Rereading My First Novel

As you may recall, I participated in NaNoWriMo last November, and finished the draft of my first novel back in February.  In May, I decided to start revisions.  That was the start of my trouble.  You see, before I could revise anything, I had to reread it.  And that was a painful, painful experience.

It’s not that I expected it to be well-written or anything, given how fast I had to churn it out.  But it is truly, utterly dismal.  I expect I’ll have to do a total blank-screen rewrite, rather than just touch-ups.  Which means its going to take a lot longer than I’d hoped.

It doesn’t really have a viewpoint character.  It makes a lot of use of the passive voice (likely a carry-over from my scientific writing).  There are structural problems.  It has unnecessary characters, it introduces the villains too late, it doesn’t make the villains sympathetic, it takes far to long to get going, and it doesn’t really show much in the way of character development.

It’s almost enough that I’d want to just trunk it and move on to something new, but… I see some rays of hope in there.  Some potential.  I like the story.  And while there isn’t much character development currently on the page, it’s in my head.  So I want to try and actually finish a draft that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show to other people.  Something that might eventually approach publishable (even if I’m not sure there’s a market for it).

My next step in revising will be to do a scene-by-scene outline, identifying all the scenes that I’m keeping and their purpose in the novel, and developing new ones to patch up the flaws I’ve found.  If I can do that during September, I think that will be some good progress, and I can dedicate October to outlining a new novel for the next NaNoWriMo in November.

At least, so long as I get some of my own research done, first.  Sigh.

My First Novel, Round 2

I have decided that I will attempt to have a second draft of my novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo competed by July 13th.  That is two months from now, which, depending on which writers you listen to, is a reasonable timeline.  (Admittedly, however, they may be starting with a better first draft, but, hey, there’s no teacher like experience….)

In order to facilitate my rewriting, I am going to have to actually read the novel that I wrote.  To that end, last night I printed off a copy.  I printed it single spaced and double sided, and consequently it actually looked rather unimpressive.  I imagine that when I finish my rewrites, I’ll at least double space before sending copies to my first readers.  If I ever submit it for publication somewhere, naturally I’ll follow standard manuscript format.  But for normal readers, I can’t imagine that being the preferred format for reading, so I may spin things a little more nicely.

(Dicking around with the format is a nice way to feel like you’re working on it, when really you’re not.)

Anyway, I’ll post here every couple of weeks with updates on my rewrite and editing progress.

Panel on Speculative Fiction in Canada

So, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. This seems to happen regularly, cycles of on-again, off-again productivity. Fortunately, that means that we’re due for a flurry of activity here. For the next week, expect a new post every day as I catch up on some stuff I’d been meaning to write about. With my discussion of movies, I’ll go in reverse chronological order, so that my most recent experiences might be of some use in deciding what to see.

But, before any of that, some thoughts on an event I attended on Monday night. It was the launch event for the Canada Council Heritage Series entitled Foresight: Speculative Fiction in Canada. It consisted of a panel moderated by Michael Skeet, and featuring James Alan Gardner, Karl Schroeder, and Peter Watts. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take notes, so I can’t really offer a play-by-play. It was interesting and entertaining, however.

Given that there was some predefined focus on Canadian speculative fiction, most of the questions presented by the moderator were in that vein, covering the role of environment in Canadian SF, the difference between Canadian and American SF, and the like. Skeet ran a smooth panel, with Gardner, Schroeder, and Watts playing off each other’s answers — or occasionally contradicting each other. It must be said, however, that the best sound bite for the evening goes to Peter Watts’ definitive statement, “The environment is our bitch,” referring to how SF writers use the environment to make their point, not just as a setting.

The panel lasted for about 45 minutes, with a 15 minute question period at the end that had some good questions from the audience. One question I remember asked each panelist what current science is most inspiring to them, and surprisingly (given the differences of the authors involved) they were all interested in recent cognitive neuroscience developments, with Watts and Gardner specifically interested in the link between neuroscience and religion. (Caveat: I may be confusing the specific science name with something else, but I basically mean “brain stuff”.)

Much to my wallet’s dismay, Bakka-Phoenix was there selling books, and so I bought the story collection Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes from Peter Watts and the paperback Vigilant from Gardner. (I didn’t buy anything from Schroeder because I own all of his stuff already.) On the upside, I now have a few additional signed books in my collection.

Anyway, I’m keeping my eye on the schedule for other nearby events in this series from the Toronto Public Library. Naturally, I’ll blog about any other events I take in.

My First Novel is Finished!

Well, the first (very) rough draft is, anyway.  When I finished chapter 17 last night, the word count ticked slightly past 65000.  This is pretty short for a novel — perhaps too short to be economically publishable.  Of course, right now the novel itself is unpublishable regardless of length, as it is very rough, with atrocious prose, some very flat characters, and gaping plot holes.  I am hopeful, however, that these things can be fixed in the second draft.

The plan for now is to set it aside for a few months, and work on some other things in the interim.  I’ll come back to it in April sometime, and try to fix everything that is wrong with it as I see it now.  I suspect that will actually grow the word count somewhat, as I fill in gaps and plot holes and character backgrounds.  Once that draft is done, I might let some people actually see it.

NaNoWriMo 2007 is Done

November is over, and that means NaNoWriMo is over, too. The good news is that I won!

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 Winner

It was a painful, excruciating experience, and I churned out some awful prose, but I hit the 50000 word mark on the evening of Friday, 30 November 2007. Unfortunately, the novel itself is not finished just yet — I’m near the climax of the book, so it won’t grow too much longer, but I’ll be continuing at a much slower pace until its done. Once this draft — this first, very rough draft — is done, I’ll set it aside for a while and start on some shorter pieces. After a few months, I’ll come back to it to do a second draft, but I’m afraid that will be harder than the first, since there’s an awful lot that I’m going to need to fix up.

Despite being a painful experience, it was a good one. I learned that I can, indeed, churn out 50000 words in 30 days, although they certainly aren’t 50000 good words. I also learned a lot about how I approach writing, and especially about what works for me when approaching longer projects like this one.

  1. First of all, I need to write from an outline. This is especially true when trying to meet a word count goal, because otherwise my characters will talk in circles around each other while I try to figure out what happens next. I started November with no outline for the novel in mind, and while I’m happy with the story that has emerged, there’s a lot of dead weight in the writing that I’m going to have to cut in the second draft.
  2. Unless I get on a roll, I’m not good for much more than 500 to 1000 words per day. I managed to force more than that for this month, but it usually seemed that getting the first 500 to 1000 written each day wasn’t all that hard, but I just started to lose my mind after that, and the writing became much harder.
  3. I have lost any sense of dialogue, pacing, and overall flow that I might once have had. Figuring out how much dialogue I need to include, how much descriptions, discussion of action — I just have no idea. These days when I read novels for pleasure, I tend to blaze through them as quickly as I can, which means I don’t notice all these details that make a novel, well, you know, readable.
  4. I have to write from a point of view. Everything in the novel so far is external narration, with only a few bits delving into the psyches of the characters. I need to get inside the main characters head more, which will make him more likable and make the whole damn thing more readable.

I know that draft two will require some serious editing. I think that between drafts, I’ll need to do some careful pleasure reading just to learn how fiction flows again, and then maybe I can apply that to my own writing.

In the shorter term, however, the completion of NaNoWriMo is relevant in that I will now have more time for non-novel writing, as I plan to cut that back to 500 words per day. With my newfound free writing time, I plan to blog more, and have some (what I hope are) interesting posts coming soon.

Halfway There… Sort Of

My word count for NaNoWriMo currently stands at 26,233. This places me just slightly past the half-way mark for the 50,000 words needed to “win” NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, it does mean I’m a few days behind, even for just the minimal level of success, rather than my personal goal of 60,000 words in November.

It has been a lot harder than I had imagined to force myself to try to write 2000 words per day. Part of it, I’m sure, comes from not actually knowing what comes next — I’m thinking now that if I had outlined the plot before starting writing, I’d be better at churning out prose, whereas I currently sit and stare an the screen until I manage to plunk down something. And what I do write is terrible. It’s not the sort of thing I’d ever voluntarily show to people, it’s that bad, although I do have one reader as I go. I think the story is shaping up okay, thanks to comments from my sole reader, but there will have to be massive rewrites before it’s viewable by anyone else.

My big concern now is that I don’t know how long this story is going to take to tell. I’d love nothing more than to finish November with a complete draft of the story, so that I can set it aside for a while and work on something else. I like the story that is developing, but after 30 intense days working with it, I think I’ll want a break… and yet, I don’t want to leave it until it is done. Given how far along I am in the story at 26,000 words, I’m becoming more and more skeptical that it will be finished by the end of the month.  Perhaps if I’m lucky I’ll manage to tighten up my writing and move through the plot more efficiently in the next 25,000 words.

Novel Writing — So Far, So Good

So I’m two days into NaNoWriMo, and so far I’m on track with my personal goal of 2000 words per day. Meeting that goal, however, is taking longer than I anticipated.

Part of the problem is that I’m still trying to write something that isn’t terrible. This is, of course, a laudable objective, but when you have to write 2000 words per day in your spare time, it is one that must be sacrificed to placate the gods of quantity. I just have to keep reminding myself that I can fix it up and make it better later, and that no one but me has to see it in this state.

The other problem, of course, is that 2000 words is quite a lot to write in one sitting. I had planned to do it all in a row — a couple of hours, first thing every morning. But that hasn’t been working out so well thus far, so perhaps I’ll split my writing sessions in half — do a thousand words in the morning, and a thousand in the evening. I imagine I’ll wait a few more days to see if things become easier once I get into the habit.

On a related note, I had been intending to use Writer to compose my novel. I like the notion of the Open Document Format, which will help ensure that something will be able to open my novel file ten years down the road — even if I have to write my own software to do it. Thus, it was somewhat distressing to have it respond very sluggishly, and crash twice, taking a bit of text with it that I only managed to salvage by doing a print screen before killing the program. I don’t know whether this is the fault of this new version that I’m running (as the last version I used seemed quite stable and responsive), my computer itself (which has been kind of flaky lately), or the additional dictionaries that I installed, but all I do know is that when I went back to using Corel WordPerfect 12, that worked just fine.

On the topic of dictionaries, please allow me another mini-rant. When I installed this latest version of OpenOffice, being Canadian, I selected Canadian English as my language of choice. This would seem to be a pretty straightforward feature in a word processor, but apparently it is not, as once I started using the software, I noticed that the spell check did not work. After doing some digging online, I managed to find a suggestion to run a wizard to add new dictionaries, and was able to select Canadian, UK, and US English, and French and Canadian French — these being the language variants I might ever need to write something in. This did, indeed, get the spell check working, but I was rather put out that when selecting an alternate language as the default, the program did not:

  1. automatically install the necessary dictionaries;
  2. at least offer a warning that the spell check was not working because a dictionary was not installed;
  3. have an easier method of getting the dictionaries than launching some wizard that was actually what looked like a macro-laden document.

There was a warning that installing too many dictionaries might be problematic, but I’m not sure whether the five I selected count as too many. In any event, I’m rather irritated with OpenOffice, and won’t be using it again for a little while. (This is still good in contrast to the absolute loathing I have for Microsoft Word, which I do not use if there is any other option available to me. Even writing a single page letter in Word can be an exercise in frustration.) If WordPerfect manages to piss me off… well, I guess I’ll just use LaTeX, like I do for all my professional writing.

A Writing Challenge

This year, in an effort to get myself writing, I have decided to commit myself to National Novel Writing Month, which begins tomorrow. The goal is 50000 words written in November; I’m going to try to top that, and aim for 60000, which is a slightly more proper length for a novel, and gives me a goal of 2000 words per day.

What this means, however, is that I will likely be posting occasional updates on my progress. I will not be posting the work itself, since the goal for the month is quantity, not quality. And if, when done, it turns out good enough to share with the public at large, well… I’d look for a publisher, and it would vanish into slush piles for years at a time.

Now, my purpose in doing this is two-fold: the aforementioned effort to get myself writing more (in this case, “more” being “at all”), and to break me out of many time-wasting habits. If I am to produce 2000 words per day and still get the work I’m supposed to be doing done, then a lot of my online time-wasting is going to have to be cut. Of course, I’m not going to entirely eliminate my online diversions, but rather streamline them.

Thus, for example, rather than checking the online comics and blogs that I read first thing in the morning, and again and again throughout the day, I’ll check in the evening when the updates are most likely to have been made already. That said, I will cut out Wikipedia entirely — apart from novel-related research — so that I don’t get trapped in ever deeper searches of pop culture from my youth.

The hope is that, by the end of November, I will not only have acclimated myself to writing daily (and continue thereafter at a reduced rate of output), but will have also eliminated some of my more egregious time-wasting habits.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.