Saturday, March 2, 2013

NaNoWriSpr: On Vising and Revising

Here's the primary difference between what I'm doing this spring in what I'm calling NaNoWriSpr, in which I'm trying to write most of a 75,000 word novel in 4 months, and what is usually attempted during NaNoWriMo, in which writers try to write 50,000 words in a month: I'm researching, planning and especially revising as I go.

Of course, this doesn't mean I hadn't planned and researched in advance. I didn't have an outline, but I'd first conceived the novel (and written the first two paragraphs) in 2007. I've been researching on and off since then. And starting last fall but particularly over the Christmas break I tried to finish reading what I thought were the primary research texts, having all the supplementary ones (I thought) ready to go for when I needed them. I had a big picture idea of what might happen in my story, at least the first part, and the primary characters were coming into view.

And I am so glad I wasn't thinking I had done enough to plow this out in a month or two.

See, this is a complex novel, and as I'd mentioned, it's set in a different place and time. I had looked into the era a little bit--read a book or two--and had done a heck of a lot more research on certain aspects of the story and its genre, but that didn't mean I'd read enough memoirs of the time or the times before that my characters would have lived through or had read through enough books or articles about my setting and events of the period. I'd spent a lot of time developing my main character and getting into his head, but I still felt some distance from him and was still working to get to know the others.

And so the first stages and drafts of the early chapters have taken a lot of what I've come to call vising time: others might call it visioning or planning. I've needed to immerse myself by researching the era and reading memoirs and watching documentaries, much as one seeks to learn a language by immersion.

And like learning a language, I've of course tried writing about these people and their times and given the early efforts to a few other people to see whether they felt I was getting it right to communicate engagingly with the modern reader (which is of course the bigger trick, as in this case I'm learning a language only for translation to those who aren't familiar with it). The workshops in my fiction-writing class have been tremendously helpful in this, as have a few helpful friends.

As with learning a language, they've been kind in these early efforts to point out the places where I wasn't quite getting it right. This has supplemented the clarity a sleep can bring to my own distance from my writing to see where it can be improved. And both processes have encouraged me to go back and hone my writing to make sure I was going in the right direction. I'm still working on this, but I can already tell the efforts have borne fruit.

See, for me, I really can't imagine trying to make a draft without all of these processes involved at once, which is why NaNoWriSpr feels so much more reasonable and manageable than NaNoWriMo to me. At the same time, I'm thankful for the NaNoWriMo model, as it reminds me it's okay to push myself and that immersion in the writing act is a useful way to go.

So even though I haven't technically hit my "new pages" limits,  I'm pleased to announce that I've written 60 on-their-way-to-good pages with six weeks down and ten to go.  I'm thrilled about this, in fact, as the early parts of the novel are the most important to get just right in so many ways, and now that I know where I'm going and I've introduced most of my characters it will go faster, I hope.  But even if I stick to my 10 pages per week average (which wouldn't be surprising as I expect to continue to revise a lot as I go, and the amount of pages for revising continues to grow) I'll get to my goal within six or seven months, with a much much better draft than I had for my Novel in a Drawer after I finished the first draft in 18 months.

I'm getting better at this. And faster. I can tell. Which is encouraging, as this is a much more complex project than the previous one.

Man, this is fun. Exhausting at times, but fun.


Anne Higgins said...

Really interesting to read your thoughts on writing the novel. I write poetry myself; I don't believe I have the kind of imagination it takes to create characters, and so I admire it in others - in you!

Best wishes and encouragement!

Deborah Leiter Nyabuti said...

Thanks Anne! I appreciate it tremendously! I wish you well on your poetry--I love poetry.

Linda D said...

Pleased you're still enjoying it - there really is no point otherwise!