In the Middle (again, but closer to the End): How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing my novel in 2009, and nearly completed the first draft that year (oh, to have that much free time again). After I decided to write my second draft, the writing process moved much more slowly. By the end of 2012 I still had not completed it. So, at the beginning or 2013 I vowed that I would have my novel completed by the end of the year.

And I wrote, I wrote more than I had in 2012 for sure, but less than I wrote in 2011 or 2010. Life got in the way, summertime found me so busy that I’m not sure I touched the draft at all for three months. As fall began, I was discouraged. It seemed like another year would go by without a complete second draft.

On November 1 the English teacher who has been kind enough to edit my second draft sent me a message. She wanted to know if I had heard of this thing called NaNoWriMo. I had not. I checked it out and it sounded perfect, but also, you know, impossible. November is National Novel Writing Month (that’s what NaNoWriMo is short for) and the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. That’s an average of 1,667 words per day. I started writing with renewed vigor. I wrote a few hundred words that very night and updated my word count. A graph showed me my progress, and though I was starting out a little behind, the graph motivated me. Is it possible that a graph tracking my progress was all that I needed all along? I wrote vigorously the next day, and learned that my usual amount of words per day was about 1,000 shy of the average I’d need to hit to complete 50,000 words by the end of the month. (By the way, you’re supposed to write a totally new novel during NaNoWriMo, by working on an old manuscript I was being what they called a NaNo Rebel, which is acceptable as long as you write 50,000 brand spankin’ new words by the end of the month.) I wrote a little bit more each day, until eventually I was hitting the 1,667 word average, and sometimes exceeding it. On Thanksgiving, I completed the 50,000 words and became a NaNoWriMo 2013 Winner.

My novel still was not quite finished, but suddenly it didn’t seem so crazy to attempt to finish it by the end of the year, and I was back on track to complete my second draft.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

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In the Middle: How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing my second draft with high hopes of finishing it quickly. I wasn’t quite sure what to call the new version of the story at first, it went without a title for a long time. Eventually I was inspired by the form in which I was putting the book together. Since each chapter tells the story of a different girl the main guy was involved with from the main girls point of view I decided to name it “How Their Story Became My Story”. And so I created a title, and it was good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to create much else. The form, my motivation (from proving a point to a guy, to making a story girls could relate to and learn from), everything changed and I felt a little out of my depth.

I was so out of my depth that months would go by without me writing anything at all. I would get bogged down in research, or “not feel inspired” and so much of the time my manuscript sat untouched. Then there would be good periods, months where I’d make steady progress, and still I was nowhere near the end.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I read so much, for once more, the introduction to a book I was reading saved me from giving up. I began re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and when I read at the beginning how it took J.R.R. Tolkien thirteen years to finish since life, work, and other obligations kept getting in the way, I felt a sudden invigoration. Yes, of course life gets in the way! Everyone has a life outside of writing novels, why shouldn’t I? And yet, it didn’t have to stop me from finishing in the end. So, three years after I started my second draft (four years after I started writing the story) I made a pact with myself, I would finish the novel by the end of the year.

No, I wasn’t writing an epic fantasy like Tolkien, and I don’t dare compare myself to him, but I did feel a kinship with him, we were both writers in the trenches who kept going no matter what. My story may not be epic, or fantastical, but I do have tentative plans to make it into a trilogy. Each book in the trilogy would tell the story of a different man the main character loved during her life, and the men would each have bit roles in the novels where they weren’t the primary love interest.

If Tolkien could do it, I could do it, and if it were a race I planned to win, it wasn’t going to take me more than a decade to write my stories!

In the Beginning: How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing How Their Story Became My Story in 2009. Back then it was called Miss Cleo: A History of Our Future. My first draft was written in second person, as if I were writing to the main character, who remained unnamed. The main character was a charming philanderer who captured the narrator’s affections before she realized he had no intention of following through on all of his promises. The chapters were quite short, no more than one scene each, and sometimes only part of a scene that was spread over several chapters. It was about the time I finished the draft of Miss Cleo that I realized I couldn’t go anywhere with the story, at least not in the form that I wrote it in back then. I intended to write the whole thing off, give the draft to the guy in my life who inspired me to write the story in the first place, and never think of it again.

But as I looked around I saw more and more people whose lives were affected by guys like my muse. I knew the story needed to be told, but I still wasn’t quite sure how to change it. Luckily for me I was reading The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the time, and also lucky that I am huge nerd who always reads the introduction, and prologue, and forward, and so on. Before the story began I read about how the book came to be. Apparently Robert Louis Stevenson originally wrote the story as a simple thriller, with the intention of selling it to magazines as a serial tale for some quick cash. His wife proof-read it for him before he submitted it to be published and told him it was a very entertaining read but that she believed it would be better if it were an allegory. Well, he agreed with her. He burned his original manuscript and rewrote the entire story from scratch in three days. When I read that I knew that I needed to start from scratch and re-write my story, too. If Robert Louis Stevenson could do it, so could I!

I didn’t do it in three days, not even close, but that’s another blog post for another day. I now know that there is an industry term for the first draft of my book. It’s called an updraft, basically it’s a draft where you throw all your thoughts out there on paper, then once you’ve done that you go back and re-organize them. Some elements of my first draft made it into my second, the story is still told out of chronological order, it’s still partially epistolary (including letters and other documents as a way to advance the plot), the narrator is still unnamed. But I set out, starting in 2010 to completely re-work my first draft.

That updraft has been an incredibly useful tool, reminding me of some of the details I wanted to include, and it has also shown me many times what needed to change to help readers connect with my story.

Tune in next time to hear about the long process that was the second draft of my novel!