After finishing my NaNoWriMo challenge in November, I was lost.
I did it. End of challenge, end of story?
Ok, maybe not lost-lost, but in my mind, I had accomplished my goal. It’s not like I had a plan to publish and ultimately have the movie rights picked up by that scrappy little studio over at Amazon. So, for me it was all FIN.
But, because I’m an idiot and talked about what I was doing, people wanted to know: So, what’s next?
Fuck if I know. I wrote a book. Surely, that’s enough?
For me, it really was. But at the same time, going back to my finishing point, I felt like it was more of “Welp, there’s my 50k words. Donezo.” Rather than leave it that way, I went back into my ending to make it an actual ending.
Then I looked at my word count and thought, “Well, that’s really more of a novella versus a novel, per se.” That caused me to give it another read to see where I could flesh it out a bit. As I began reading, I was feeling critical about my lack of scene set up. I hadn’t really thought that I needed to do much in the way of actual world building, since people can probably figure out what Portland in the near present day looks like. Everyone will have their own little bubble world when they read it. Having no aspirations to describe a bougainvillea bush over the course of three pages like Anne Rice would, I didn’t dive too deep into what my main character’s house looked like, whether his office had plants or whatnot. I was letting that go.
But, in making that decision to keep the background simple, I was still staring at a novella-length work. My concept was to demonstrate a generational relationship within the gay community with my characters. I think for whatever reason – AIDS essentially wiping out a generation or two of us gays, which we could hardly avoid once it was upon us; or, being an extremely youth obsessed sub-culture as we are, which has backfired on us spectacularly and instead of forming bonds between generations we have a culture of age-shaming because, newsflash: most young people don’t want to have sex with “old” people. Go figure. That last one we certainly could have helped by simply not objectifying the subjects of our youth obsessed culture. Maybe. But here I was, Monday morning quarterbacking.
Great, now I’m making sports analogies. That’s surely a bad sign.
Neverthemess, that being my concept, I thought it would be cool to think of this as a three book arc. Arc One being a protagonist in a middling generation – a gay guy in his 30s and this isn’t a horror novel? Unheard of! – befriending a younger gay and an older gay and letting the story go from there. Arc Two would see the main character in his 40s while his younger friend gay-grows up and his older friend gets older. In Arc Three, his younger friend would gay-die age-wise in the gay culture and maybe his older friend would just die-die.
The vision I had for the stories was all how that generational experience unfolds and how one learns from the others or how information is handed by one to the next.
Y’know…how it should be. I wanted to show the sharing of information that we need, like when parents have to talk about the birds and the bees with their children because they need to learn about how life works. Well, gays need to know how a gay-life works, too. Instead of talking about the opposite sex, maybe we talk about STIs and anal douching. Keep reading, I’m pretty sure I’m not talking about that topic! Just giving you an idea of where gays need gay-guidance beyond what their parents can provide. Maybe some guidance of younger generations by the older characters that is something that straight parent-child relationships have but manifests differently between gay kids and their parents because…well, the shared experience is gone. More accurately, there’s a gap. Where does one comfortably pick up parenting their gay children once they have figured out who they are as adults? It’s still needed, but…even in my own experience, which I would put up there as one of the best, it’s different. My parents aren’t talking to me about raising a child or empty nesting as they might with my sibs.
One of my own biggest frustrations with gay culture has been how we seem to have lost cohesion and how the collective gay ego fills that void. Where we have an opportunity to build up future generations or respect previous generations, we tend to remain isolated in defense of or because of our inability to become thee better selves that aren’t driven by our next sexual conquest. Turns out, there’s no app for that.
But I also wanted to show the payback we could get for nurturing these intergenerational relationships, how it gives us something to look forward to as we age versus the fear of the unknown that is so often left unsaid between comments among friends like, “I never thought I would live until 30” or not having a friend base with the experience base to guide us through relationship obstacles. How many of us as adults – regardless of sexual orientation – could rely on our parents to guide us through the validity of the open relationship culture that gays face? Of course, the challenge with intergenerational relationships within these characters’ chosen families is to keep them like actual families, non-incestuous. This enabled me to correct one of my own perceived societal wrongs, too, as none of my main character’s sleep together. Their bond is formed based on an individual connection and the resulting dependency – which is not a bad word! – versus a sexual bond, which is where I think our culture’s intergenerational relationships have gone off the rails.
My characters forming a bond was only step one, and a very small step at that. My protagonist learning that there’s more to life than a steady boyfriend after a failed relationship besides work was the catalyst for building those bonds. The pacing when I started out was to alternate between personal life and work life with each chapter. In looking to flesh out my work’s size into a full novel – because if you’ve just got three novellas, why not edit them into a single novel, right? – I may have jacked up that original rhythm, but as the future unfolds, the cadence shifts further and further from work and into life, because now the main character actually has one. So I’m willing to let my thoughts for the original cadence go.
So, now I have my novel. Well, I’m two chapters away from fulfilling that statement, at any rate. That brings me back to the original question:
NaNoWriMo tries to help out. The name of the event actually stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual event each November and it seems to me that they have heard this struggle I’m up against before. To that end, they have created a support environment for writers to set other goals for themselves throughout the year to avoid losing momentum. After fucking up my timeline with hubris in December, I took a step back in January to wear my writing impulse out so that I could do some legitimate editing. This also allowed me to make notes in my novel about where I wanted to add to the story to flesh the character relationships out further without doing so willy-nilly and potentially making mistakes that would be harder to correct than they were to make. I don’t trust myself or my own work ethic to put the effort into unfucking up something with that daunting a prospect to begin with.
I mean, look how long it took me to actually commit to writing the damn thing!
Oh, six years. Sorry, I thought you knew that. Maybe more, but I’m not thinking about that right now…
For February, that’s what I did. Reread my book and did some for better or for worse formatting. Turns out, when you aren’t trying to add content, you can do that in a couple of weeks. And I had met my NaNoWriMo editing goal of spending 40 hours in February focused strictly on what I had done in November and where I wanted it to go next. I had figured two hours a day, five days a week would get me there. Turns out, without some sort of stupid work to distract me, I was able to spend two to six hours per day on that process. The key was getting myself away from the house, as it happened.
So for the last week-ten days, I have been still getting away from the house and working on those added chapters. Since I kind of went balls out on this process, it was largely stream of consciousness writing. No outline, aside from what was in my head. Had I not been working off of a specific starting point from my own life, I’m not sure I could have succeeded with that lack of actual prep. Part of me thinks that is exactly what I wanted but instead of failure, I became President of the United States.
No, wait…that doesn’t sound right.
Ah, yes. Instead of failure, I had this slightly random fictionalization of something that had happened in my life. Turning the tables, it gave me a good opportunity to therapeutically re-write my own history from a really shitty starting point.
Going back into those chapters I wanted to add, I had a grasp of who the characters were in this quasi-alternative universe. That allowed me to make purposeful content additions that gelled – I hope! – with the rest of the story.
Needless to say, for Arcs Two and Three…definitely gonna need an outline. I’m going from scratch there and I can’t wait to see what happens to these folks.
And, of course, with NaNoWriMo’s guidance and motivational help, today was supposed to be spent working on that pitch letter. February is the month – I learned – where they host a pitch workshop. Any writer that completed a novel – or their 50k threshold, at any rate – can submit a 250 word pitch to their partners, named The Pitch Doctors, and they will select 20 at random from all submissions and workshop them. Of those 20, they will select one to be partnered up with a publisher. So, y’know, that’s kind of cool. The deadline is February 28th. No, wait…March 1st? Regardless, either way, I have built in plenty of latitude in my goal to submit a pitch letter so that I can make some false starts. Like this one, where instead of writing a pitch letter, I’m jacking off on WordPress. Out of 287,000 participants there were 35,386 plus ME that finished their novels. Out of those 35k writers, I’m hoping only 19 others actually take advantage of their pitch workshop…
But, honestly, it’s gonna take a little mental prep time to get my mind around only using 250 words to describe a story that I just used 87500 words to tell. So, this is what that effort looks like today. I’ve still got over a week…