Monday, November 19, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 19 - On Crap

So far this month I've written 26,000 words.

Unfortunately, only 10k of them have been the novel.

The other 16k have been a magazine article and two novellas for upcoming anthologies. I also managed to sneak in a few online interviews.

Am I worried I'll have to shave my curly locks?

A little. Assuming I won't get much done on Thanksgiving, that means I have ten days to write 40k words. That's 16 pages a day. It's doable, but won't be easy.

Which makes this pretty exciting. I'm guessing it will come down to the wire.

Setting goals and challenging yourself, both artistically and with deadlines, is part of being a writer. I think it's a fun part.

The book itself is going well. It's coming together nicely, albeit slowly. I just wrote my first ever sex scene for the series (which is on the kinky side--I think Barry Eisler will approve) and the plot is shaping up to be the most fun of all the Jack books.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry: Writing Crap.

It's important to give yourself permission to write crap. Writers write. They get words on the page. Spend too much time thinking, questioning, judging, dismissing, and second-guessing, and you'll never get anything finished.

However, you should NEVER settle for crap.

Though Cherry Bomb is my 6th Jack Daniels book, it's actually my 17th novel. I can say, with some certainty, that my first six novels were crap. Everything since then has, in my opinion, worked. And each book I write seems to come a little easier, involve a little less rewriting, to get it to the point where it works.

So what makes a book work?

It's hard to pinpoint why some novels work better than others. It's even harder to judge your own writing objectively. Obviously, there are craft issues you can be aware of, like narrative structure, rising action, character realism, linear progression, and pacing, among many others, but being aware of them and knowing if they're working in you book are two different things.

However, I believe there's something instinctive, something perhaps even intrinsic to the novel, which can tell the writer if it actually works.

We all have moments when the writing is flowing, the loose ends are all coming together, and we feel that this collection of words and sentences and scenes is coming together as a pleasing, cohesive whole.

Sometimes we're wrong. What works for us actually doesn't work for readers. But sometimes--and I think experience plays a part--we're right, and we can actually feel the process working instead of worrying if its working.

Now there have been intelligent, thoughtful posts all over the Internet this month, about the number of awful manuscripts that NaNoWriMo is going to unleash upon the world.

My friend Marcus Sakey, who is as meticulous with his writing craft as he is talented (which could be a knock, but in his case it's high praise) recently wrote this on The Outfit blog:

Look at it this way: would you participate in National House Building Month if you had to live in the result? Of course not, because a house takes care to build.

I agree. But I also believe if you've been building houses for years, and know what it takes to build a good house, that each one you built can be done better and faster.

Here's the thing though: You don't have to build a house in a month.

Maybe you just build the frame. Or the foundation. Or the living room. Or maybe you do build the house, but it is pretty shoddy. There is no law that says what you build you have to keep. You can change the house, fix it, add it it, make it better, before you move in.

My first six houses were lousy. Uninhabitable. But I learned from them. So when I built the seventh, I got an agent. And when I built the tenth, I got a book deal.

Don't spend your time worrying that your writing sucks. The writing will tell you that later. Or the world will.

You just have to get the words on the page, and trust yourself.

It gets easier the longer you do it.

And it should go without saying that when you do finish that book, don't assume it's ready to submit. Get feedback. Rewrite. Put it away for a month and attack it with fresh eyes.

Your first house may not sell. Your tenth might not either. But you will get better. And in this crazy business, that's all you have control over.

Keep at it. Set goals and reach them. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn off the Internet, take a handful of amphetamines, and bust my ass.

Happy Thanksgiving.