Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo #11: Finding the Story in What You've Written

One phrase I heard a lot once I sold my book was that “writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” It applies to so many aspects of a writer’s life, and provides a bit of solace whenever you run into a short-term disappointment: a bit of luck that doesn’t turn your way, not being selected for an award or recognition, and especially—as you’ll read below—when it comes to finding the story.

Today’s tip comes from John Milliken Thomson, whose most recent book, The Reservoir, a historical mystery set in Richmond in the post-Civil War era, rightly earned accolade after accolade when it came out earlier this year. John is a working journalist and the author of several highly-regarded works of non-fiction. He’s the consummate writing professional, and I’m thrilled to have him on the blog today. You can follow him on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

“I think the value of NaNoWriMo is that it gives writers confidence that they can complete a long piece of fiction, like a first-time marathoner realizing that, after all, he actually can run mileages in the double digits. The paradox, it seems to me, is that you have to be confident not just that you can write long but that you can abandon a work that's going nowhere. Many writers I know get 50-100 pages in and realize that their story has no forward momentum. On my latest novel, I probably wrote 30,000 words before I realized I was writing about the wrong people; I dialed the story back 50 years and started again. I felt like I'd struck gold, and had no problem writing 150,000 words.
        A writer completing the NaNoWriMo challenge, if she doesn't burn out, will have either a good jumpstart on a novel or several ideas that she can follow up on. Of course, the real work begins from there. I have a friend who is a week into the challenge and already has realized things about novels and novel writing that he never had before. He said he had no idea how hard it was just to put together a coherent story, let alone give it pathos, humor, meaning, interesting characters, and all the other things that go into a good novel.
        Writing 50,000 words in a month may not be many writers' ideal pace, but there's no doubt it'll give you a taste of what lies ahead if you see the novel through to publication. My advice, though probably not what people want to hear mid-month, is: Don't be afraid to drop those 50,000 words and start over. After all, this is a marathon, and you've just started training.”

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