Monday, November 19, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 19 - On Crap

So far this month I've written 26,000 words.

Unfortunately, only 10k of them have been the novel.

The other 16k have been a magazine article and two novellas for upcoming anthologies. I also managed to sneak in a few online interviews.

Am I worried I'll have to shave my curly locks?

A little. Assuming I won't get much done on Thanksgiving, that means I have ten days to write 40k words. That's 16 pages a day. It's doable, but won't be easy.

Which makes this pretty exciting. I'm guessing it will come down to the wire.

Setting goals and challenging yourself, both artistically and with deadlines, is part of being a writer. I think it's a fun part.

The book itself is going well. It's coming together nicely, albeit slowly. I just wrote my first ever sex scene for the series (which is on the kinky side--I think Barry Eisler will approve) and the plot is shaping up to be the most fun of all the Jack books.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry: Writing Crap.

It's important to give yourself permission to write crap. Writers write. They get words on the page. Spend too much time thinking, questioning, judging, dismissing, and second-guessing, and you'll never get anything finished.

However, you should NEVER settle for crap.

Though Cherry Bomb is my 6th Jack Daniels book, it's actually my 17th novel. I can say, with some certainty, that my first six novels were crap. Everything since then has, in my opinion, worked. And each book I write seems to come a little easier, involve a little less rewriting, to get it to the point where it works.

So what makes a book work?

It's hard to pinpoint why some novels work better than others. It's even harder to judge your own writing objectively. Obviously, there are craft issues you can be aware of, like narrative structure, rising action, character realism, linear progression, and pacing, among many others, but being aware of them and knowing if they're working in you book are two different things.

However, I believe there's something instinctive, something perhaps even intrinsic to the novel, which can tell the writer if it actually works.

We all have moments when the writing is flowing, the loose ends are all coming together, and we feel that this collection of words and sentences and scenes is coming together as a pleasing, cohesive whole.

Sometimes we're wrong. What works for us actually doesn't work for readers. But sometimes--and I think experience plays a part--we're right, and we can actually feel the process working instead of worrying if its working.

Now there have been intelligent, thoughtful posts all over the Internet this month, about the number of awful manuscripts that NaNoWriMo is going to unleash upon the world.

My friend Marcus Sakey, who is as meticulous with his writing craft as he is talented (which could be a knock, but in his case it's high praise) recently wrote this on The Outfit blog:

Look at it this way: would you participate in National House Building Month if you had to live in the result? Of course not, because a house takes care to build.

I agree. But I also believe if you've been building houses for years, and know what it takes to build a good house, that each one you built can be done better and faster.

Here's the thing though: You don't have to build a house in a month.

Maybe you just build the frame. Or the foundation. Or the living room. Or maybe you do build the house, but it is pretty shoddy. There is no law that says what you build you have to keep. You can change the house, fix it, add it it, make it better, before you move in.

My first six houses were lousy. Uninhabitable. But I learned from them. So when I built the seventh, I got an agent. And when I built the tenth, I got a book deal.

Don't spend your time worrying that your writing sucks. The writing will tell you that later. Or the world will.

You just have to get the words on the page, and trust yourself.

It gets easier the longer you do it.

And it should go without saying that when you do finish that book, don't assume it's ready to submit. Get feedback. Rewrite. Put it away for a month and attack it with fresh eyes.

Your first house may not sell. Your tenth might not either. But you will get better. And in this crazy business, that's all you have control over.

Keep at it. Set goals and reach them. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn off the Internet, take a handful of amphetamines, and bust my ass.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Sherri said...

Hey, man, apparently Nano brings the smut out in people. I did a post a few days ago about my foray into erotica for Nanowrimo. Smut is in the air!

Love the blog :)

Cate Gardner said...

Keep going - you can do it.

moonrat said...

this is the first year i ever heard of NaNo, but it seems rather cruel to put it in November, because i can't imagine ANY american getting ANYthing done over thanksgiving.

anyway, good luck to you... 16 pages a day... it will be like college all over again. although hopefully minus the stoned roommate who keeps trying to get your pet turtles to dance to pink floyd.

Barry Eisler said...

I'm looking forward to that kinky sex scene, Joe. But please tell me you didn't do the thing with the jumper cables and the saddle... that would be too much...


JT Ellison said...

I did NaNo two years ago. The result was a portion of my first published novel. I wrote 50K in 21 days -- and it was immensely gratifying. Yes, tons of it needed to be reworked and fixed. I did that after the month was over.

But the exercise of daily writing is key here. For new authors, people who don't breathe the discipline of writing, NaNo is a fabulous exercise. Repeat -- exercise. Thinking you'll write 50K words and have a publishable novel is silly. But Joe is absolutely right about building a frame, or a piece.

I'll say it again, the real point of NaNo is learning to write every day. The emphasis on free flow and permission to write so-called crap is misleading. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to learn the discipline of writing. Setting a goal, and sticking to it.

At least that's what I took away from NaNo.

Rosalinda said...

Good post (lurker here). Thank you for being so encouraging to new writers out there. I just picked up Whiskey Sour and am planning to read it after NaNoWriMo is over!

Marcus Sakey said...

Hey Joe,

Thanks for the shout-out and the kind words. Much appreciated.

And good luck on your WIP! Though if you end up shaving, I wanna be there. If not actually holding the razor. :)

Therese said...

Excellent advice, and (mostly) a good example to follow.

'Specially that last: I'm on fast approaching deadline for my second novel.

All those unpublished novels, and you never gave up. Very impressive. You're a hero Joe; keep up the maybe-crappy-at-the-moment-but-can-be-fixed work.

Bernita said...

A very nice post, Joe.
One of the thing writers should give thanks for is your posts.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to reading the sex scene, Joe. I hope you worked out the terminology. ;)

You can write 16 pages a day. Not a problem. But if you should happen to miss your goal, I'd advise against letting Marcus anywhere near a razor...or anything with an electric charge.

Anonymous said...

Hey J.A.,
Your admission about your first six novels is very helpful. But I'm curious. What ever happened to them? Did you hide them, delete them, flush them, compost them, stick them in your scrap book, have them bronzed and hung on the wall? Or are they still in your inbox, waiting for a --er --um-- a heavy dose of fiber and a good detox program, if you will. And, um, if they are gone, what was behind that decision?


JA Konrath said...

Your admission about your first six novels is very helpful. But I'm curious. What ever happened to them?

I cannibalized scenes and jokes from them for later books.

One, maybe two, have potential to be rewritten. Too many exposition and POV problems, but the plots and characters are decent.

Books 6, 7, and 8 are available on my website as free downloads.

Unknown said...

JA, I nominated you for a Shameless Lions award for powerful writing. You can see why I chose you at


Conda Douglas said...

Excellent post, Joe. I've had "other writers" scold me for doing things like NaNoWriMo, or writing a short story in a day to submit to a contest. "How can you just churn out words?" they ask. That's the whole point, for me. I can't edit a blank page. And it all gets edited. But I think the main advantage of NaNoWriMo is turning off the editor as I write.

And, of course, I've noticed the "other writers" often never finish anything. Too busy getting every word write instead of just producing words!

Unknown said...

If you read all those blogs on your list, no wonder you have to take speed to write. TURN OFF THE INTERNET! Your friend, Edix

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Joe!

Tell you what, if you make the 50k goal by the 30th, I will buy all your books at once on the 1st of December. hehehe

I'm thankful for Nanowrimo myself. I am very easily distracted, and this challenge has gone a long way towards proving to myself that I can carve out enough time each day to write, and that I should. Right now, I'm sitting at 42k myself, and I know that it is not all just random words. At the end of the month, I will have something worthwhile to edit and twist into a better story, perhaps even something publishable!

I am rooting for you, even though my friend Deb says she wants to see you shave your head.

Anonymous said...

Ok, that previous comment wasn't supposed to be anonymous...

Jude Hardin said...

Dave Barry says black guys look cool with shaved heads, but white guys look like enormous thumbs walking around.

Daniel Hatadi and I can do without that kind of humor. ;)

But hey, Joe, maybe you'll finally get that blurb from Barry.

"The best opposable writer in the business!"

Vesper said...

Great post, very uplifting. Just what those with hope and despair in their hearts need. Best of luck to you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Jessica Burkhart said...

Great post! :)

Anonymous said...

So when I built the seventh, I got an agent. And when I built the tenth, I got a book deal.

So... I have a question. :-) Does this mean your agent was unable to sell the first two books she repped, but hit the mark with the third?

I ask because my agent was unable to sell the first novel she repped (because of problems fitting it firmly into a genre *sigh*) but I've already delivered another manuscript, and I'm kinda hoping this one sells...

Good luck hitting your NaNo goal, Joe! I tried, but spent the first two weeks of November finishing up my WIP so I could get it to the agent, so I had to give up on hitting 50K in two weeks. Stupid day job. :-)

Stacia Kelly said...

Gods, I'm tired after 4k in ...3 hours.

Go you!!!

Simon Haynes said...

My Nano effort this year diverged from my plot idea on day two and has turned into a few action scenes followed by a 30,000 word (and counting) extended chase sequence.

I'd never have written this for any reason other than nano, where every day I have to sit down and write SOMETHING. And what I'm writing now will never make it into a finished novel.

However, during the writing of my Nano effort I've developed several pretty good characters, and once I have those the rest usually falls into place.

I've been a strong supporter of NanoWrimo since I first heard about it in 2005, and assuming I write 3500 words over the next 4 days I'll have completed it every year since. Like you I find it good practice, good discipline and also a bit of fun.