I'm absolutely thrilled my second book And the Next Thing You Know... came out today. The reader comments on Goodreads have been crazy positive. I guess people really think it's funny, which is a huge relief.
When you're writing comedy, you're always asking yourself (or the dog) is that funny? Or just stupid?" In the theatre, of course, there are a few thousand people around all happy to weigh in and tell you what you need to change; and of course there is the ultimate test -- Previews.
Not so much with a book.
So you shoot blind, hoping that if you did anything really dumb, your editor would tell you.
So what a relief that people are getting the jokes.
What my kindle looked like when I got up this morning:
No, that’s not what Patricia Neal said to the alien robot to keep from getting incinerated.
An Explanation for People who Need Explanations
For the normal people among you who don’t spend your days staring at computer screens thinking of new and elaborate ways to torment a bunch of fictional people, I’ll explain—#NaNoWriMo is the hashtag for National Novel Writing Month, which is November. The month just past.
I have no idea whose idea this was or where it came from, but the goal for those who take part is to start from scratch (more or less) on Nov. 1, and have 50,000 words by the time Dec. 1 rolls around. Since thirty days hath November, you need to be averaging 1,666.66… words/day if you want to ring the #NaNoWriMo bell. (Slightly more if you plan to take a day off in the middle for Thanksgiving, but obviously only a wuss would do that.)
Sixteen hundred words a day isn’t all that rugged, provided you don’t do a whole lot of editing as you go. I am just such a writer. I just want to get it down and get on to the next bit.
If I’m clanking away at something, thinking “this really needs to be set up somewhere back in chapter 2.” I don’t go back. I make a big ol’ note right there, a note I can’t miss (bold, italics, flush right with a fat red box around it): “Set this up in ch. 2.” And I keep on rattling the keyboard, moving ever forward, laying down words like railroad track.
I might even be banging away, thinking “Hell’s bells, this stinks so bad.”
I do not let that stop me.
My motto: “Write through the garbage.” I figure I have the rest of my life to come back and fix it.
That said, 1,600 words/day is easily do-able, which is probably why whoever set this challenge up set it up that way.
When I’m drafting, I actually budget a mere 1,500/day, knowing I’ll make it easily. I regularly exceed 3,000. A glance through my journals shows I once cranked out 5,200 words in a day and I felt like Barbara frigging Cartland.
Accomplishing the daily wordage is, for me anyway, no big woop.
But here’s the thing—I don’t start a novel by sitting down at my desk and typing Chapter 1. That way lies madness. I start a novel by having an idea, and then I stare out the window, hoping for more ideas. For weeks. I need a good chunk of time to gather thoughts, imagine events, steal stuff, discard stuff, and refine the stuff I keep.
Given that I’m writing romantic comedies, I have an obvious target to write toward:
Everything that might happen in between goes on 4x6 cards, and I push those cards around until I have a sequence that makes sense, that gets me logically, credibly and amusingly to Point Z from Point A.
Only when I have that loose outline do I begin the process of drafting.
If I actually started from nothing on Nov. 1, the word total come December would be somewhere around zero-point-nil.
And I can knock out those high daily word counts only while I’m drafting—which I do for about six weeks before I find myself dabbing at my eyes with a tissue, typing the last lines of the book.
After the eye-dabbing and last lines and self-bestowed back-pats, the second part of the job begins: Rewriting all the crap in that first draft.
The problem with polishing is that it can’t be measured in word counts. I changed “ran down the stairs” to “rabbited down the two flights.” The net word gain was minimal. The improvement was huge.
I spent six weeks writing my first book, and then spent the next nine months rewriting it. During that second period, I would duly note the word count at the start of each day, and generally I would have picked up 100-150 words on the previous day. My point being: You can’t (or least I can’t) write 1600 words a day, every damned day.
Back to #NaNoWriMo
The idea of setting yourself that 50,000-words-in-a-month goal is fine, at least for the drafting phase. The biggest problem I have with it is the month has been randomly picked for you.
What if November’s there and you’re not ready to start drafting?
What if you’re ready to rock and roll in April? Do you sit on your book until November, just so you can be one of the hip #NaNoWriMo kids? That makes no sense.
I don’t want to take anything away from anybody here. If #NaNo is a helpful tool for you, terrific. If it gets you to move from thinking about a book to writing a book—cool beans.
For most novelists, writing is a lonely business. We sit alone all day listening to people in our heads. I’m lucky—I have a Scottish terrier to bounce ideas off, which is obviously beyond awesome—but lots of writers don’t (sad, but true).
So somebody invented #NaNoWriMo to give a sense of community (no matter how artificial or arbitrary it might be) to a bunch of people, who otherwise work in lonely isolation; a place to tweet your daily word tally and maybe get a few hearts for it.
But I don’t think I’m ever going to play along. Trying to schedule a book to happen in November—and only in November—doesn’t make any sense to this little writer-boy.
And the dog agrees with me.
If you're not absolutely certain of the difference between the verbs 'to lie' and 'to lay' in their varying (and confusing) tenses, forgodsakes ask someone who does know. Because you look really dumb if you get it wrong.
And if you think "between my wife and I" is correct, maybe literary work isn't for you after all.
Just a thought.
It seems to me that a cigar is the olfactory equivalent of a boom box. You heard it here first.
Blog. What a hijjus word, don’t you think? It’s such an awful word, I hate to think I’m going to try to be the author of one.
Wasn’t that one of Joan Crawford’s last pictures?
Anyway, I figured it was only appropriate for the first entry in this, pardon the expression, blog, that it should be about how I got here. Not really “My Life Until Now,” but just an account of how I ended up, surprise-surprise, calling myself a novelist.
In other words…
An Origin Story
And every word of this is the truth, I sweartogod.
There I was, walking up Ninth Avenue, minding my own business, when out of nowhere—ker-powee—I was struck by lightning.
And when I woke up in the emergency room of New York Presbyterian, I was covered in burns and I’d lost my sight, but I had a terrific idea for a book.
It was just like St. Paul.
Except I wasn’t really blind (I made that part up), and there was no actual lightning (ditto), and of course Paul didn’t have an idea for a comic novel. Instead, he was inspired to write a bunch of fairly dreary letters to people who probably weren’t standing by their mailboxes hoping to get another envelope with Paul’s return address on it.
That didn’t stop ol’ Paul. He kept right at it, writing willy-nilly and pell-mell. Letters to the Romans, Letters to the Corinthians (“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Corinthian”). There was no stopping the guy.
I, by contrast, well—actually, now that I think about it, what happened to me was nothing like St. Paul at all.
I wasn’t even on Ninth Avenue—I just put that in there to give the story some ambience.
What really happened was this:
I woke up one Sunday morning, and realized I’d been lying there for a while thinking about two guys, Roger and Fletch, about whom I seemed to know a lot. But I had no idea what to do with them. My writing career until then, such as it was, had been in musical theatre—but one of the things I knew right off was that Roger played violin.
I was all like ‘no way jose.’ How was I supposed to write about a guy who plays violin? And Roger was all like—well, like nothing, he just hammered a couple notes at me from the Bach Chaconne, because he’s sort of a quiet show-off like that, although he’d never admit it.
So I was stuck with a violin player, and it seemed pretty clear to me that violin players don’t sing. They play.
So within a few minutes of waking up, I abandoned any hope of crafting a musical out of this pair. (Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and he played violin, but I didn’t think of that at the time, or this might have all gone very differently.)
So—a novel maybe? Of course I had no idea how to write a novel, and I had no reason to think that I could. Plotting was never my best thing. The plot of a two-hour musical, when at least half of that two hours is spent singing and/or dancing, is a pretty skimpy thing, and nothing at all like the narrative requirements of a big fat novel, or even a slight one.
But still, these guys were in my head and they weren’t going away, so to be safe, I decided I’d better start writing this stuff down. And I didn’t tell a soul.
I finished a puny, awful first draft of about 44,000 words (for comparison, the final book is about 89,000), and my first thought was, “See? I was right! I can’t write a novel!” I felt strangely vindicated in my failure.
After reading through it again, however, I realized that, being a playwright, I’d written all the dialogue and very little narrative.
Thus began the process of rewriting, which for me means working through the draft, marking changes, making the changes, and then going back to the beginning and doing it again.
About a besquillion times.
And the next thing you know…yeah, well, that’s another story.
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Chase Taylor Hackett, a budding novelist chock full of witty and insightful observations on writing. And other stuff.