Gathering Up to Write

Most of my posts until now have been focused on advice. Now, I’ve been writing for a while, but many people can say the same thing, and I feel less as though my advice can be taken as gospel and more as a reassurance that other writers have found ways to goose the muse and push on through.

Nevertheless, this week, I wanted to try something a little different. Rather than frame this as an advisory kind-of post, I want to frame it as an outlining of my own process as I prepare for next month’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

Because, frankly, there’s a lot of preparing happening.

A bit of background, for those not in the know: November of 2015, I set out to write three mini “books” inside a single novel’s length, each about 15-20 thousand words in length, and every so-called book covering a chunk of a larger wide-spanning story. Brevity, however, has never much been my strong point. 40,000 words later, I wrapped up the first book, and realized I liked it being longer, and that each of the consecutive books would do well to be at least that long.

And so, the first draft of The Thousand-Year Queen was born.

That draft has been sitting around in my documents ever since.

A few close friends of mine were kind enough to thumb through it, and they said to me what I already expected to be true: I’d written this story intending it to be short, and as such, there was a lot of stuff they were missing. Setting, subplots, mounting stakes, descriptions, more development, more world-building… And I went back and tried to do some line edits, and I tried to poke and prod my way through it. No avail.

I set it aside until I began to feel like I had enough cognitive distance from it that I could approach the draft without as much bias, and with fresh new eyes. Until, if you will, I felt ready to take on the task of re-writing.

Cut to the upcoming Camp NaNoWriMo. A year and a half has gone by. “Now or never” are words hot on my brain, lately. And, as  bonus round, I was lucky enough to have a veritable burst of inspiration in the form of a brainstorming session gone right, and many new questions for me to answer. (I was trained to write essays with the goal of answering a question, which means that the easiest way to write an essay is to first think of a question, and use the allotted wordspace to answer it. I approach novels and editing in a similar light, sometimes. “What needs to happen next?” “What will create emotional impact in this section?” “Where is this taking place?” “Who does my main character (erroneously) think is the villain?” and so on.)

It was a fortuitous Saturday. I am still dealing with the fallout of that marvelous inspirational burst. Because the fact of the matter is, I now have several lovely pieces that I must somehow make sense of.

So I stopped by Target on the way to work, and I picked up index cards.

nano prep

This is what my desk now looks like, more or less. Some of those index cards have more writing on them. I’m very proud of those cards in particular.

The thing about inspiration, as much as I love it when it hits me, is that it doesn’t work for novels in the same way it does for short fiction. I cannot write a novel on a burst of inspiration. (Or, well, I can–but that is a long, sustained burst of inspiration and euphoria punctuated by feelings of inadequacy, devastating frustration, and other such common afflictions that writers usually suffer.) Inspiration for a novel looks like a key idea–like the perfect piece of dialogue for a scene–like a shining subplot–all of which must somehow fit into the larger picture of the story’s framework. Who knew novels were long and complicated?

So, again. Burst of inspiration, and then this stage. The stage where I jot down all the new and tantalizing ideas I have, and I begin to find places to fit them, and see how the story might have to change from there. I am creating, now, a more pointed and much more thorough outline than I had for my first draft. It’s certainly a better outline than I would have been able to come up with before I’d written the first draft in full.

(Outlines and different ways to do them might have to be a topic for another day.)

All of which brings me to my game plan: the re-writing of The Thousand-Year Queen.

I’ve got the drabbles of inspiration, I’ve got all my notes. I’m working the outline as best I can on all my index cards, ready to shuffle if needed. I’ve got a steadily-growing outline in Word that I anticipate printing out before April begins…

And then it’s a matter of writing. Not editing, mind you–but writing.

Because line edits aren’t going to cut it. Order is changing, subplots must be injected in, entire scenes will be added or altered… This isn’t a matter of edits. This is an overhaul.

That’s scary for me, mind you. I’ve never done a full-on re-write, except on small essay assignments back three or four years ago. This scale?  This many words, with this much fundamental re-working to accomplish? It’s a lot, and I find myself vacillating between unspeakable excitement and abject terror.

So I’m trusting the process. Inspiration, outlining, notes. I’ll keep the outline handy while I pull up two word documents, side-by-side: one new and fresh, the other, with a novel draft from years ago. Re-write, word for word, adding words inbetween, changing perspectives as needed, adding chapters, subplots, and for pity’s sake, remembering to mention that magic exists in this universe before the dead center of the novel, probably my most embarrassing lapse to date.

That, so far, is the best process I’ve got.

If you have approached this before, or have other ideas how one might go about the re-hashing of a novel draft, please feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

In the meantime, keep on writing. NaNoWriMo starts in less than three weeks, folks–here’s to gathering all we need to get it done!

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