It’s been 50,000 or so words since we last chatted. And over a month. I always overestimate how much I am going to want to blog during the month of November. The reality is that I am fully focused on that 50k goal and there just isn’t much left over for blogging. Will somebody remind me of that next year, please?
The truth is that beyond reaching 50,000 words (and no, I will not stop saying it) is that I learned something this go round about how I write. That little insight is key to how I will approach every book from now on, forever and ever. Want to know what it was?
I don’t have a solid plot until I hit at least 40,000 words.
I know. It sounds so weird. But this is the second time this has happened and it’s just… that can’t be a coincidence, can it?
I always have an idea of what I want to write about when I start a book. There’s a question and an answer and around 85,000 words in between the two, give or take. I write mostly in a linear fashion, starting with what I see as the opening scene and moving forward with my characters, trying to find the most obvious path from start to finish. Usually around 30,000 words into it, I start to panic.
This panic sets in because I now have a 30,000-word plot that is three-quarters complete. It’s also just straight main plot. And it’s disjointed. There are holes. There are unanswered questions. There are plot changes halfway through. In other words, it’s a HOT MESS of a first draft. It doesn’t feel coherent. It doesn’t even feel like a book. I forget characters and drop threads. It’s awful.
I keep writing.
That’s the key right there. I want to ditch the whole thing. Throw it in the digital dustbin and start anew with the zombie cleaning crew story I have bubbling in my head that sounds so much more fun. But, I remind myself that it’s NaNo, and I want to get to 50,000 words (did I mention that I won this year?) and I only lack 20,000 words and I can do it.
So I make an agreement with myself. If I make it to 50,000 words and I still hate it, I can set it aside and write the zombie book.
But then magic happens at around 40,000 words. The plot gels. Side plots reveal themselves. The characters start demanding attention, and the whole thing gets a whole new level of excitement. It’s at this point that I can sit down with pen and paper and chart out the plot and figure out how to get to the end, which is even more exciting than the zombie cleaning crew discovering a dead body after hours.
It happened with book one of this series, that I hit 50,000 words in October, and now again with book two (50,000 words in November – winning NaNoWriMo). If anything, this tiny thread of a pattern just amps me up to bust out another book, knowing that if I can just get to 40,000 words it will be okay.
I wish this were easier. I wished that every day in November when I would sit down in front of a blank screen in Scrivener and not know what to write next. I wish I had some magic formula, but I don’t. The cold, hard truth is that if you want to write a book you have to sit down and just start typing. Or writing, if that’s your jam. You just have to keep typing until the words make sense.