Tag Archives: writing a novel

NaNoWriMo is Here

That’s that time of the year, folks. NaNoWriMo time. November is a novel writing month, and as usual, it makes me excited. This time, though, I am busy with other things so I honestly don’t have idea how I’m going to accomplish the whole “write 50 000 words in 30 days”. On the other hand, I can’t help but wanting to participate, so… here I am.

I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2010, at a particularly weird moment in my life, when I desperately needed something to uplift me and take my mind off the harsh reality of being an university educated person who can’t find a job. It was just a slap in the face, you know? I needed something to look forward to, something to call my own, an accomplishment of some sorts, and NaNoWriMo provided a perfect outlet. My novel, “A Postcard from Hades” was born there, and it still holds a special place in my heart despite being imperfect and, well demanding more work.

This year, I’m writing in English (good luck to me about that). I figured it would fit the story and it will help me practice my English. I feel passionate about and really invested in psychology behind it, even though I am not completely sure how to build the plot or how dark it’s going to be. (I am not really into dark stories per se – I like to read some of them but I can’t write them well. No idea why).

The first thing I had with this story was a title, back in 2010 or so. The first plot idea revolved around a supernatural girl who can harm humans but wants to avoid it at all costs and her love interest who helps her. Somehow (no idea how) it evolved into a story about succubi and incubi and a complex method of their survival and reproduction. The core of the story, though, is identity and figuring out you are not who you thought you were. There are many things to explore here.

Doing NaNoWriMo

Two years ago, just a week before I graduated from university (and had a nasty cold shower of reality when it comes to job options in my country – first of many, that is), I joined NaNoWriMo.

So yes, you can say this happening is important for me. Both emotionally and as a writer. I need someone to, well, make me write. I really like the support and the sense of being there together, writing 50 000 words (or more!) in a month. It may sound counter-productive (you can’t create art on a cue, right?), but it’s actually important becuase it does make you write. This is a great thing for those who tend to find excuses and procrastinate to no end. To all those who never feel ready or never feel like it’s the right moment, or who never feel their ideas are good enough. It does make you write, as in, actually write; put words on (electronic) paper, turn your inner editor off and don’t look back.

There’s some great motivation coming from the task of writing a novel in a month.

The Novel Itself

There’s this idea of mine I feel really passionate about. It’s almost decade in the making – sounds ambitious, but frankly, it’s almost a decade of daydreaming and procrastinating and not the actual writing. Not really proper outlining, except in some key concepts.

It’s a story about a somewhat crazy world of hippies and rednecks and evil magnates and nature and a group of misfits on a journey. And rock music. Lots of it.

It’s fantasy, and it requires a lot of world building. In a way, you are never ready when you wish to do something like this. There’s still a lot of research and world building you need to do. But I kind of realized that I have to start writing it at one point. I need to write that first draft because I really want to tell this story, but daydreaming about it is just not enough. I need to write that first draft, at least partially and NaNoWriMo seems like a good place to start. Like I said, writing a novel with so many other people doing the same can motivate a person to stop procrastinating and actually do it.

Am I scared? Shit scared. But I really want to tell this story.

So, NaNoWriMo is over…

… and I won!

I mean, I managed to write more than 50 000 words in 30 days, which is an accomplishment. Some of those words I actually like. However, my novel is not finished. I’m around 86 000 words and I’m about to write the most important chapters: the ending.

I’m one of those people who enjoy their beginnings, their endings (even more), but hate their middles. It’s a bit different with “Hardin Hades” (my NaNo 2010 novel). I got through the middle without a problem. The ending is giving me headaches.

It’s not that I don’t know how to end it. It was planned, outlined, imagined, long ago. I am just not sure how to find the right way to make the point I’m trying to make. I am not one of those people that force message to their readers, but I do want to hit the right emotion and to make the novel well rounded. If not, it could end up being incredibly sexist and racist. *

* Why, you may ask? Because the protagonist is a girl with serious issues, some concerning sex, and most of the stuff is told from her POV. I need to make sure people get it’s not how author sees the world, but her fucked up character. Racist? There’s a non-white character that is viewed by everybody as a poor, dirty girl with foul mouth… Only, she isn’t. She’s somebody who plays to other people’s racism so she could hide. This also needs to be made clear.

Even without this issues, my biggest concern is to make the novel well-rounded. The ending is one of the most important thing about a novel (or a film for that matter) and it must work perfectly.

So all in all, I won NaNoWriMo, but I am a couple of important chapters away from winning.

But I must say NaNoWriMo was exactly what I needed at this moment in my life. It was a perfect opportunity to get myself back on track, emotionally speaking, after graduating and not having any ideas about where/how to search for a decent job. It also made me write, and I missed it so much. I feel like a part of me has been sleeping for the past 13 years… But now is awaken.

Thinking of joining NaNoWriMo

I am thinking of joining NaNoWriMo. It’s not that I’m not busy, but I do feel I need something like this: a goal that has nothing to do with regular daily routine. Something I can do for myself.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge and a competition you have with yourself. Writing a 50000 words novel in a month sounds like quite a challenge, but it’s not like I didn’t do that before (when I was 14, for example). So completing the novel might not be as much of a challenge as finding the time and energy to actually write.

Now when I think about it, I guess I already decided on joining the project this year (it will be my first NaNoWriMo. I did hear about it before, but I thought it was about blogging – and there’s no way I could blog for 30 days straight).

The novel itself

Of course, this brings us to another issue: the novel itself. It’s not that I don’t have the ideas (I always do), it’s the fact I am one of those writers who do extensive research, who prepare for months (and years- my current novel is 7 years in the making, and I still haven’t written a single word. I still have a lot of research to do!) Writing a novel with almost NO research and preparation scares me. I still want it to be a real novel, no matter how badly written and unedited it might turn out, and not just a 50 000 word collection of thoughts or segments that can’t be tied together in any coherent way.

But it’s not that I don’t have an outline that can work as a short novel. This story is unusual to me, since it’s not about anything in particular… It’s one of those stories about life, without much of exciting adventures or deep messages and high concepts.

However, there are several potential problems.

1. It is set in America
It is set in the a small town in the US with American characters. Needles to say, I am not an American and I’ve never been there. And while I DON’T believe writers should write only what they know (in a way of the setting, type of characters, situations, etc.) this thing can be a problem because I will, no doubt, make many, many mistakes (especially given the fact I don’t have much, if any, time to do a research). Of course, writing about another culture never stopped US writers from doing it, but… Well, since I know what is like and their frequent epic fails in this department, it seems a bit disrespectful to “just do it”. Now, it’s not like I don’t know anything about American culture, but I will obviously make many mistakes, and some of them can get in the way of the plot.

2. Genre
I am not sure about the genre. At first, I thought about the “literary fiction” category, a no-genre genre, or “boring & serious” genre. Nothing wrong with that, of course (my usual genres are historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy and SF). But given the fact all of the characters are 17 and it’s basically “coming of age” story, I thought that YA (Young Adult) might be more appropriate. Still, there are problems. You can’t put whatever you want in YA novels, and my story includes (but is not limited to): gang rape, violence, suicide, premarital sex. These things are usually not welcomed in YA. (Now, “premarital sex” sounds really innocent comparing to the other things listed, and it is, but even these things are not welcomed in YA). And in case somebody wonders, while the things described sound shocking and provoking, the novel will have a somewhat slow pace and I am planning on writing it in a detached, not too emotional voice (I think it suits the story the best). But all in all, I am not sure if it goes in YA category (and you must pick one when registering).

3. Pen name
I don’t really need it for this, but if I’m ever going to even bother publishing anything, I better start thinking of an appropriate pen name. And yes, I do need one. There’s no way I am going with my own name. It’s not that I don’t like it, or that is unmarketable (which is true, btw), I just don’t feel comfortable. So, how to choose a good pen name? I have no idea. All I know I want it to be gender and culturally neutral, which I know it’s virtually impossible. Crap. Not sure what to do about it.

4.Title
Compared to the previous three, this one is minor, but I am one of those people who usually have a title in mind immediately after thinking about an idea for a story. The title is usually there to guide me. Not here. (And not for that monster I’ve been planning for 7 years… Only this year I figured out the working title, and it’s not even the perfect one).

NaNoWriMo website: NaNoWriMo

Things I don’t write about

Note: This post is about my writing, not this blog. This is also one of the most personal things I’ve ever posted online.

WritingI wrote my first novel when I was 11. It just happened and it felt so natural. More natural than having a chat with kids my age (which explains the need for novel writing: lonely kids who like to read often write their own stories).

Novel writing was what I did in elementary school and in middle school (called high school in America). I wrote more than 10 (I know the exact number but it’s not important here). I never wrote short stories or poems. I don’t know how to do that: it just never felt natural. My early novels were short, about 100-200 pages long, but later I realized I was unable to write anything under 400-500 pages. Genres were adventure, detective/crime novels (with my hero detective) and SF.

It was back in the 90s. Those were very, very bad times in my part of the world. But I don’t think I used writing to escape that, though it did help, I guess. I did it because I was lonely. But in any case, it was my way of having fun, and escaping the bad things that were happening. I wasn’t delusional: I knew it was just daydreaming, but it did help to have something of my own, something I could control, something to put my mind, and will and heart into it.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a novel. And it’s not like I don’t have a need for it. “Need” is a good way to describe it, maybe the only one. I never wanted to write to be rich, popular or successful. I never even tried to publish anything (though I do want to publish my new novel, and all of the future ones- I feel like I’m finally ready for that). But basically, I just need to write, and plan my novels.

But there are some things I don’t want to write about, even if I’m expected to.

Things I don’t write about

Writing Eastern Europe and its madness. I know this is what everybody expects a Balkan writer to write about (both domestic and international audience), but frankly, I don’t have any wish to do that. Being born and raised here certainly makes me the way I am, and I am not trying to hide or escape the fact I’m Eastern European, female, Serbian, straight, archaeologist, ex-Yugoslavian, white, Eastern Orthodox; that I am shy, have possible social phobia, that my father died when I was 10, that I am nerdy, that I panic and worry a lot, that I love animals and that I often use profanities.

I don’t want to hide or escape any of it. It’s not possible to do it anyway: you are who you are, and if you are a writer, it shows in your writing no matter what; even if you want to hide it.

But it doesn’t mean my subjects and interests should be what is expectable of an Eastern European woman. In short, I am not interested in writing about Balkans. At all. Nor am I interested in writing “girl power” books that trash men. Nor am I interested in writing about Orthodox Christianity, or even about kids who lost their fathers. Everything described above is a part of me and will show in my writing any way or the other – but it doesn’t mean my books need to be about any of it.

I also don’t write about family or childhood. Maybe I’m just not ready, or maybe I’m just not inspired. When you try to put your reality into words it often falls flat. It’s not even close to how it really was. So while I do think writing what you know best is a good advice, I also think writing about reality – especially your family – is one of the most difficult things.

Maybe I choose not to write about these subjects because I use writing to escape the madness around. (In fact, it’s the most likely cause). My husband, on the other hand, feels relieved when he writes about living here, about the problems in the country and politics, or family. It makes him feel better. It’s not like I don’t understand it, but it was always different for me. Constructing and planning a story, using everything to make it work, exploring new ideas, learning about new things (such as lands and people) was always the most exciting thing for me. And there is no need for writing if it doesn’t bring either excitement or a relief.