Lessons from NaNoWriMo 2017

Every year I write a first draft in November and every year I try to learn something new while doing it. This year’s first draft was a straightish crime novel with the working title Project Cecil. The name doesn’t mean anything I just had to call it something and one thing I’ve learned in previous years is that I suck at titles.

This year’s big lesson is that I can write a novel without relying on fantasy, science fiction, or the supernatural. I’m just not entirely sure I want to. It’s really too early to tell if the story is any good. That wasn’t the point. A first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. But I am starting to question the logic of writing it.

I wrote a straight crime novel because a friend challenged me to write it. She challenged me because my attempts to get an agent or a publisher are hampered by the kind of stories I normally write. It’s not that they’re bad it’s just that they’re hard to market because they don’t fit easily into any single genre. My friend suggested that if I could write a regular crime novel I would have more chance of getting an agent or publisher interested and once I have something published I might have more luck with my weirder books.

My friend might be right. But I’m starting to think about the long game. My ultimate aim isn’t to get a single book published or even to get paid for a couple of manuscripts. My aim is a career as a writer and to do that I need to concentrate on the books I actually want to write. I like the story I’ve been telling but it’s not representative of most of the stories that I want to tell.

Of course it might still be worth taking this novel to Bloody Scotland next year and pitching it. Even if it doesn’t lead to the career I want it might at least lead to enough money to pay to self publish the other stories well enough to build a career that way.

This doesn’t mean I regret this experiment though. I’ve met some interesting characters while writing this story and I think I’ll probably come back to them at some point and finish telling their stories properly.

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Playlist Track 9 and 10

Track 9 is another song that makes me think about co-dependency but now with a heavy side order of loss and regret. If you’ve never seen the video then I recommend stopping what you’re doing and watching. It’s beautiful and poignant.

 

Track 10 is more about loss and regret and about how sometimes a brief happiness can make seem like a cruel lie when the misery returns.

 

These two songs take me into the state of mind of my little group of amature detectives. They’ve all felt a terrible loss they’re each one striving to be strong for the others. They’re each living with a gaping hole where someone they cared about used to be.

Why not tell me in the comments about the sort of music that helps you when you’re writing? Does it help you to concentrate, or help you visualise a scene, or does it create a mood. And if you don’t like music what do you like? Silence? Ambient noise? Podcasts?

All the Playlist posts.

My personal NaNoWriMo update

The good news is that I’m ahead of where I need to be. The bad news is that my plot isn’t a plot it’s a series of scenes that happen to my characters and which I may, at some point, be able to wrangle into a coherent narrative.

I have finally found this year’s Plot Ninja*. It turned out to be the deeply creepy personal blog written by my killer. So the one thing I can always write about is delusions of an untreated erotomaniac? What does that say about me?

The Fife region that I’m the Municipal Liaison for is doing really well this year. The group are supporting each other both online and in person. Fife is in the global top 50 for average word counts. That can only happen because everyone writing in the region is pushing hard and even when people fall behind they haven’t stopped writing.

Allow me to share my favourite bit of writing so far:

“I wasn’t going to apologise to Archie. He gave night vision goggles to a teenager. Creeping round the house at night is about the least worst thing I could have done with them. He’s just lucky I wasn’t stalking cute boys and girls with them,” said Maggie

Don’t you just love Maggie from that line alone?  No? Maybe it’s just me.

Good luck to all my followers who are writing this month. May your characters be loquacious and co-operative and may your Plot Ninjas be less creepy than mine.

 

*A Plot Ninja is the thing you write about when you’re completely out of ideas but you need to keep writing to keep your momentum up. So named because in one of the early years of NaNoWriMo one of the participants would just have their characters attacked by ninjas whenever they ran out of plot.

Playlist track 7

This one inspires more character development every time I listen to it. In part it’s a song about disability and co-dependance which are major themes in the story.

Like most songs by the Correspondents the lyrics seem both personal and specific. Their songs tend to get stuck in my head and send my imagination in all kinds of directions.

If you’re writing and you’re devoid of inspiration just look at a bunch of their videos on YouTube and if the music and the lyrics don’t get you going the visuals will.

For more of this go to the Playlist Page

Playlist: Track 5 and 6

Brace yourselves. Lots of video links in this one.

These two tracks go together, not just because the title combination and the swerve from folk rock to trashy pop pleases me but because these are both squad songs. In the real world no crime is ever solved by a single person, though it sometimes seems like that. That’s even more true in my story where each character has only small pieces of a puzzle that they have to assemble together.

Track 5

This is the darker of the two. My characters are in bad places mentally. They’re dealing with the loss of a friend but also with their own problems of physical and mental disability.

Track 6

No I’m not going to defend this choice. It’s my playlist. Fuck you. Fight me.

But seriously. This song is on here because it’s defiant and fun and because it reminds me of this song.

Bonus Track

This is a Tumblr track. I only know it exists because of my Tumblr friends (the RL friends who introduced me to Tumblr and the people I only know through Tumblr). My characters all have Tumblr blogs. Some of the novel is going to be taken directly from their blogs. We’ll get to see events through their eyes and in their own words.

The Project Cecil Playlist Page.

Playlist: Track 4

This track relates to another character with a traumatic experience of near death by drowning. This character however has developed a much more twisted relationship with water.

This character was much younger when they nearly drowned and the memory has mixed with hazy memories of watching The Little Mermaid while recovering and led them to romanticise the experience.

The song reminds me of the way that mermaids and sirens are used as symbols of dangerous women and their deadly attractions by a culture that pathologizes female desire. It’s also very chilled out which handy for a NaNoWriMo playlist.

Playlist page.

Playlist: Track 2

This is another great song to go on any writing playlist, though probably only during the first draft. I think of it as the unofficial anthem of NaNoWriMo.

This is the only song on the playlist that’s there to make the act of writing easier. Everything else is about setting or plot or character. This one is just to remind me that writing the first draft is the fun part. And it is. For the most part. It’s everything that comes after that’s painful

For more information: Playlist page.

Playlist: Track 1

This is the sound of my opening scene. The last moment in the story where my characters still think that order still holds sway. This is the music that’s playing when the person who’s going to be the leader of my little group of sleuths finds out that something bad has happened to someone that she cares about.

This is a great song to have on any writing playlist because it’s like musical prozac.

When i’ve been down at my lowest ebb – and that is pretty fucking low – I have found myself self medicating with this song using the 24 hour version. That’s not a typo. That’s a link to a 24 hour long version of the video though the page is a bit buggy at the moment so here’s a link to a YouTube playlist of it.

For more information about what’s happening in here see this post and this page.

Using a Playlist

A while back I wrote a post about how I use playlists to create an appropriate head space for the novel I’m working on. Some people found the post quite useful. With NaNoWriMo approaching and a new novel in the planning phase I thought I’d share the project playlist and how I’m using it.

I don’t have a title for the novel yet so I’m calling it Project Cecil. It’s a nod to one of my favourite writers, Warren Ellis. When he’s working on something that’s under an NDA he gives it a code name so he can talk about it on his blog or his newsletter.

Project Cecil is the straight crime story I was challenged to write. I was having a lot of trouble with it but the process of building the playlist has already been really useful. It’s given me a better handle on my killer and on some of the themes that are probably going to come out. There’s 33 songs on the playlist in it’s current form and I plan to focus on 1-3 songs per post.

That’s the plan but since it might turn out to be as boring as all hell I reserve the right to drop it and post something else instead. The playlist is certainly not the only thing I’m going to be posting over the next couple of months. I have a lot of thoughts about preparation and writing a first draft so expect the blog to be heavy on writing stuff and light on Zeppelins until at least the end of November.