NaNo Day 5: Sleepless in Ann Arbor

Strap yourself in: this is gonna be a long one.

After being hecka sleepy in my film screenings again last night, my plan for the evening was to come home and go straight to bed. However, my NaNo schedule called for 2,000 words and I’d only written about 800 so far.

More than I wanted sleep, I didn’t want to get even further behind than I already was, so I decided to tough it out and try to get in the rest of my 2k. (Like seriously. This falling behind thing has been getting crazy.) So, I burrowed under my covers with my laptop and headphones and opened my Word doc–

–Only to realize that, once again, the story wasn’t working.

Here’s the thing: This is my eighth year doing NaNoWriMo. I know that the way to fast draft a manuscript is to throw quality out the window and just get words on the page. I’ve won seven NaNos that way; I’ve completed five manuscripts.

But that only works when the plot and characters are going in the right direction.

I’m a pantser, which means I never really know where the story’s going. Despite this, I can almost always tell when I’m writing something inauthentic (like maybe a character does something that s/he would not realistically do, or something else along those lines). Once you reach a certain point in the story, it’s better just to write through these issues. After all, your worst writing is still better than no writing at all, and you can always go back and fix problems in revisions.

I know this. I’ve done this. In the first draft of one of my previous manuscripts, my killing-averse heroine lost control at the climax and shot like a billion bad guys. I knew as I was writing it that that is not how that scene should ever unfold. But I also knew that I needed to write through the crappy, wrong version of events in order to be able to finish the MS and thus then be able to go back and rewrite it as it actually was supposed to be.

However, that kind of logic doesn’t really work when you’re still at the beginning of the novel. When I opened my Word doc last night, I was just under 4,000 words into the MS. I hadn’t even reached the inciting incident yet. (I’d only just passed the catalyst.) Purposely doing something wrong at that point is like purposely building your entire house on a broken foundation.

I’ve been struggling a lot with this MS. As I mentioned a couple days ago, I’ve restarted this novel maaany times now. If we’re being honest, Time Travel Heist Story is me reattempting my NaNo from two years ago with lots of changes, because what I tried two years ago did not work At All but I liked the general concept behind the time travel in that one. (I’ve also stolen the scavenger hunt element from lat year’s NaNo.) (Basically I am really bad at coming up with new ideas these days.)

The point of all this is: I’ve been struggling. And when I opened that Word doc last night, it was with the knowledge that I would probably have to start over again if I wanted this MS to go anywhere. And after how many failed attempts I’ve made at telling this story, I wanted desperately for something to work.

I did like the first couple pages of this version, so I decided not to entirely start over from scratch. I’d just tweak those pages, delete the rest, and rewrite from there. I just needed to get this opening right if I ever wanted to be able to move on. Then maybe I could stop doing this constant restarting.

So I started tweaking. And reworking. And adding.

And as I went, I slowly realized that this time–well, I was wrong about needing to rewrite. The pages I was so worried about, that I thought needed to go? They just needed some more fleshing out. Some clarification. Some work on character development and dialogue.

And, more than anything, they needed me to trust myself and the story I’m telling.

There’s nothing wrong with starting over if you need to. It happens. In fact, it’s kind of my M.O. (Throwback to Camp NaNoWriMo way back in the yesteryear of 2012.) But I’d begun to fall back on it as a crutch, out of fear and anxiety, and that is the opposite of good.

I ended up adding all of the words I needed last night just in reworking. Then I was so swept up in the story, I kept writing. And I had to force myself to shut down my laptop after 1:00 AM. Then I lay in bed–unable to sleep, my brain was whirring so much, so high off of writing–that it was close to three before I finally drifted off.

And I’ve been thinking about the story all day, in all my classes and all through work. All I’ve wanted to do is come home and write. And even though I’m exhausted, I’d gladly stay up all night just to work on this thing.

I haven’t felt that way about a manuscript in a long, long time. And I know I currently feel that way about this one because I took a step back and reevaluated what I was doing before making the mistake of hitting delete.

So, the point of all this rambling: It’s okay to backtrack if you need to. But only do it if you really, actually NEED to.

Sometimes, if you’re lost, it’s not about starting over. It’s about finding yourself in what you’ve already written.

Goal for Today: 2,000 + 2,500 (from Sunday)

Overall Goal: 10,000

Current Word Count: 5,781

I’m off to do today’s writing. Maybe I’ll even catch up someday soon?

How are you doing? If you’ve been struggling with NaNo so far, are you maybe also finally getting into the swing of things? (Either way: Look at you, you magical writing person! Whether you’ve written one word or a hundred thousand at this point in the month, you are amazing simply for taking the effort to write at all. We’ve got this.)

~Julia

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