This year I participated in and won NaNoWriMo 2011. In one month I bashed out 50022 words of prose that was by turns inspired and hard fought. There were triumphs, there were tragedies, there were fires and unexpected love stories and much more besides. And winning was the best feeling ever. That feeling of accomplishment when you stumble over the finish line having created something out of nothing and being able to claim that you wrote a novel-length work on a month? Best thing ever.
Which is why it is about the hardest thing in the world for me to say this. Seriously. The reason why I haven’t been posting in these post-NaNo weeks boils down to this heartbreaking fact:
My NaNo Novel is rubbish.
I’ve been trying to kid myself for the past few weeks while I read over it and edit it. I’ve been joking with people that it needs a hefty amount of editing (and by editing I mean rewriting while adding in and taking out parts and moving them around and changing characters personalities and— you get the point) but ultimately it’s got the potential to be a good novel someday. It’s just that today is not the day. And now I’ve realised, with a hefty dose of brutal honesty, that day isn’t coming.
The first problem with my novel is that I mixed genres. And not in a skilful and unexpected way (Like mixing fantasy with mobsters). More in a ‘Am I reading the same story?’ way. I decided that I’d split my narrative to follow two groups of characters. One was following a fairly standard adventure (Character A must get to point B with sidekick C in tow) while the other was more… political? Maybe? There were lots of betrayals and scheming and ‘for the greater goods’. There was also a weirdly convoluted love triangle in there.
By themselves, each of the story lines might have been okay (I’m pretty sure I could even salvage that whole weird love-story angle). But together? Though I could salvage it into a technically competent story it wouldn’t be a good one. I don’t have the ability to tie it up into one sweeping narrative that feels cohesive and not like the author got bored with that bunch of characters and decided to switch over to follow these ones for a while (which, in reality, is totally what happened).
And that breaks my heart. Because even though I ‘m highly critical of my story I know that there was some gold in there. Plot twists that surprised me, characters that were so much deeper and more relatable than I’d believed possible, Banter that was banteriffic in all ways.
But all is not lost
I’m determined to get this story out. I’ve had it in my head for years and one (admittedly long) false start isn’t going to deter me. I’ve decided that I want to pursue the adventure aspect of the story. Their journey will be affected by the political intrigue but that won’t be a major component of the story. Instead My NaNo has given me a chance to work out background information that will probably never make it into the story proper but will serve as a guide.
And, since half of my NaNo did involve the adventure story, at least part of it is salvageable. It may only be a snippet of dialogue here, or a repurposed character there but my NaNo will still be the base of what I hope to be a good story in the end. Maybe. Hopefully.
Anyway, the point I was trying to make before this descended into a ramble about my own issues was that sometimes things don’t work.
There’s a term in economics, ‘sunk costs’, that refers to things that we’ve spent money on in the past. Money that we can’t get back. As humans, we normally run on the principle of ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, so when we’ve accrued some sunk costs we tend to continue, figuring that we’ve thrown so much money this way already that we may as well continue. Thus good money follows bad money and everything turns terrible really quickly. Economics, with that beautiful assumption that they have about humans being rational beings, does not take into account any sunk costs. If you are unable to retrieve the funds they should have no bearing on your future decisions.
Writing is the same way. When we’ve invested time, brain power and time (so much time) into something we’re unwilling to admit that perhaps it’s time to try something new or to try approaching the story in a different way. Or perhaps it’s time to stop writing, stretch out your poor, RSI-stricken joints and go for a walk. Then sit down in front of your work and be brutally honest. Regardless of the amount of time you’ve put into the story, regardless of the nagging feeling in the back of your head that tells you to continue on and maybe it might turn good eventually, sometimes honesty really is the best policy.
Even if it means you have to start from scratch. Even if it means you have to take the 50022 words that you wrote in a haze of creative frenzy and use it as an example of where your story will not go. Sometimes it’s for the best.
So now all that’s left for me to do is round up my tired characters from their various hanging plot threads and herd them back towards the beginning, ignoring their complaints and breaking up any fights along the way. Maybe this time they might feel more cooperative…
If not, I’m sure that the desert my intrepid adventurers have to cross could conjure up a pit of vipers. All good deserts have those, right?
And on that way-more-gleeful-than-it-should-be note- Merry Christmas everyone!