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It’s almost November … October 28, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Novel-writing month, Writing.

November is just days away, as is the start of National Novel Writing Month. This is my third consecutive NaNoWriMo. There’s something crazy yet fulfilling about taking on the challenge. It’s addictive, especially for the competitive side of me, since I can watch the graph that charts my daily number of words climb up and up. And I love downloading a certificate at the end that tells me I’m a winner.

In 2008, my project was a familiar one: writing another draft of “Summer of ’94,” that novel I’ve written about on this blog many times (and the novel I planned to rewrite again a few months ago, but then didn’t). Creating a new draft of an old project relieved some of the month’s angst – like wondering on Nov. 12 just where this thing is going –  since I already knew where I wanted the story to go.

Last year, I wrote a completely new novel called “What You Want to See.” In doing so, I definitely went through the angst of “what is this story anyway?” but wrote on and finished above the required 50,000 words by Nov. 30. It’s doubtful anything will ever happen with the finished draft. Not that the story didn’t have potential. It was based on a real-life situation, however, and as I re-read the draft and pondered rewriting it, the idea of focusing on that incident in any form seemed more and more unseemly. But writing those 57,395 words was good practice.

Which brings me to 2010. My ideas for this story keep changing, which is fine. I’m not a writer who can meticulously plan and outline a story before beginning anyway. And I keep remembering the words taught to me by Bret Anthony Johnston during a workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival several years ago: the only job of a first draft is to get you to the second draft. That workshop was on character, so I also have been thinking about another of his points: every character has to have a desire. Why this character pays attention to this one thing is the essence of the story.

So I have a character, Maggie, who is about to turn 40. And she loves baseball, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. And … I have a notebook with many different ideas scribbled down from there. Nothing necessarily concrete yet, because I can’t decide exactly what it is that Maggie wants. She is single, so does she not want to be? She maybe is a lawyer (because I wanted her to have her live in St. Louis until she was 25, so it made sense to have her move away after law school), but does she want to do something else? She left St. Louis because her family was upset with her about dumping her fiance because all they had in common was loving the Cardinals and going to games together – her grandparents had season tickets, his parents did. Does she regret that 15 years later? Does her family ever understand her reason for leaving?

Including today, I still have four more days to make some decisions about just what this story is going to be, plus I have some research to do. (What Cardinals player from the late ’70s would be good as her first baseball crush?) How detailed I will be, how many real decisions I will make – who knows? And that’s fine. What I am looking forward to is Monday morning arriving, getting up at 4 a.m. and getting started before I go to work, and then discovering through my writing more of what this story is going to be. During November, it’s easier for me to be those three things Bret says every writer needs to be: stubborn, disciplined and dedicated. (From the lack of my entries on this blog, I’ve not been living those writing traits recently.)

Perhaps it’s crazy, but I love it. And I must, if I’m already eagerly anticipating Monday morning.

If you’re a writer, I highly recommend Bret Anthony Johnston’s book “Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer.” He compiled lessons and exercises from a wide range of writers, everyone from Joyce Carol Oates on writing prompts and Elizabeth Strout (another instructor I had at Iowa) on point of view to Tom Robbins on envy and Richard Bausch on character and dialogue. It also includes a great collection of daily writing warm-ups.

Readers should check out Bret’s book of short stories, Corpus Christi. I’ve read them all numerous times, and continue to be blown away by the series of three interconnected stories within it. I first started reading this book on a business trip several years ago. I was so engrossed in the first story of the trilogy, “I See Something You Don’t See,” that I couldn’t wait to finish it – even though our first flight landed in Atlanta and we had a two-hour layover until our next one to Orlando. So I told my coworkers I would catch up with them in a bit because I had to finish reading this story first. And I sat down by the gate we had just entered to finish reading.



1. linda - October 28, 2010

You even have me eagerly anticipating the start of November. 🙂

MM - October 28, 2010

I envy your enthusiasm and dedication to writing. Anything that brings out a passion and sincerity is good for the soul!!


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