NaNoWriMo Update: A Novel is One Elaborate Lie

Ah, the beginning of a new novel. It’s smooth sailing and wide open spaces every time I sit down to write. There are no pesky details nagging at the back of my mind. I can write anything, have my characters be anyone. It’s endless possibilities, and that’s really exciting and fun. Yes, that blank page can be downright intimidating, but it’s also very freeing if you’re coming from a book you’ve been revising for a while. The best analogy I can think of is that a new book is like fresh powder on a ski slope. I see it, and I just get excited.

Things start to change as soon as you begin typing, of course.

A novel is a series of cause and effect events. Seen from a different point of view, a novel is one elaborate lie. You’re trying to convince your reader that something happened to some people, and you have to present it in a way that’s compelling and consistent. Consistency will increase the compelling nature of the story, but compelling won’t do much for consistency.

So as soon as I pick a main character and start having that character do things, I shut down a wealth of opportunities that were previously open to me. The genre, setting, and conflicts are defined. The character starts showing me what he or she would do or wouldn’t do in any situation. And once they start showing me that, there’s nothing I can do about changing it other than going back and making changes to that character from the beginning.

It gets very complicated.

For me, I’ve found that I’m usually good to go for the first third of a story. I’ve got enough momentum and excitement to dash in and churn through the word count quickly. I’m setting the stage, introducing the conflicts, showing the reader what’s possible and what isn’t. And life is good. Then the second third of the novel hits, and it looks like this.

Suddenly, gravity starts taking over. The second third of the novel is the most difficult for me. I scramble around trying to keep the action going and make sure everything gets set up right. There’s a lot of “figuring things out” I need to do, and for a while, I inevitably feel like this is never going to come together. It’s important to me to know and expect this, because when I hit that second third and the going gets tough, it’s so tempting to quit. To just throw in the towel and go looking for some fresh powder.

The good news is I’ve been doing this long enough to know that–as I keep punching through that second third–something strange always happens along the way. Bit by bit, the pieces begin to fall into place, and somehow or another, I find myself in the final third of the book. And at that time, I discover that all that gravity that was freaking me out for the second third has suddenly switched sides and become my ally. I gain a ton of momentum, and I’m no no longer falling. I’m flying.

Well, maybe it’s more of a “falling–with style!” sort of a thing, but you get my point. The last third is just as much fun as the first. Things pop, I’m excited again. Fun times.

This is all just to say that I’m now 23,000 words into NaNoWriMo (well, actually 30,000 words into the book, but the first 7,000 words were written before November started . . .) and guess what?

It’s hard.

Trying to slodge through 2,000 words a day of the second third of the novel is tough stuff. The last few days have taken me much longer. and they’ve consisted of me staring at my screen for long swathes of time. And if that’s where I am, then I imagine a lot of other NaNo’ers might be at the same spot. What am I doing about it?

First off, I’m reminding myself that there’s an end to this feeling. I can’t be too far from breaking through and hitting my stride in the final third again. That helps somewhat. But I still need the discipline to keep trudging forward, and for that, I remember my original pieces of advice before all this started: manageable chunks, don’t fall behind. Stick to the plan.

It’s what I always fall back on when my writing gets tricky. It’s helped me finish twelve novels before this one. It’ll help me on the thirteenth.

Anyone else having troubles out there? Feel free to share. If I have any gems of wisdom, I’ll do what I can to help you out.

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