[Storyteller’s Howl] Keeping Writing On Track in NaNoWriMo

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I’m writing a blog post about keeping writing on track in NaNoWriMo instead of actually working on my novel. Honestly, this post is more about how hard it can be to keep on track. We’re less than two weeks into National Novel Writing Month, and I’m already having trouble keeping my writing on track and finding time TO write. However, what happened caught me completely off guard.

I sat down, opened my Word document and prepared to restart. Now remember, this story has been with me since I was around eleven years old, and I know every little detail of it.

Or so I thought.

I couldn’t make myself type. The first line hasn’t changed – it’s overly dramatic, but it still hadn’t changed…Right?

“It all started with Annabelle. My life never truly began until I met her; and that night on the cliff…I could’ve lost it all.”

THAT has been the first line of the book since it’s original inception. However, last week, when I sat down to try and start the book over, THIS is what came out of my fingers after nearly six hours of essentially staring at a blank screen:

“I don’t know where to start this story. Most people say to start at the beginning, but I don’t even remember my beginning. Not clearly, at least. I was two years old when my parents and sister were killed. I barely remember them now, except for one inescapable fact.

I will make those who stole them from me pay.

I suppose that’s where my story starts.

My name is Tyler. I’m a striped wolf. Not a common breed, no. But far more accepted these days than we once were, back when anyone with markings that suggested they were anything other than a pure breed were ostracized from polite society. “

I sat back and stared at the story that was starting to form on the page in front of me. He didn’t know where to begin? His age when he lost his family hadn’t changed, but what was this bit about some sort of social injustice in that world? I didn’t know about that. In fact, I’d never even considered it before. I assumed their world had a similar history to ours, but I never saw the need to go into it. Apparently their version of the civil war involved half breeds. What the hell? Social injustice, a main character who didn’t seem to know what to do with himself or where to start telling the story, short paragraphs that are more or less completely different from “his” original style of first-person writing and speaking that I’ve been used to for most of my life… What in the world was going on here?

And I was suddenly struck with the realization that the reason I’d been stalling for so long on rewriting this story is that it needed more than a simple rewrite – it needed a reimagining. And apparently that process had started in the back of my head where the character lives without me even realizing it. I’d thought the hardest part of the rewrite was going to be adding the extra five chapters or so of his growing up in the Renegade Wolves to the beginning of the novel – fleshing out a part of important character development that’d been missing in the original manuscript. Instead, I find out that there’s a whole new dimension to this story that has developed solely based on one simple fact.

I am no longer eleven years old.

That’s right – I’m an adult. Something that sometimes vexes me, to be entirely honest. I never really wanted to grow up. But when I look back, it becomes very obvious how I’ve changed in the last eighteen years since I originally came up with the basis of the story, and especially since I was fourteen years old when I first started putting pen to paper in the storyboards that would become the original story. At the back of my head, the world has been building in richness and character-building background even as I went about the aspects of my everyday life. I learned more about history and the world I live in, that world evolved to match.

What it all comes down to was the shocking realization that I can’t just sit down and write the story. I have to actually build up some background documents on the world itself before I can actively work toward putting the original Tigerwolf into it’s newest incarnation. Now for the big question – how has this effected my writing for NaNoWriMo?

Honestly…it’s effected it pretty negatively. At this point, all the writing I’ve been able to do has been bits and pieces of other stories and articles that I’m doing for work. Except for the excerpt I posted above, nothing else has been written on the Tigerwolf rewrite. This isn’t to say I don’t want to do it – I do. But I’m starting to realize that I made a mistake this past year by telling myself “Oh, I’ll just do it during NaNo,” and therefore not even THINKING about it otherwise.

When there’s a living story within you, an evolving world with twists, turns, histories and important characters, I’ve learned that you can’t simply assume that beginning from the same place you might have began when you originally conceived the world – especially if you conceived it as a child – will work again. For me, this has all but derailed my writing for NaNoWriMo this year. I’m over a week in with less than ten thousand words, and almost none of them on the same story. So here’s my tip for anyone who wants to keep their writing on track during this hectic month of literary abandon – do your research early.

Don’t assume that just because the story’s in your head that you won’t need to research. I made that mistake and it has derailed me. And yet, at the same time, I’m energized by the evolution of my world. It’s a real, full world now, and I’m looking forward to playing in it again soon.

But…not this month.

[images credit: KristinNador, CJD, matryosha, mpclemens]

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