Novel Update & Words Of Encouragement From The Professionals

My word count right now is 10,021 and I’m feeling a mixture between proud, because I’m not sure I’ve ever done this well with a NaNoWriMo as far as consistency, and concern that my novel is complete utter crud. I mean I like bits and pieces, but as a whole, it’s probably terrible. But I guess that’s in some ways the thing with NaNoWriMo – the goal is to simply get yourself writing and edit later. Which, as a former newspaper editor, is kind of painful for me. But I’m jumping around and letting loose a bit and it’s starting to get fun. I’m anxious to see where this story takes me.

Like most of you, I’m sure, I’m getting these emails from famous authors from the NaNoWriMo peeps chock full of information and quotes. The first two have been from Jonathan Stroud and Phillip Pullman, both authors that I think are pretty awesome. I read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy and consider Pullman a sort of literary god. I started reading Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy a year back and never finished but not for lack of quality so much as time and a huge pile of reading I had to do at the time for other things. Somehow I never found my way back, but I know I will be eventually because it was good stuff. Anyway, that’s hardly the point. I really just wanted to post some quotes from those two emails for anyone looking for a bit of inspiration and for myself for posterity’s sake, unless I’m using the phrase wrong. And then it’s for something else entirely. So yeah…

Quotes from Philip Pullman on NaNoWriMo:

…[T]he first thing you need to remember is that a long journey can’t be treated like a sprint. Take your time…

…One of the hardest things to do with a novel is to stop writing it for a while, do something else, fulfill this engagement or that commitment or whatever, and pick it up exactly where you left it and carry on as if nothing had happened. You will have changed; the story will have drifted off course, like a sh ip when the engines stop and there’s no anchor to keep it in place; when you get back on board, you have to warm the engines up, start the great bulk of the ship moving through the water again, work out your position, check the compass bearing, steer carefully to bring it back on track … all that energy wasted on doing something that wouldn’t have been necessary at all if you’d just kept going! …

…The question authors get asked more than any other is “Where do you get your ideas from?” And we all find a way of answering which we hope isn’t arrogant or discouraging. What I usually say is “I don’t know where they come from, but I know where they come to: they come to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.” That’s just another way of emphasising the importance of regular work…

…When I hit page 70 with my very first novel, I thought: I’m never going to finish this. I’ll never make it. But then stubbornness set in, and I thought: well, if I reach page 100, that’ll be something. If I get there, I reckon I can make it to the end, wherever that is. And 100 is only 30 pages away, and if I write 3 pages every day, I can get there in ten days … why don’t I just try to do that? So I did. It was a terrible novel, but I finished it…

…Every novelist I know—every novelist I’ve ever heard of—is, or was, a passionate reader. I don’t doubt that someone with determination and energy, but who didn’t read for pleasure, who only read for information, could actually write a whole novel if they set their mind to it and followed a few rules and guidelines; but would it be worth reading?…

…On the other hand, if you do love reading, if you cannot imagine going on a journey without a book in your pocket or your bag, if you fret and fidget and become uncomfortable if you’re kept away from your reading for too long, if your worst nightmare is to be marooned on a desert island without a book—then take heart: there are plenty of us like you. And if you tell a story that really engages you, we are all potential readers…

Quotes from Jonathan Stroud on NaNoWriMo:

You could write a novel about the act of writing a novel. It’s a heroic act. (Or so I tell myself as I sit here in my garret study, chewing my nails, scratching my nose and staring blankly at my screen. That’s what this is, I say grimly: a heroic act.) Why is it so heroic? Because it fits the mythic pattern of all great legendary heroes’ lives. It’s the story of a mighty quest accepted, of a long journey undertaken, of insuperable obstacles overcome and finally—in your case after 30 painful days—of lasting triumph won…

…At the beginning there’s a kind of honeymoon period, where I’m pretty excited by the idea in my head, and the possibilities it evokes. Sure there are a zillion details to be worked out later, and plenty of things that don’t yet mesh, but that’s ok—we’ve lots of time. I write the odd fragment and chuckle over the occasional piquant joke. I do a bit of research, visit museums wearing black roll-neck sweaters, scribble ideas down on napkins in coffee houses. It’s a pleasant calm before the storm…

…Then things darken a little. Time is pressing. I want to get to grips with the novel, but I haven’t a clue how. This is the ‘phony war’ period. I now apply myself seriously to work, but the trouble is that it doesn’t hold together. Scenes start promisingly but peter into nothing. Main characters turn out to have all the zest of a cardboard box abandoned in the rain. Dialogue is lousy. Description descends into wall-to-wall cliché. No fragment lasts more than two or three pages before being printed off and tossed aside. And still the real writing hasn’t begun….

…The heroic quest deteriorates into a dog chasing its tail…

…That’s why a deadline—like the one you’re working to—is such a good idea…

…I did exactly the same thing you’re doing this November, and set myself a strict schedule of pages per week to get the first draft done. In my case this worked out at about 100 pages per month for 3-4 months. Each day I kept strict records of what I achieved; each day I tottered a little nearer my goal. Five pages per working day was my aim, and sometimes I made this easily. Other times I fell woefully short. Some days I was happy with what I got down; some days I could scarcely believe the drivel that clogged up the page. But quality was not the issue right then. Quality could wait. This wasn’t the moment for genteel self-editing. This was the time when the novel had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into existence, and that meant piling up the pages….

…This is just a first draft, after all. It doesn’t have to be a perfect thing. I once met an author who claimed only to write when actively inspired. She was a fine and venerated writer, so I didn’t let my jaw loll open too widely in her presence, but I didn’t really buy her claim, and I still don’t buy it now. If ‘inspiration’ is when the words just flow out, each one falling correctly on the page, I’ve been inspired precisely once in ten years. All the rest of the time, as I’ve been piecing together my seven novels, it’s been a more or less painful effort. You write, you complete a draft in the time you’ve got, you take a rest. Then—later, when you’ve recovered a little—you reread and revise. And so it goes. And little by little the thing that started off as a heap of fragments, a twist of ideas trapped inside your head, begins to take on its own shape and identity, and becomes a living entity, separate from yourself….

…So what does my advice boil down to? Sweat blood, churn out the pages, ignore the doldrums, savour the moments when the words catch fire. Good luck with your novels. Those old legendary heroes may not have sat around like us drinking cold coffee and tapping steadily at their keypads, but for them—and for us—it’s the journey that’s the thing. That’s where the fun is.

How are your novels coming, fello NaNoWriMo-ers?