NaNoWriMo update

Posted on November 7, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)

It's a week into November and I've had a pretty good start with National Novel Writing Month 2010. The goal, as you will know by now, is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Well, in six days I've done 15,357 words, which is about 31%, so I'm steaming ahead.

It hasn't been a struggle so far. I've spent maybe 2-3 hours a day on it, which is not a huge stretch for someone who sits at home doing website design all day. I know that some people have to go to work and get back late and probably have limited time, so maybe I have a slight advantage there. But it's interesting reading comments from others and looking at word counts. I have a small list of buddies here who are all doing well. If you click on one of those buddies, Gioclair, you can see a longer list of 25 buddies, of which 16 have 0 word count so far... which makes me wonder why they even bothered to sign up! On the flip side, Kaiberie is steaming ahead with 34,456 words. Way to go!

Opinions vary about whether NaNoWriMo is a worthwhile exercise. Some snooty types say that it's a waste of time, that the output will be terrible and unpublishable. Well, of course it will! There's no way on earth a novel can be publishable in just 30 days. The first draft can be banged out in that time, but there's a lot of editing to do afterward, and that can take months. And even then snooty types announce, in their most knowledgeable and expert voice, that a NaNo novel "will take at least a year to knock into shape."

I've read that agents start moaning on 1st December when they receive a slew of hopeless manuscripts in the mail. I can understand that. I'm sure many thousands of NaNo writers who finish their novel in time actually think it's ready to be sent out to publishers and agents without further ado. But of course the novel has to be worked on first. Banging out the first draft is just the start. However, it's a good start. It seems that some writers finish a chapter very slowly, painstakingly getting every word just right and running it through twenty edits before moving on to the next chapter. So when they get to the end, the novel is very close to really being finished. But many other writers take the opposite approach – write it fast, get it done, don't worry about perfect wording, just keep the pace going until the end. Then go back and edit. That's my approach, and I find it more satisfying. I don't want to be endlessly fiddling with details and word choices in chapter four when I'm already thinking ahead to exciting events in chapter eighteen!

Some writers never finish their novel because of the endless fiddling. That's the point of NaNoWriMo – to get words on paper. It's not to produce a perfect novel, it's just to get writers over the hump, make them feel good about themselves and allow them to move on to the next step: the editing.

There are other types of WriMos though. Many writers have no problem finishing a novel, are self-motivated enough to finish what they started. The purpose of NaNoWriMo, then, is slightly different. Personally, I'm participating because it's been a while since I wrote anything and I plan to start on my fourth Island of Fog book in the New Year... but in the meantime I thought I'd bang out a novel that might otherwise have to wait until late 2011, by which time I might have forgotten half of it. It's turning out to be quite useful, getting this novel out of my system in a short but concentrated effort. It might not be much good right now, and may never be any good... or it might be really great and worth putting extra effort into. Those snooty types who say NaNoWriMo is a waste of time and energy? I'd disagree and say that it's a great way to save time and energy – by getting the first draft written in a short amount of time instead of wasting half a year or more doing bits here and there.

Okay, so having said all that, here's a largely unedited snippet from my first draft, about 20 pages in. Travis Knott (12) and his family and neighbors are having a weenie roast in the back yard. Travis is sent indoors to fetch a sweater for his younger sister, Ellie. While inside, the house sinks into the ground. It's the deepest sinkhole in history, but the house has somehow remained intact. Badly damaged, but intact. Some strange forces must be at work here, Travis thinks, as he awaits rescue in the darkness thousands of feet below ground. Then he discovers that he may not be alone...

Excerpt from BUBBLEWORLD (working title)...

      He roused himself enough to creep around and blow out the candles in the bathroom, hallway, kitchen and living room, then returned to the sofa, grateful for the wan illumination of the glow sticks. He patted his pocket to check for the flashlight, then allowed himself to fall sound asleep.
      Sometime later, he heard a shuffling noise. It woke him with a start. He listened, tense, holding his breath.
      He heard nothing and after a while let out a soft sigh. Did the glow sticks seem fainter now? He pulled out the flashlight and shone it on the clock. 3:15 AM.
      He heard shuffling again, and sucked in a breath. He whipped the flashlight around, seeking the source of the noise. Was it in the room with him? No, it was in the hallway. Rescue workers? Doubtful. If they were rescue workers, they would be making more noise, shining bright lights around, yelling his name. And surely they'd be entering the house from the top end, through the small living room window that Travis had used. After all, that was the first point of entry a rescue crew would come across if they had descended the shaft and headed down the tunnel. They wouldn't climb over the roof and somehow enter at the lower end.
      So... what then?
      He listened hard, and when the sound came again, Travis decided that it wasn't the noise of a small rodent. It was bigger than that. It sounded like the shuffling of feet on a floor strewn with debris.
      Someone had fallen in with him.
      The idea struck Travis like a thunderbolt. Someone around the weenie roast had slipped into the sinkhole with the house, had fallen, somehow survived, had lain unconscious for hours, and was now shambling around in the darkness, probably severely injured.
      Travis was on his feet in moments, skidding toward the hallway, calling out. He flashed his beam around. Nothing. Perhaps in a bedroom then. "Hello?" he called again. "Where are you?"
      No answer.
      Travis peered into each room as he went, shining his flashlight into every corner. First the bathroom, then the creepy laundry room. Then his parents' room. Still nothing. Then Ellie's room.
      This was where he saw something that froze him to the spot. In the bright flashlight beam, he saw a large, upright figure that his brain couldn't make sense of. It was man-sized, but it wasn't a man. He only glimpsed it for a second, and then it was tumbling out of Ellie's bedroom window into the narrow gap under the eaves where the tunnel wall pressed against it. The figure was gone in moments, and Travis was left shaking violently, his beam jerking across the room.
      It was a while before he was able to force himself into action. He scrambled for the living room and cowered in the corner behind the sofa, quivering with fright, trying to decide if it would be better to switch off the flashlight and hide in the dark corner, or switch it on so he could easily see what was coming for him. In the end he switched it off and hunched into a ball, aware that his heart was thumping about ten times faster than normal.
      In his mind, the one-second image of the creature played over and over. It was shapeless and gray – a lumpy figure with only a vague suggestions of limbs, and a mass of growths all over, like tumors on top of tumors, and... and what looked like intestines wrapped around its midsection, and a brain spilling over its head –
      Travis shuddered, trying to shut it out.
      Somewhere in its face, or rather the featureless area on its head where the face should be, two tiny black eyes had stared back at him. Just for that one frozen second, the creature had seen him.
Comment by NIGEL ROWE on Sunday, November 7, 2010...

I want to read more! A really promising excerpt Keith. Not sure about not being unable to write a novel in a month though, didn't Enid Blyton write a Famous Five novel in 5 days?

Comment by VANESSA on Sunday, November 7, 2010...

Ooo! Sounds like just the sort of stuff I like to read! Can't wait to read more!

Comment by MICHELLE MAGILL on Sunday, November 7, 2010...

Well done Keith - you are rocketing ahead - and the excerpt is great.

I had a 'hold your breath' moment today when my file from yesterday wouldn't open. I wouldn't have lost everything because I save daily files but still the thought of losing a day's work wasn't a nice moment. After much fiddling I've managed to open it at last and am creating new files!
:D Michelle

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Sunday, November 7, 2010...

Nigel, I did think about Enid Blyton reportedly writing a 40,000-word novel in four days (with Friday off)... but I think she was a special case! I don't know how true that is, but she didn't seem to need (or do) much editing, as we know from her constant "oh, I happen to have a rope tied around my waist" scenes! Plus, she used a typewriter. Can you see her retyping pages? Best she could do was make pen marks on the typed pages.

Nessie, you can have first read when it's done. :-)

Michelle, that reminds me to back up everything. I tend to upload a copy to my online server (where I keep website stuff) in case my hard drive ever fails, or someone steals my laptop. But yes, even a day's work lost would be a pain.

Comment by DADDEE on Monday, November 8, 2010...

( Nessie, you can have first read when it's done. :-) )

Sniff. Why not me. ? :-(( Got to have something to read while waiting for book four.
Good stuff, as usual, Keith. Don't know where you get all your ideas from.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Monday, November 8, 2010...

Oh, well, all right, I'll send you an early copy too, DaDDee! And my ideas come from the Idea Box at the back of my head, obviously. Doesn't everyone have an Idea Box?

Comment by LAURA CANNING on Monday, November 8, 2010...

Great stuff as always Keith - I'm really envious of the way you can come up with these plots :)

NaNoWriMo isn't really for me as I found the one time I did it I only had a vague plot so found myself waffling every day to make up the word count...I did find that, as promised, plot does come out of nowhere when you're pushed, but I think it's best to start with more than a rough four word synopsis! Mind you, I've been stuck at 20,000 words in the new novel for about a month now, so clearly some sort of kick up the bum is needed...

Ideas Box? Is that the same box you keep the Rizlas in?


Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Monday, November 8, 2010...

Yes, you need more than a four word synopsis! I wouldn't be doing NaNoWriMo either, if I hadn't already got an idea and summary in place. For me, this is a push to get the novel written, not a push to write for the sake of writing. As you said, if I didn't have any idea what I was writing about, then I wouldn't be writing either.

My Ideas Box doesn't contain Rizlas, no, although I have heard that some pretty wacky ideas can come from roll-ups. But no, my Ideas Box contains nothing more than innocent Cheezits. I find they help me come up with cracking good ideas, even if they're a little cheesy.

Comment by BRIAN CLOPPER on Monday, November 8, 2010...

Your snippet is just splendid! I loved reading the interactions of the father and son and love the thoughts you share from the father's perspective.

You're writing with such gusto and quantity that it's really getting me to push myself.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Tuesday, November 9, 2010...

Thanks, Brian. And your trying to catch up to me gives me a boost too! ;-)

(I should add for other readers that Brian's read two snippets, hence the "father-son" interaction he mentioned.)

Comment by SMUGGLER'S TOP on Tuesday, November 9, 2010...

I like the atmosphere that just that small section exudes. It draws you in and then grips you as you feel the same panic that Travis does. I enjoy this style of writing, something that allows the reader the freedom to imagine the scene, rather than have every little facet laid out in front of you. Look forward to more.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Tuesday, November 9, 2010...

Wow, thanks, Smuggler's Top! :-)

(*Sigh* Five Go To Smuggler's Top... one of the better Famous Five books, in my opinion.)

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