I Did NaNoWriMo and All I Got was this Lousy First Draft

“LET ME OUT, YOU $**@&!!”

*shoulder thuds repeatedly against door, which finally crashes open*

In case you were wondering, that was my highly offended inner editor, who was locked away during the entire month of November as I participated in the insanity known as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to puke out a 50,000-word novel (roughly 175 pages) in a month. I finished today, and it feels darn good.

Here’s the lovely badge I earned.

Everyone who reaches the 50,000-word mark by November 30 is considered a winner. The use of the word winner in conjunction with a first draft barfed out in thirty days is quite a stretch, and my draft is no exception. There are plenty o’ drawbacks to writing like your pants are on fire. For one, I had to ice my wrists. My family already thinks I’m a little coo-coo, but the visual of me sitting at the computer with bags of frozen edamame on my wrists pretty much sealed the deal.

The hardest part? With the high daily word count goal, there was no time to revise. And let me tell you, that was painful. PAINFUL. My plot and character motivations changed a few chapters in. Halfway through the novel, I ditched my antagonist. I started using a second point of view. Left plot holes the size of Rhode Island. My inner editor was so outraged at being locked away, I could feel her red Sharpie gouging at my brain, desperate to break free and clean house on that mess of a manuscript.

But for as blucky as that splooged out draft is, I’m feeling rather smitten with its potential. Even though it needs a serious overhaul, I’m digging the story and characters enough to spend hours and weeks and months with them. My inner editor is going to have one heck of a field day.

Now the real work begins.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year! How was your experience?


Star Wars and the Art of Backstory

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In honor of my son’s ninth birthday, this post has a Star Wars theme, just like his cake. Nothing wrong with that kid’s imagination. He’s often engaged in imaginary battles, rife with explosions and mayhem. He arrests his sister in the name of the Galactic Senate. He talks like Yoda. “Time for dinner, it is.”

We recently watched the original Star Wars movie from 1977. It opens with farm boy Luke Skywalker discovering Princess Leia’s “you’re our only hope” message recorded on his new droid, R2D2. Throughout the entire movie, we don’t know Luke and Leia are twins. We have no foggy clue that Darth Vader used to be this likable but moody dude named Anakin. And it doesn’t matter, because the characters and story line have hooked us.

To a novelist, backstory is everything that happened before page one. Many writers struggle, especially in first drafts, with how much backstory to reveal and when to do it. (Thumbs pointing to myself, here.) It’s essential that the writer know the backstory inside and out, but the reader won’t give a hang about the backstory unless they’ve bought into the front story, which happens by serving up compelling characters in scene. Too much backstory, especially at the beginning, and you’ve put your reader on a one-way train to Snoozerville.

Star Wars got this right. The familiar scrolling text in the movie’s opening told us only what we needed to know. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .followed by something about forces gathering to overthrow the empire. Or something. Wee disclaimer – I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan. Too many battles and not enough schmoopy stuff. Precisely why my son IS a big fan.

Revealing the backstory at the right time is key. How can we forget evil Darth Vader wheezing out the words, “Luke, I am your father.” BLAMO! Waaay more powerful than if it would have been info-dumped into the scrolling text at the beginning of the movie.

Besides Star Wars, my son also loves to write. His current work in progress is about Anakin and Luke being brothers instead of father and son. (That whole Anakin/Padme love angle grosses him right out.) I love to watch the creative spark take hold. When Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was playing the other day, he said, “Hey, that would make an awesome title!” Then, as he sat down to write Ring of Fire, the Continuing Adventures of Anakin Skywalker, he stared off into space. His eyes lit up. “Mom! I figured out the perfect opening line. It’s this: After all that drama . . .” and then he launched into Anakin’s latest battle. I have to say, I was proud that at his tender age, he skipped over the urge to explain and got right down to business. Wish it was that easy for me!

On the Trail

As a writer, inspiration strikes hardest when I’m running or hiking . . . hence the name of this blog. Ideas also occur when my mind drifts during monotonous tasks, but calling this blog “In the Shower” would be misleading and probably inappropriate.

Weird things happen on the trail. One time a dead prairie dog fell from the sky and landed with a thud just a few feet in front of me. I guess the natural thing to do when such a thing happens is to look up to see if it’s raining prairie dogs. There, circling above was a bald eagle wondering what to do about his lost breakfast. I backed away and sat down, wanting to see what was going to happen next. The eagle landed on a fencepost and we watched each other for a while. Finally, he cocked his head as if to say, “You want it? I’m not that hungry.” But I’d already had breakfast, so off I went.

On lucky days, I find exactly what I need on the trail. Once, when I was in a particularly sour mood, I came across five bluebirds sitting on a barbed wire fence. Tiny as chickadees, their vibrant blue forms shone like DayGlo paint against the sagebrush and yellow grass of November. I stopped mid-run to admire them, half wondering if some talking field mice would appear and together they would whip up a dress for Cinderella. Rationally, I know that birds migrate in the fall and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But still, it felt like a sign. I left those birds feeling all zip-a-dee-doo-dah in my soul.

It’s hard to say what’s going to happen on this blog. I’ll write about things I like: books, music, nature, quirk, serendipity, and living in the West. I have a soft spot for relics from the past, which is why I love my husband. KIDDING, Darrick! My two wild children might spark a post or two. And I’ll definitely write about writing! Thanks for stopping by!