Post-NaNo writing

I’m sitting here with my story open. It should be the easiest thing in the world to write.

You see, I’ve talked about the novel from hell before on this blog. It’s an idea, characters, plot that I’ve had since I was 12. It’s even a fairly decent one, ten years later. The original, when typed out (it’s actually the second draft; the first is still all in notebooks down in the basement) clocks in at 301,904 words. I’ve reread it only a couple of times since it was typed up. There are moments where it is cringe-worthy awful, where it’s clear that I had no idea what I was doing and everything is stilted and sounds like a monkey could have done better. And there are still scenes in it that I can read over and think “wow. I got *everything* right for those two pages.” It is a massive opus of a novel; there are at least three dozen important characters and the scene changes often and unpredictably. But by the end of typing it up, by the end of those first two handwritten drafts, I know these characters better than I know some people in real life. At it’s core, it’s a story of fear and war and treachery and despair that turns into redemption and courage and heroism and sacrifice. But that original novel, which is now on its fifth computer, isn’t anything even remotely like publish-worthy and the problem is that no amount of editing can make it so. Massive chunks of it need to be rewritten. Entire subplots need to be overhauled. The knowledge of a 22 year old who actually knows something about world politics now needs to replace the hopeless imaginings of a 12 year old who figured she could make it up as she went along. A handful of the characters who are adults need to be rewritten so that they don’t sound like mopey teenagers.

I’ve been trying to do it for the past decade. I’ve got a whole subfolder in my writing folder that’s called “novel from hell”.  It’s incredibly badly organized and things are as uselessly titled as v2.5.2 or such things. Or else “idea” or “something” or “scene”. When I get up the courage to work seriously on it, it usually takes me at least forty minutes to find the relevant file. I have rewritten it so many times. I have jumped back in time and tried to write the story that comes first, which is just as interesting. It has jumped from Russia to Canada and back again. Nearly all of the main characters have switched names once or twice, and some of them have then gone back to their old names. (I mean, come on. A character named Nicolaas and the same one then named Gregor sound like two totally different men to me.) I still haven’t decided if I’m even capable of writing it yet; I suspect I’m not. I won’t ever stop trying and I’m sure that one day, I’ll wake up and some of the more fundamental problems will have answered themselves. I’ll know which bit of the story actually has to be written.

For example, do you start back when one of the  protagonists is in university and first decides that he can/has to fix the world? Do you start after he’s figured out how to do it? Do you start it when he starts the war? Midway through the war? At the end of the war when he dies and his son betrays him (which is where the original story starts)? Because the story *used* to be about his son, Ivan, betraying everything after he decides that he doesn’t want his father’s world any more and turns against his father’s organization, and ultimately leads humanity to victory over it.  But there’s a just as compelling story to be told about Vasily/Nikolai/Nicholas, his father, and the rise to power and ultimate doom. Oh, yeah, and the difference between the two is that the Ivan story portrays his father’s organization, Svoboda (Russian for freedom), as the terrorists that they really are and the Vasily story portrays them as idealists with a cause and the means to get to a better future.

Anyway, one day I’ll figure it out. Until then, I keep the characters alive in a number of ways. Mostly through silly stories that would count as fanfic for the damn thing. One of those is the one that’s open right now. It’s supposed to be emotional and powerful, and I’m sitting in the middle of a pretty important scene. It’s even one of the rare ones that gets a name (as opposed to the dozen documents I’ve got which are all snip[number]). I know what’s going to happen, I know how it’s going to happen. Yet I’m just kind of staring at it; since Wednesday, I’ve written not quite 250 words on it.

I’ve told myself that I’m not allowed to look at any of the drafts from NaNo until January. It’ll take me a while to get through them, even if on the first read I’m just trying to get broad sweeps of what does and doesn’t work.  I don’t want to work on something brand new right now; I’ve not even got any particularly good ideas lately. I could troll through my possibles folder and see if any of the ideas grab me, but I don’t really want to. And I definitely don’t want to sit through the agony of trying to come up with a clever way to rewrite the novel from hell so close to Christmas. Leaving me with “The Last Day that Mattered”. Which obviously just doesn’t want to be written. In that, it gets something from it’s parent/predecessor/family.



Filed under Uncategorized

7 responses to “Post-NaNo writing

  1. The novel from hell sounds like it’s trying to be two separate books, at least, it did when you spoke of Ivan and Daddy.

    • kateness

      It’s two separate books. It’s a fking four or five book series. I know that.

      But I also know, deep down in a way that no one can actually tell me, that there’s some *essence* of this story that has to be told. Not that it would be neat that it was told. Not that it would be great if it was told.

      It *needs* to be told.

      And I need to figure out how the fk to tell it.

  2. jordanio10

    I have to agree with Lobster

  3. i have a story in the same boat and around same amount put in it. I have rewritten in a few times. I still have so much I need to add to it as well.

  4. kirosl

    I’ve got a couple like that. One I worked on from about 14-20, another I started at 20 and worked on for about a decade. The first will never amount to anything and I’m happy to think of that as my training novel. The second might make something one day, but I know so much more about plotting and characterisation and just everything that the effort required is probably just not worth it. I’m better spending my time on novels that have more originality and promise from the beginning.

  5. anne

    novel from hell. i like it. i should call the folder containing all the various versions of my book something similar. like you, i have a zillion different files, and folders within folders, and all that jazz. i don’t do fanfic on it, but i do worldbuild, and i have a whole frickin’ WEBSITE solely devoted to worldbuilding for this story. (not a published one; an msfront page database.) the story itself has been through at least three total rewrites, and, while it hasn’t switched directions as thoroughly as yours, my characters have been promoted, demoted, switched, changed genders, changed species, changed names… anything you want.

    i feel like it SHOULD work. there’s this kernel inside of the stupid thing that says, ‘write me! i’m a good story!’ and i want to find it, but i can’t. so, like you, i abandon it, and hide it within folders, and pretend i can come back to it later. i’m taking another stab at it in march and april, since april is zombie novel month on wriye (resurrect old and failed novels). care to join us? -grins-

    yours in (re)writing,

  6. Hi. I’ve been lurking for a bit, ever since I saw your quest on the Nano site to write a million words in a month. For someone who has a fairly steady job and likes to play video games and knit and do many other things than writing, I thought the task seemed nearly impossible, but I suppose not.

    Anyhoozle. I feel like I’m the same boat as you. Actually, our tales sound nearly identical. I’ve been working on My Novel (or, as it is now, three novels) since I was 12 years old, same as you. It’s evolved humongously over the past decade-plus, and gone through many, many rewrites. I’ve only ever finished a draft once. My latest working draft of 82,000 words was lost early this year from a computer crash, and now I’m rewriting everything. I feel like I’m not writing, but sketching, creating a rough version of what is to come later, with few details, terrible grammar, and flatter-than-a-pancake supporting characters. I guess that’s why they call it a rough draft. Anyway (again), my best advice is to not think about it. Just write. Don’t plan, just write from memory. You’ll forget all the bad stuff and recall only the good parts. You can always go back in and polish. But you probably know that. Good luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s