Honesty is the best policy

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).

My writing process

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!

Yes. This is in my living room. Yes. We had books left over.

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About Meg Laverick

I can never be found without a cup of tea in my hand or a notebook in my bag. In between university and generally being awesome I read, write and nerd (that's a verb, right?). I also like analysing things that are probably best left alone.
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9 Responses to Honesty is the best policy

  1. Lainy says:

    That has got to be the most awesome Christmas tree i have seen. Ever.

    Naw, that’s disappointing about the story, but at least you can take something from it. It was just one rather big writing exercise. A start is always better than nothing. :3 Your character’s sound amusing. I want to read about them.

    I must admit i have spent the last few weeks reading and not even looking at mine. Not that it hasn’t been in my head. It’s still floating around, working itself out as it goes. I muse over things too long but hey, it make menial chores like washing dishes and ironing much better. *nods* i have a two week break to get back into it *determined* after i write an essay of course…

    Yes, definitely check out the night angel trilogy. I definitely enjoyed it. I read them a while ago so i don’t remember that much but i looked at them and didn’t have any bad feelings so it must have been fine. I should read them again even…

    I think i would read snyder’s glass trilogy again before i read the study trilogy. I think i enjoyed it slightly more. I must have, i was going back and re-reading certain parts over and over again. Valek does turn up in the series… although those parts have made me worry about him just that little bit more (read: he prances more in my head now). I cringed everytime Valek said ‘love’ to Yelena in the other books though so that wasn’t helping me.

    While i enjoyed the glass trilogy it still made me irritated at parts. Also, main chicky ends up with this guy and i’m still scratching my head over it. One part of my brain is going ‘wtf? how? what? why? i’m not sure i understand. maybe need more character development there, just maybe?’ the other part is all conflicted about being happy about it because i really like him as a character. i also don’t know why. i just do.

    Ooh, i must check out those books. I like paranormal fantasy.

    • Meg Laverick says:

      My Christmas tree makes me smile every time I look at it. Lol and I saw a picture of a book tree a library had done and were lol ‘we could do that’. Then we began raiding our libraries… Then I continued raiding my library while she gave me strange looks while I brought out armfulls upon armfulls of books.

      I’ll add the Brent weeks books to my reading list. I’ll get there eventually

      • Lainy says:

        Awesome, you can always add books to the list :3 I hope you enjoy them…eventually. I have yet to read his next book as i’m not sure i like the sound of it but oh well. i’ll tell you how that goes eventually.

        I found out, from my work christmas party tonight, that i have a super power. The ability to sober up when the need arises *looks at Jake* and i thought i was drunk, letting the partner’s give me tequila shots, salt lemons and all… ha!

  2. Welcome back! I’m with Lainy in that you have the best Christmas tree ever! Very nice!

    As far as the NaNo novel goes, I think your experience of a first draft of a novel is pretty normal. Take away the fact that you did it in a month instead of a year, and you have basically described the first draft of my debut novel. I remember the despair at realizing I had written 100,000 bloated words of crap. I took a printed copy and started actually crossing out entire pages, rearranged chapters, combined or deleted characters, removed an unnecessary pseudo-romance, and then went back to write the latter third of the book from scratch. I kept aside promising bits, and sometimes found ways to incorporate those later. Sometimes not, but that’s okay. The best thing about cut scenes is that you have some bonus material to put on your Special Features DVD, right?

    Equating the sunk costs with a first draft is an excellent – and apt! – cross-discipline metaphor.

    • Meg Laverick says:

      I know that it’s a totally normal first draft but I’m still feeling a bit disheartened by the whole thing. Everything else I’ve written has generally been more or less right storywise. It’s normally just a matter of refining it rather than scrapping whole tangents and characters, you know? But I’m choosing to believe it’s all for the best

      I like applying the sunk costs theory to life in general. It’s about the only thing I can remember from my economics classes and is one of the most useful I think.

      • I’m sorry you’re disheartened, but you wouldn’t have something to scrap if you hadn’t been brave enough to try in the first place. It takes guts to take on a novel. I do believe it’s all for the best and also bet that at some point in your writing life, you find the right place for the tangents and characters you have to cut from this story.

  3. phoenixandtiger says:

    Welcome back! (and as the other two said – best Christmas tree ever. If I actually had hardcovers instead of cheap paperbacks I would do that)
    I can definitely relate to that ‘retarded NaNo novel’ thing – I give everyone permission to laugh at me, because I now realize I was all bark and no bite at the beginning of December.
    Good luck on the rewriting – you have more time now, so you can just relax.

    Keep this in mind: It will all work out. Breath. Repeat. Worst case scenario, the plot runs off – well, then, just keep on bs-ing until you get somewhere xp.

    And Merry Christmas!

    • Meg Laverick says:

      🙂 I liked the first chapter of your nano. I was sad when you took. it down (i’d actually had the review window up on my computer for a few days when it started coming up story not found) it was good. A little confusing with the Russian names sometimes but good.

      I’m endeavouring to start rewriting in the next few days. Hopefully. If work doesn’t drive me insane first.

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