Some of you may remember that, last year, I took part in (and ‘won’) NaNoWriMo. First time out, too. (Not that I’m bragging, or anything). I wrote about it in this fancy little article here, and this exhilarated post is the one in which I announced that I’d managed to bring the dang thing in on time, and under budget.
I did promise y’all that NaNo 2013 wouldn’t be the last you’d hear of Emmeline, and I’ve made good on that. The book I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year turned out to be the one I’ve spent much of the last few months polishing, drafting, redrafting, editing, and tweaking, and it’s the one which made a splash in the world of querying, and it’s the one which convinced my agent to sign on the dotted line. And all this was done with an idea which I hadn’t even had this time last year. That blows my mind. When I think about Emmeline and Thing (the characters in my NaNoWriMo novel, which now has a much fancier title), I think about them in terms of always having been in my life. I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t know and love them, and when their story hadn’t been told.
But there was, and it wasn’t all that long ago.
Today – hopefully, if my nerve holds – I’ll be sending back my book to my lovely, kind agent. It will be the fourteenth draft of Emmeline and Thing’s story. Overall, it’s largely similar to the draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year – structurally, for instance, it has remained the same. One character has been removed by dint of blending him into another, and turning the two into one person (this was ridiculously easy, which shows very clearly that they should never have been two people to begin with). The opening three or four pages, which I wrote in a fit of furious scribbling, longhand, with a pen, have remained largely the same after fourteen edits as they appeared in the first draft. Thing’s voice and sense of humour have survived intact, and much of his dialogue appears now just as it did the first time I wrote it. Emmeline has been nuanced a bit more; for some reason, her logical, analytical and seemingly cold little persona didn’t come across as well as I wanted it to on the page, and so I’ve worked a bit harder on bringing her out a bit more, polishing her gently and making her shine, and now I think she’s fit to stand beside her fellow adventurer. I love them both.
However, I harbour a very deep fear that this book is the best one I will ever write, and that after this there is no more in the tank. This is despite the fact that I have drafts of three other books already written, and ideas for about six more, saved in my Scribblings file – but Emmeline’s tale is different. It has absorbed me like nothing else. It is the book I would tell people to read if they didn’t know me, and they wanted to find out what sort of person I am. It has everything I’ve ever loved in it, up to and including dogsleds. (Dogsleds!) It has given me more imaginative freedom than anything else I’ve ever done.
And it all came out of one spark of inspiration, one cold and dark October morning, nearly exactly a year ago.
If I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo last year, I may have written Emmeline’s story anyway, sometime. But who’s to say it would have turned out like this? NaNoWriMo made me write it, and write it fast, and get it out without over-thinking things, and I firmly believe that’s the reason it worked the way it did. I can’t say it would be like this for everyone who tries it – I suppose you’d need a particular spark of inspiration first – but all I can say is, NaNoWriMo worked wonders for me.
However – and I hate myself for saying it – I won’t be doing it this year.
Mainly, this is because of the rules of NaNoWriMo; you’re not permitted to work on an idea which you’ve worked on before, because the point of the exercise is to start from scratch and write a first draft, and I totally respect that. There’s nothing brewing in my ideas-tank that I feel strongly enough about to set off into a first draft with – what I want to do once Emmeline has gone back to my agent is work on one of my already-drafted ideas, and I won’t use NaNo for that. Having said that, I had no intention of writing Emmeline’s story until NaNo was upon me, so maybe an idea will explode into being that I simply have to write between now and Saturday – but I’m not expecting lightning to strike twice. I would strongly recommend you give it a go, though, if you’ve ever even considered taking part – it was challenging, and it was tough, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, writing-related or not.
Here’s the link. Go sign up. Do it! And let me know how you get on…
I agree with your justification. Some would call it instinct and perhaps that’s as good a word as any even though it trivializes what I believe to be a rather sophisticated thought process, one that uses but transcends mere logic. At any rate, how about this, “if it does not feel right, you probably should not do it.”
I think that’s a useful benchmark for life, Maurice. Thanks! 🙂