Tag Archives: novel

Finishing the novel

You’d think there would be fireworks when you type the two very last words to the novel you’ve been working on every day, the one you’ve lost sleep over as you wake up at 4:30am – even on days you accidentally went to bed after midnight. It’s almost expected that the ceiling to the dining room where the computer sits will suddenly open up and cascade down balloons and confetti upon seeing those two words, interrupting the quiet you’ve tried so hard to maintain in those early hours with explosions and whistles in a celebration that the whole world you’ve created in over 100 typed pages suddenly makes sense, wrapped up in those two tiny words.

The. End.

I wrote them out this morning, tying a bow on the mess I’d created with characters who never asked to be born, but who behaved mostly beautiful in 25 chapters of chaos. I threw them to the wolves, breaking their hearts over and over. But I also promised them it would all make sense in the end, and to just hang around a bit longer to see where I was leading them.

“I have better plans for you than you know,” I promised them, playing god to these imaginary beings that became truly real within the confines of my imagination.

The. End.

There were no balloons, or fireworks, or confetti, or noisy horns. But here’s how it actually happened.

I brought my characters to their breaking point, placing them at the very edge where one wrong step meant certain death (kind of like a Bear Grills episode). And then, just when they were about to fall into the abyss of the situation, I plucked them out with my god-like reflexes, saving them from the depths of hell. Except the gratitude I received was more like a limp handshake, the visions I had of their miraculous recovery coming out in fits and spurts, not exactly translating well on the page. So I just wrote out what I could actually wheeze into typed out thoughts, crossing the finish line with the right amount of words (50,376 for NaNoWriMo, which amounts to 76,657 total words in 167 typed pages) and a promise that it would come out beautiful in the editing process.

At any rate, there it is. The shitty first draft of my novel is done, the bones to my magnificently beautiful final draft in the making. Year 3 of NaNoWriMo is a success.

And maybe I’ll just treat myself to a cupcake to make up for the missing fireworks. 🙂

NaNoWriMo 2012

It’s my favorite time of year – that time when I wake up earlier than anyone should have to naturally, pull out  my laptop, and write furiously on a daily basis, repeating the process until I have achieved enough words to make up the amount in a small novel – 50,000 words.

November is National Novel Writing Month, known to us crazy writers as NaNoWriMo.

It’s my third year taking part in the craziness, and will hopefully be my third year successfully crossing the finish line.  I’ve been anticipating today’s official start for weeks, almost as if it were Christmas.  This morning I even woke up an hour before my alarm in my excitement.  I got up in the dark and got dressed silently so as not to disturb my husband, and began to sneak downstairs.  But it looks like my husband was anticipating today too.  On the other side of the door was my laptop.  Apparently my husband woke up before me in his own anticipation of me waking up way too early (he totally hates it), and wasn’t even in bed at all but on the couch after a restless night of sleep.

Guess I’ll be writing without coffee until I can safely turn the coffee pot on without waking him.  😦

At any rate, here’s to us crazies who are waking up early and staying up late, as well as utilizing lunch breaks and any other free time, taking part in a month of literary abandon as we write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  Good luck to you all.  And remember, you can sleep in December.

P.S.  You can check my progress on the right in the NaNoWriMo widget, and become my writing buddy at nanowrimo.org/en/participants/crissi.

My own shitty first draft

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”  Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird.

Today is one of those days when writing the novel is an effort.  I woke up this morning and thought, ‘Why am I writing this?  What’s the point of it?  Is this even something worth reading?  And when the hell are you going to let your characters get the sticks out of their butts and actually start doing something?’

Today I felt that writing in a novel while I felt such disdain for it might poison it.  So instead, I re-read Anne Lamott’s fantastic chapter in ‘Bird by Bird’ about shitty first drafts and suddenly felt like everything was going to be ok again.  They way she described writing when she used to be a food critic was exactly the process I went through in the last month about an article I got to write about what it’s like to live on a food stamp budget.  I spent the last few weeks gathering information and interviewing different sources.  Last week I wrote everything down, as in every. single. detail.  The beginning was too long, the statistics listed were slightly snore-worthy, the descriptions were overdrawn.  I came up with 1400 words of too much stuff, and had to somehow whittle it down to 800 words.

Problem is, I had a hard time letting go of any of it.

So I told myself I could make a second attempt at it – hold onto the first copy and then post that one online, and make a shorter second copy for the one that would go in print.  This time, my red pen was flying.  I lost the first paragraph, cut out some of the statistics, and then deleted almost 2/3 of what I quoted from each person.  I called my final source on the piece and was able to wrap up the article neatly and smoothly.

And then I accidentally saved over my first shitty, wonderful, horrible, too long piece that I promised I could keep.

It was actually a blessing in disguise, to be honest.  The second article is much shorter and skips so much of what people told me on this subject.  But it’s readable and won’t lose the reader before the end.   I probably read it over at least a dozen times, finding something to tweak every single read through. And when I thought it was actually pretty good (and truthfully was so sick of it I no longer cared what someone ate on a tight budget), I held my breath and submitted it.

I then checked my email every 5 minutes from my editor to see just how much she hated it and wanted me to retype it, or even just pack my things up quietly and leave the building.  She hasn’t emailed me yet, but I expect it at any moment.

At any rate, I am allowing me to have a shitty first draft of this novel.  I am allowing my characters to feel too sorry for themselves in their predicaments.  I am allowing myself to give too much backstory and not enough detail about their appearance.  I am ignoring my 5 line sentences and awkward paragraph breaks and the fact that I use the word “said” too many times after a sentence.  I’m just going to write it out and let it be shitty, abandoning each word as soon as its on the page, allowing the story to be a muddy mess of a first draft.  And then, just before utter chaos and pandemonium break out from too much freedom and open space, I will sweep in and mold it into something that might be actually wonderful.

When the characters come to life

Thanks to a very vivid dream I had recently, I’m preparing to write my next novel.  I have the whole outline done and a list of the important characters with a few notes as to who they are in the margin.  And before I start the first sentence, I’m fleshing out a few of the main characters by writing a quick bio about who they are and why they’re the way they are, written in first person.

The amazing thing about writing is when things reveal themselves to me, the writer, that I didn’t even see coming.  It happened in the last novel I wrote, when a secondary character suddenly became so near and dear to me that she ended up having a huge part of the spotlight.  And it just happened to me again when I was writing about the ex-wife of one of the main characters.  She was the main reason for the divorce from the main character, and proves to be a roadblock for things moving forward smoothly.  This woman is cold and manipulative, resentful that she was forced into motherhood shortly after her wedding when all she really wanted was a  good education and a promising career.

Sussing out her details, I suddenly discovered that she was really afraid she wouldn’t know how to raise her son properly.  Her family had all been very well-to-do, with great educations and social obligations.  Her mother left raising kids to the Spanish housekeeper, leaving details like puberty, boys, and other delicate details about growing up to a woman who could barely speak English rather than being their for a daughter that needed her.  This character that I’m writing about always figured this was just the way you raised kids, even though it caused a really painful memory of her childhood.  When she became pregnant, her fear manifested into resentment, holding onto the things she was being held back from to hide the fact that she was really just scared.

You’d think as a writer, these details would be of my planning.  But to the contrary, it’s the characters who tell me these things as I’m getting to know them.  I’m only the messenger.

Beautiful nightmares make the best novels


I just woke up from an incredibly vivid dream. The emotions in it were so intense, sparking on every inner fear inside me regarding life & death, my relationship, and potential moments of jealousy. It threw them all in my face. It was so intense that I could almost physically feel anything I touched, particularly the warmth of a hand when I held it.

The whole dream held a peaceful sadness to it, and I woke up just before it became uncomfortable. I then laid there, trying to piece together everything that had just manifested, trying not to forget a detail. I was afraid to move in case any bit of jarring took the memory away. I wanted to cry at the sadness over everything I just dreamed. Instead, I grabbed the notebook I keep beside me at all times (or more realistically, one of many I keep all around me), and quickly wrote down everything. When I finished the actual dream, I imagined the missing parts and write those down too. I fought the urge to just sit and have a good cry. And when I was at the end, I had an outline for my next novel laying in front of me in rough, yet beautiful ideas and visions.

It’s hard to know what to do with this now. I’m afraid that if I don’t start writing it immediately I will lose the intensity I am feeling over the story. But I also have a rough draft of a novel I haven’t started the rewrite process on yet that deserves to be in its final version.

Do I dare to immerse myself once again into writing a new novel before the old one is even finished? I think I know the answer to that one. 🙂