NaNoWriMo in July: lessons from week two.

Well, they said Week 2 is the most difficult one in a NaNoWriMo month, and it was true for me. An eventful week with a difficult, sloggy morass in the middle. But I managed to work myself out of it and get into a writing highway again. I’m now right in the midst of “The Radio Andromeda” and almost 2/3rds of the way through my wordcount! But will my story be done by then…?

Lessons learnt this week:

  • Some writers get crises of confidence while they write. I may have a problem of overconfidence. Look, I know I’m a good writer and can write good things. So at one point, I found myself reading through what I’ve already written, and patting myself on the back. Sinister! Because that makes me less inclined to write new content, and more inclined to polish what’s there. Thankfully, there’s a way to trick this self-congratulating tendency: black out the text. (To think that the brain can be tricked so easily.) But I have to watch this in future.
  • Around Day 10 I got stuck in the midst of a boring scene. I managed to BS my way out into the next scene (realizing in the process that writing your way out is the only way to escape a rut, no matter that it’s crappy and full of holes), but got stuck again. This time, it was a don’t-know-what-to-write-next kind of stuck. Looks like pantsing can only get me so far… so I took a whole day off to make an outline of what I’d written, and key points to the end. It was immensely helpful: from this outline I saw how existing scenes fit into a three-act structure, crafted the yet-unwritten ones into that framework, identified recurring patterns and themes (always good for symbolism and foreshadowing), and found that I could write so much in current difficult scene that would add necessary exposition and depth to the characters’ relationships. This latter discovery alone added almost 2k words to the count over the last couple days. Now I have a clear idea of what to write next, but still with pantsing room. And it looks like I’m coming towards the end of Act II. A bit of outlining definitely helps!
  • But in order to write this outline, I had to give myself permission to take a day off and not write anything. I’m one of those people who prefers the 50,000-foot perspective on things. Writing the story gets me so close to it, I start missing the forest for the trees and losing my way. Taking a step back, a day off, even going back to read, was immensely beneficial to “reset” my perspective. I’m sure that if I hadn’t paused and reread what I’d already written, I would have missed the foreshadowing mentioned in my previous post. And NaNoWriMo is immersive and ongoing, and thus tiring. I probably need to have a day off each week to recover. That way I’m refreshed and can get back in with more zeal the next day.
  • It’s becoming more and more apparent that writing symbolism and foreshadowing that doesn’t sound forced/contrived/scripted really depends on pattern recognition. Pantsing is good in this way: just write, see what themes and motifs are asserting themselves, and then bring them up subsequently — all in a natural, unplanned way (which is what foreshadowing is meant to feel to the reader). For example, the foreshadowing I mentioned before: now that I know I want to use this as foreshadowing to that, the next time there’s an opportunity, I can subtly use this to point at that again. The first time, I wrote it without realizing this potential. The second time, I am now writing deliberately with foreshadowing in mind, but it still (hopefully) seems natural to the reader because the first one was natural. Same goes with story pacing and recurring motifs. Outlining revealed about 2-3 things in Act I that also appeared in Act II (again, quite naturally — I’d never seen this connection before), so now it’s a matter of revisiting them a third time in Act III.
  • Finally, the story is starting to develop some minor plot holes. (I hope they’re minor…) My lack of knowledge about certain facts, such as radio astronomy, is starting to really show in those pretentious sentences. Some other sentences decidedly pedestrian, not even any pretense to pretension. But hey — I need something to do during editing time. Forget the passages that are a bit frayed or lacklustre! Black it out! Write new content now!
  • I was telling an IRL friend about my story. Two scientists investigate a mysterious signal from outer space. One gets obsessed and wants to get right to its source, the other is very reluctant, resists, and they have a conflict. When I said that, my friend exclaimed, “Just like Mulder and Scully in The X-Files!” You know, he is quite right. So there you go, The Radio Andromeda = The X-Files. No new ideas in this world. And I don’t mind — at least now I don’t have to use so many words to describe the story to my less book-inclined friends. 😉

As of last night, I finished stitching that scene of 2k words into its position right before the scene I got stuck in. Today, I’ll have to finish that stuck scene and close off Act II. Now let’s see whether the lessons and sweat of week 2 really have cleared me out of the mess I began the week with. Tonight will tell!

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