Writing 50,000 words in a single month is a big ask, and it looks like I won’t be able to reach that goal again this year. I’ve made good progress on this draft, though, so it’s not like the exercise has been a total waste of time. I expect to have a first draft of Following Seas (working title) done by the end of the year, and certainly participating in NaNoWriMo has helped get me there.
So today is Thanksgiving. And whether you’re a religious person or not, it’s tradition in this country to say a few words about what exactly it is you’re thankful for. Often this takes the form of going around the dinner table one by one, but if you know anything about me at all, you know that I don’t like that sort of thing all that much. Sooooo, this year I’ve decided to do it in the form of a blog post.
I’ve been thinking lately about the books I read early in my life that shaped the desire in me to write one of my own one day. In general, I don’t like to think in terms of “influences,” because I’ve found that using that term creates expectations of similarity in theme or style or whatever. (I remember when I was playing in bands in high school, it was customary for musicians to ask each other who their influences were, so that we would know what to expect from them, how to judge them, and whether or not to give a shit about them in the first place.) But I am glad I read each of these books at some point in my life, as I feel each of them contributed in some way to the publication of How I’m Spending My Afterlife, as well as to whatever’s next for me.
Also, I think it’s telling that I still have a copy of all seven of these on my shelf.
So here’s the list:
- The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) – I read this book in the fifth grade. I’d seen the TV miniseries (Bradbury thought it was boring) by that point, and of course the first thing I noticed was how different the book was from that. I enjoyed the sprawling, rambling narrative style of the book, which is not so much a novel as it is a series of linked stories about humanity trying to colonize Mars over the course of the early 21st century.
- The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (Douglas Adams) – My parents got me the boxed set of these for Christmas when I was 12 or 13. Adams is one writer whose influence I can often clearly see in my own work, usually when I’m trying to be funny. And no matter how hard I work on that, I will never nail it the way he did.
- Devil in a Blue Dress (Walter Mosley) – Mosley’s first novel was the one that showed me that straight-up genre fiction didn’t have to be superficial and by-the-numbers, even when it did check all the required boxes. It’s an unexpectedly deep work.
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle (George V. Higgins) – If you want to know how dialogue can drive a story – and I mean really drive it – this is the one to read. I still love it, even if I am completely over the whole Boston gangster thing.
- My Secret History (Paul Theroux) – This is my favorite of Theroux’s books. It’s a big, probably at least semi-autobiographical novel that I come back to every few years; each time, I get something new out of it.
- Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) – I read this a few years after it came out, when I was in high school and before American Psycho was published. More than any other single book, this is the one that pushed me toward considering trying to really write my own stories. Of course, the down side is that everything I wrote for a couple years afterward was a straight-up Ellis ripoff, which may have contributed to my decision to walk away from writing when I was in my early 20s. So, a mixed bag there, then.
- Deliverance (James Dickey) – The storyline is pretty straightforward, but the language is so elegant and poetic throughout that it belies the gruesomeness of the plot, or at least certain elements of it. I consider it one of the best American novels ever written, period.
What about you? What books are you thankful for?
So today and yesterday have been slow going. I’m on Chapter Eight, which is the first (and may end up being the only) chapter written from the POV of the captain of the ship. I’m not entirely certain why this one has been so maddening, but the first draft mojo that carried me through the first seven chapters seems to have evaporated. Writing this chapter has been like a day trip to the DMV, and I hope to finish it tomorrow so I can get to Chapter Nine and close out Part Two (out of five) of the novel.
Stats so far: 25,000 words, about 6500 of which already existed. So call it 18,500 for the month then. The total word count so far works out to about 90 pages or so, and I’m on track for a first draft total word count of about 70,000 (I seem to write short first drafts; with How I’m Spending My Afterlife, the first draft was about 65,000 words, but the published version ended up with 82,000).
Next update (but probably not the next blog post) will be sometime next week.
Self-deception gets in our way, trips us up, makes us do bone-stupid things. We all suffer from it from time to time. Luckily, most of us recognize this and, at least sometimes, try to compensate the best we can.
But sometimes we don’t confront our self-deceptions until it’s too late. For me, that happened when I was coming out of graduate school with an eye on a tenure-track teaching gig. Turns out, the entire professional landscape for college professors—and especially the job market—had shifted in a major way while I was locked away inside the ivory tower, and I’d failed to notice it.
Wait, scratch that. I had noticed it. I just used my own powers of self-deception to convince myself it wouldn’t affect me. Spoiler alert: it did …
Self-deception is probably the primary theme of How I’m Spending My Afterlife, but it wasn’t until I had actually published the book that I fully understood how it had once also applied to my own life. Click on over to Shotgun Honey to read the whole thing.
So I began last November intending to crank out 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo. I got off to an erratic start, as I recall, and then the election completely sapped my desire to write anything for … well, for longer than it should have.
This year, I will be – once again – working on what I hope will become the follow-up (but not sequel) to How I’m Spending My Afterlife as part of NaNoWriMo. I know that, in its purest form, this event is supposed to be about writing 50,000 words toward a fresh project during the month of November. But I’m modifying the rules a bit here, since I just recently FINALLY figured out what this novel is going to be, and breaking off to start something new at this particular moment would be foolish.
So: my NaNoWriMo goal is to have an entire first draft of this novel completed. I have, in various forms and in a wide range of acceptability, about 18,000 mostly very raw words already written toward this goal. For that reason, I’m not going to use the word count goal (since I have a bit of a head start there), but will use the binary metric of Finished / Not Finished instead.
I’ll be giving updates on my progress every few days. Here’s the first:
I only wrote a few new paragraphs yesterday, mostly due to a severe bout of insomnia the night before (I could hardly keep my eyes focused on my screen). Today I wrote about seven or eight hundred words toward three of the more polished parts of my manuscript. So, for those of you who require running word count totals, I’d say the manuscript so far has ten thousand words over three chapters, with nine hundred of those being NaNoWriMo words.
A slow start, to be sure. But the month is young.