Monday, December 2, 2013

No Plot? No Problem! Chapter 9

Cover of "No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Str...
Cover via Amazon

No Plot? No Problem!

By Chris Baty

A Letter

Before Chapter 9 starts, Baty writes us a letter of congratulations. Whether we cracked 50,000 words or not, we wrote.  A lot.  In just a month.  Pretty cool, huh?

We get our metaphorical participation trophy when Baty explains that the fact that we even tried is impressive. We set ourselves up to fail, publicly, and then worked our butts off to succeed. That's ballsy (ovaries-y?).

Now, crack that bottle of champagne you bought last week.

Chapter 9: I Wrote a Novel. Now What?

So, did I win?

Well... I think the better question is, does my win come with an asterisk?

I went into the last day of the month with a bit over 40,000 words, and a good dose of optimism.
After all, November 30 promised a two-hour bus ride with wi-fi, followed by the Desperation Libation. Plenty of time in good settings.

What actually happened was a one-and-a-half-hour train ride followed by a "virtual" Desperation Libation, which basically meant me writing at home with a chat room dinging at me every few seconds.

But I wrote.  And wrote and wrote.  And took a 10-minute dinner break and then wrote some more.

And at the stroke of midnight, I submitted my manuscript... and was less than 130 words short.

Well, crap.

(What I actually said at the time was a lot more obscene than "Well, crap.")

Giving up halfway through sucks, but it's also a sign that this year, it's just not meant to be. That happened last year -- sometime in Week Two, I realized that the story was too dependent on research, and was not suited for NaNoWriMo. I am still writing the thing, and enjoying it, and I made the right call.  But to get that close and fall short? When 10 minutes at any point during the month would have put me over? When a single extra minute every day would have given me a comfortable cushion?  That just feels like personal failure.

(If you were in the same boat as me, note: I am most certainly not calling you a failure.  That's just how I felt, and I invite you to commiserate.)

But then Chris came out to see how I was doing, and when he saw that the answer was "not well," he took my laptop and peeked at my work.  And said, "Hey, there's no space between these words." He hit the space bar and remarked that I now had one more word. I grumbled that it was unlikely he'd find that 130 times.  

He accepted the challenge.

At some point in the wee hours of the morning, I validated my novel and was declared an official winner of NaNoWriMo with 50,070 words.

So, on the one hand, I did kind of need my husband to pull my ass out of the fire, so that seems a little asterisk-y to me.

On the other hand, I wrote enough words. And if my Internal Editor had let me, I would have seen and jumped on these typos. 

So I'm counting it.  I'm a little disappointed that I didn't get to participate in the enthusiastic congratulatory mess on Twitter or in the NaNoWriMo chat room. I wanted the backslaps and the cheers and the exhausted excitement of brothers- and sisters-in-arms. 

Instead, I got a (literal) gold star from my husband and went to bed.  Nothing to sneeze at, but not the first victory one hopes for.

And before you hit the "reply" button (sorry, folks reading on your phones.  I don't know why the comments don't work for you), I am not saying this to ask for congratulations! Cheering for someone who is bitching about not getting cheered is like saying, "Happy birthday," to someone who bemoans the lack of well-wishes, or saying, "Of course!" when a loved one asks if you're proud of them. It might be true and valid and enthusiastic and honest and well-meaning, but you're still only saying it because social niceties obligate you. For whatever reason, I didn't earn spontaneous celebration, so I don't deserve manufactured celebration.

But enough about my issues!  Did you break 50,000? How close did you get? Is there a gem of something awesome amidst the gravel of typos?

And can we get back to the read-along?

Baty warns us that now that our month of writing is over, we may well experience some doldrums (uh... see above, I suppose).  Despite this, take a break.  Back off from your novel. Take a month or so not thinking about it.  You have other obligations to reconnect with -- and it's the holiday season, after all.  You thought writing around Thanksgiving was hard? (Yes.  Yes it was.) Try it while decorating, writing out cards, wrapping gifts, attending and/or throwing parties most weekends, traveling, making candy/cookies/dinner, volunteering and/or giving to charity, shopping, reveling in the bazaars/light shows/etc., making sure the folks with December birthdays don't get screwed, and doing all the normal, everyday, non-holiday crap besides... and writing a novel. Actually, no, don't. I feel worn out just looking at my calendar for the next month.

But sometime in January or February, pull up that file and read through your novel. See if it's worth salvaging.  See if it's worth spending a year salvaging it. Maybe it's not.  Cool.  You still chipped away at your 10,000 hours towards excellence. Baty gives us a nice quote that I think I'm going to add to my rotation in the top banner:
.Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors.  Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day
 And maybe your novel is worth moving on to the next step.

Which is rewriting.

Which is going to take a lot longer than a month. Sorry.

But you know what's going to help you?  That Inner Editor you locked away back on November 1.

You and your Inner Editor are going to take your novel chapter-by-chapter (if you have set chapters... I don't, yet) and make a note of the characters and actions in each. This will help you see how everything fits together.

Then, break each chapter down into scenes, which you will note on index cards or PowerPoint slides. Lay them out and see what you see. Pluck out any cards that are clearly filler. Toss aside redundant or superfluous characters. Add new cards to tie loose ends together.  And make sure everything has a nice balance.

Then, shuffle them around and see what you see.

Another round will involve tweaking your prose. Expand the descriptions and lose the cliches. Make sure the dialogue feels natural and keep an eye out for anachronisms. Do real research if you have to.

And don't despair if you don't think your book will sell.  Rewriting it is a hobby, just like knitting or yuppie basketball or book club. Low stakes fun, and if something comes out of it, that's a bonus.

Finally, I want to say congratulations.  If nothing else, you made it though my read-along of No Plot? No Problem!  And given some of my rants, I think that's an accomplishment in itself.  I recommend you go read the book yourself next year if you didn't this year.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go spend some time not typing anything.


Aww, my last set of sidebars for this book!

In the first sidebar of the chapter, Baty gives advice on getting people to read your novel. Make sure they have similar taste to yours, and that they can give the criticism in a way you can handle hearing. Tell them exactly what you want them to look for, and then really listen when they give you their feedback.

Make a "blooper reel" where you plop everything you decide to cut from your novel. They could come in handy some day.

The third is another anecdote from a past winner. She was a successful, published author who was in a slump, and NaNoWriMo knocked her out of it.

Likewise the fourth. She wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo... and lucked into an awesome agent.

Sidebar the fifth warns that rewriting your novel takes about a year, give or take. You might get it done in less, especially if you put in the 50 hours of NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month).

The sixth sidebar provides some advice from a literary agent: make sure your manuscript is polished before you submit it; research to make sure the agents you submit to are good fits;  query multiple agents simultaneously; package everything neatly and professionally; be patient. 

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