Yes! It is that time of year again – National Novel Writing Month. It is cool on a number of levels for me: one, my birthday is in the middle of November so NaNo is like an early birthday present; two, I have made some of the best friends because of NaNo that will stay with me always; and three, my writing has reached such an incredible level as a result of NaNo. After three years of participating, it has helped me to develop the necessary skills I needed to become a better writer: discipline to write every day, creativity not only in what I write but how I write (finding new ways to approach a scene if I get stuck), and the wisdom to know that when it gets boring, there is something wrong with the scene and it isn’t just me being lazy about writing it.

I’ve been sad to see some of the nay-sayers for NaNo being negative about it but I don’t want to write about that in this blog. The one thing I will say about it is this: if it works for you, awesome. If it doesn’t work for you, move on. Mind your own business and concentrate on your writing – don’t worry about what other people are doing.

Okay, on to the reason for my post! It is now Day 12 of NaNo (as it is after midnight where I am) and I am on a roll. I am on fire. I have never produced such good writing before; not just that, I have never produced such good writing before FOR THIS STORY. I am currently writing Skull Juggler: Columbarium, following the life of newbie necromancer Christopher Roc. I wrote his prequel, Skull Juggler: Disenchanted when I was 15 and self-published it when I was 21. It was an adventure and a hard journey to finish that story. Would I change anything in it? Hell yeah I would. That story makes me shudder sometimes, with all its holes and missed opportunities. But I’d gone through something like 30 drafts for it and wrote different chapters during different stages of my life. I had to move on to new projects at some point. So here it is – an unmentioned number of years after Disenchanted, Columbarium takes place after Chris has learned the ropes of being a necromancer.

After receiving a note that the Master is dead, Chris and his teacher Andreas travel back to Epenthesis, the City of the Dead, for the ceremony. But the Master’s death was no accident and when the gates are sealed at midnight, Chris is trapped in the city with the unknown murderer. Can he figure out who is murdering seemingly random victims?

That’s my cut-and-dry summary for the story. Sounds pretty kickass right? Well, I had no idea that was my plot until last night. The reason I wanted to write this post was because I was excited that I’d finally cracked the code on what was happening in my story. I was scrabbling to get ahold of my story for the first week. I wrote 20,000 words of story with no clear idea of where I was going. Scenes were too long or too short with no clear transitions. Characters went into infobarf mode, to quote Maureen Johnson, Chris “wandered” around aimlessly and “didn’t know what to do.” Worse still, I’d resigned myself to writing in third person which was BORING ME.

I’d started doing Word Wars (competing with other people for higher word count or number of words written) with my friend Night_Mare in a friendly competition. If she had a free hour between classes, she would write 1K and get ahead of me. I would get a free moment and dish out 1.5k. We’d reached 20k almost before Day 5 had ended. And then we came to a screeching, painful halt. What were we even doing? Our stories rambled on forever and had NO PLOT. Worse, we had just realized there was no plot and therefore had no idea where to go from there.

For last year’s NaNoWriMo, I was the Queen of Word Sprints. I could dish out 1,200 words in ten minutes without breaking a sweat. But those 1,200 words? Crap. At the end of the month (when I made my first attempt at writing Columbarium), I finished with 65k words of crap. I could not use ANY of it.

So this year, when I reached 20k and suddenly felt just like I had at the end of last year’s NaNoWriMo, I panicked. I tried to keep writing. I tried to find some way to justify the words, to say I could fix it all in edits. But I just couldn’t keep writing, not if there was no point to it all. I suffered a lot for a couple of days because I do not like looking on the NaNoWriMo website at my progress bar and seeing that I had not completed my daily word count. I was way ahead, but I was also falling behind. It was frustrating and depressing.

Then I had a revelation. I could just write that really cool scene I had in my head for the middle of the book. Why was I slogging through the absolutely boring beginning when there was this really cool scene I was thinking of doing? Even better, I didn’t have to explain anything – the reader would know what I was talking about because I would go back later and write the beginning when I had more motivation for it.

All of a sudden, writing that really exciting scene jolted my imagination. I realized that for the events of that scene to take place, I had to rework the beginning. Not only that, there were parts that were completely unnecessary that I could cut now that I knew the main action would take place in the city proper (so that whole 5k description of traveling TO the city was completely unnecessary and, again, boring). I use Scrivener (originally just for Mac but now also available for Windows) and I LOVE IT. If you are a writer, you need it. There is no way around it, that program is everything I have ever wanted a writing program to be capable of. I organized it into Draft 1 (the stuff I had before I figured out the plot) and Draft 2 (to add in the scenes that I was carefully coming up with). I also put a strikethrough of the paragraphs/passages that no longer applied (that way, I kept my word count but also made sure I wouldn’t get bogged down during later edits).

The coolest thing that happened is this: I sat down with a notebook and pen, and just started doodling. I did a quick mind map of connected people: this character knows that character who is connected to this other character… so on and so forth. This led me to sketching the city. It has three layers and each layer needed a proper description, so I turned to a clean page and wrote a description for each place. Then I realized that in order for Chris to travel to these three different levels (because why mention the levels if he never gets to see them?), he would need a good reason to. He had a very good reason for being on one level but certainly not the other two: how to fix that? Well, I’d already introduced this other character… so that meant that if she was involved, then he would end up in the second layer. But I already knew about her, as I had sketched her out earlier, and the only way SHE would get involved in the story was if her FRIEND got involved, and HE was from the third level…

The more I mapped, the more the story tightened up and simultaneously expanded. The actions of my characters began to make sense, a clear villain appeared as I sketched out the progression of the story, and some of the creepiest scenes I have ever had the nerve to write down spouted in my head. At 3 AM last night, I sat back in my chair after organizing my Scrivener version of the story. I now have 15 chapters – I have completed one already and I am halfway through with the second. I have already written 3,000 words and marked the Draft 1 passages that I can still use, labeling the others as “backstory” to keep in mind for character motivation.

My job now is to read my outline for the scene I will work with, write the scene, make any adjustments to the plot that the new writing might bring out, and systematically knock out each scene until I am finished. And then, dear reader, then I shall have a working first draft! And I will go through edits with a much keener eye and, when I am ready, I will finally be proud to submit my first manuscript to an agent.

:) how cool is that?! Okay, so that’s my method for organizing my writing. What are your methods for organizing your writing? How do you get your creative juices flowing?

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