Tuesday, November 30, 2010


And you thought I was done with obscure titles...

In case you couldn't guess, the theme for today is reflecting on National Novel Writing Month. As I off-handedly predicted some time ago, I didn't win. The Fool's Errand came in at 18,307 words. Distant and no cigar. I mean, in theory, I could have pulled an all-nighter last night (and an all-dayer, followed by an until-midnighter) and maybe managed it, but it wouldn't have been any fun and it wouldn't have been fair to my kids, colleagues, or principal (the Abigail would probably have been ok with it). However, as always, I come away with some important lessons.

Most strikingly, I have realized that I can't write a novel that I don't believe in. Weird, huh? I wonder if there's anyone else in the world suffering from this bizarre disability.

Facetiousness aside, I have also realized, in light of the last three years of NaNo, that the best way to tell if I really believe in a novel is whether or not I have passed through five or six versions, dicked around with several kinds of notes and setting bibles, and switched beginnings and point of view schemes several times. In 2008, I didn't finish Ghostly Tam Lin, because I didn't really believe in it and it was a brand new project. In 2009, I finished What Sacred Games One: Heaven and Earth, which was the newest version of an idea I'd been kicking around for about five years and for which I had exhaustive mental notes and an abortive first draft. And now, in 2010, I didn't finish The Fool's Errand, another brand new project which I think is neat but - in retrospect - don't really believe in either (though, as the Abigail pointed out, I definitely had more faith in The Fool's Errand than I ever did in Ghostly Tam Lin). Stepping outside of NaNo, I was finally able to finish Knights of the Land under similar circumstances.

I hear you asking yourself: "So, what's the big deal? Mark is good at finishing stuff that he's dicked around with for years? But seriously, who isn't? I mean, finishing stuff is admirable, but how is that really useful?" Clearly I have magic powers, since I can read your thoughts in such detail.

What's useful about this realization is the secondary realization: I am much less of a discovery writer than I thought I was. Discovery writers make it up as they go along. That's how I write... the first time. The second time I attack a project, however, I'm building off the ruins of the first attempt. And the third time, I'm building off the ruins of the second. Periodically I break the structure down and build something only vaguely similar out of the same bricks, and then build on the new structure with subsequent iterations. And so on, until completion.

Essentially (and this is the Cliff's Notes version), I am using drafts as outlines. Which means that I'm more of an outliner than I thought I was. More importantly, this means that maybe if I try actually writing an outline with my ideas, rather than a series of abortive drafts, I could shave many drafts - and possibly many years - off my creative process.

Of course, I still need a way to figure out which ideas I am sufficiently passionate about to make them worth my while... but I'll tackle this one problem at a time.

So, I don't win a NaNo crown this year. Instead, I take home the good start to a novel that I might finish some day and some hard earned lessons. While victory would have been nice, I can't really ask for more.

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