Sunday, December 21, 2008

Deep Cuts

One of the tricky things, I'm discovering, about revising a NaNo draft into presentable form is culling out the parts that I threw in simply for the sake of wordcount.  I've hacked out several scenes already and just tonight I decided that the story really ended about eight thousand words before I stopped typing.  So out they went.  The resultant ending is a touch abrupt, but further revisions should allow it to flow more naturally.

The manuscript has dropped down to approximately 78,000 words in total.  I have a few other scenes in mind for the cutting room floor as well, and they can depart more easily now that the extended ending has been lopped off.

It's almost like finding the statue in the block of marble--chipping away the extraneous material to get to the story I'm trying to tell.  I'm not sure if this is an optimal method for a working writer, but since I still remain in the ranks of hobbyists, I suppose it will have to do.  It at least feels better, as I think I may have said here earlier, to be talking about the manuscript I'm revising as opposed to the neat idea I have for a novel.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In the Valley of the Shadow of Doubt

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I think I'm doing with this novel.

Lots of people, of course, dream of being professional writers.  I've wanted to be one pretty much since childhood, when I discovered that people could write stories for a living.  My parents, avid readers themselves, encouraged me on this path, but suggested I have some useful talent in the back pocket to support myself whilst establishing myself as a fiction writer.

Unfortunately, I didn't really put that advice to much use.  I graduated with my shiny Creative Writing degree into the 1992 recession and jounced madly from a vague attempt at a journalism degree to an even vaguer attempt at an MFA with a number of odd jobs in between.

Since I spent a lot of time in science fiction geekdom, I moved in the circles of science fiction/fantasy/horror writers of varying levels of success.  The general expectation in that particular genre is that one starts with short stories and then gets published in enough places to have something to put in the cover letter when submitting a novel. While this is not an absolute path, of course, it's certainly an easier one than writing an entire novel and casting it to the mercy of the slush pile.  I did manage to write some things, but the usual hard knocks of rejection and criticism made me increasingly reluctant to put myself out there.  (Poetry was a nice refuge for a while, since all you have to do is be halfway decent to impress people at an open mike.)

Over time, I've gotten increasingly disenchanted with the tropes, the expectations and the outright badness of a lot of the genre.  No, I'm not saying that sci-fi/fantasy is automatically crap.  But because of its huge and fanatical built-in audience, it doesn't have to try very hard.

I want to be better than that.  I want to write something that people remember and think about.  I want it to be more a few hours of disposable entertainment.  And there are times, like now, when I seriously wonder if I'm up to the task.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Surviving NaNoWriMo

I did, in fact, make it.  Barely.  I was vexed by the fact that the site temporarily went down in my final stretch of Sunday afternoon wordcount, and when I resorted to what Word told me the wordcount was, it lied to me.  Or, at least, exaggerated a bit compared to what the NaNoWriMo site decreed.

So I pasted what Word told me was 50,000 words and the robots counted and spat back the number 49,911.  Ouch.  And I had come to a pretty good line to end on, so I didn't want to drag it on beyond that.  Fortunately, we live in an age where backing up and inserting things is a matter of a few points of the mouse.  (How did people manage to write novels on typewriters?  What did they do when you needed to add a whole new paragraph on page 98?  I shudder to think of it.)  So I took a few scenes that had been written in haste (given that was, well, nearly all of them, it didn't take much digging to find such) and added some marginally more detailed descriptions.  I nudged the word count up, paragraph by paragraph, until it reached 49,995.

I added five words: "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

And thus I obtained my nifty winning certificate.

It was a shameless, wish-fulfilling, self-indulgent romp and I did enjoy writing it, even when I was pounding out words for hours at a stretch over Thanksgiving weekend and neglecting to shower.  I am, however, neither egocentric enough nor masochistic enough to want to inflict the results on, well, anyone who isn't me.

So what was the point?  The point was, I got to spend time with some really fun characters, try out some ideas and discover how nonstop bliss needs a little disruption to be worth writing about.

After this little vacation, I hope to return to my waiting manuscript and revise it with a new eye.  I'm a little more aware of my own weaknesses as a writer after this particular effort, and perhaps I can work on strengthening those weak points in my revision, even if what I'm revising is completely different from what I just wrote.