past published stories, I have hinted that my main protagonist’s mother didn’t die when my protagonist, Mai Fisher, was five years old. I made notes in Mai’s backstory where, at a critical point in Mai’s career, Alexei discovers Mai’s mother survived her torture by the Taiwanese secret police and was taken by a double agent to Communist China where she was brainwashed into working for their intelligence organization. She became their top interrogator, and they loaned her to the North Koreans to work on a stubborn captured CIA case officer–Edwin Terrell, Jr.
Because Mai favors her mother’s looks, Terrell knows who this non-Asian woman really is. After his escape, he tells Alexei, who decides at this point in Mai’s life and career she doesn’t need to know that the woman who’s been her idol and ideal might be a turncoat.
So, this year, I’m taking the story beyond the “notes” stage to see if I can flesh it into a full novel. I’ve already begun researching several interesting things: Trinity College in Dublin, the Bletchley code breakers, the SOE, etc. This will be my first Directorate novel that has its origins in World War II, some that many others have done, but I don’t intend for us to spend much time there.
The working title is “Mother.” Yeah, not terribly inspiring, but something else may occur to me in the writing.
My biggest decision for this concept is do I let Mai eventually find out the truth? And how will that affect her and Alexei, knowing he’s kept the secret for so long?
Wow, even as I’m writing this blog post, an idea around that issue just occurred to me.
Does that mean I’m becoming a “plotter?”
My Usual Thing
In NaNoWriMo, participants are “plotters,” who meticulously outline or script their project ahead of time; “pantsers,” who get a vague idea and start writing on November 1, letting the story go where it wants; and “plantsers,” a combo of plotters and pantsers, who do some plotting and then let the story find its way.
I’ve plotted (once) and found it constraining. About halfway through the month, I set the outline aside and finished as a pantser. I’ve been a total pantser (many times) and found those manuscripts were the ones that needed a lot of rewriting because editing only didn’t cut it. So, I’ve settled into “plantsing,” where I make notes and jot down scene ideas, do some research, and then go from there on November 1. That’s worked well for me, and that’s how I’ll proceed in 25 days.
The other usual thing I do is I put aside the rough draft I create in November for at least six months, to get it completely out of my head. Then, I read it, usually with a lot of head-shaking and muttering “what were you thinking,” and decide whether it’s usable, whether a hard edit will fix or improve it, or whether I need to start all over again with the rough draft as a detailed outline. More times than not, it’s the latter.
In 2021 because I had a book come out in February and another in July, I realized recently I haven’t touched last year’s rough draft for almost a year. Wow, I should be able to take a definitely objective look at it.
To paraphrase my favorite Yankees’ broadcaster, Michael Kay, “My plot is ready. My computer is ready. Let’s play ball!”