Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Direction

I kicked off last month with gusto and ended it with a thud. As I blogged earlier, I participated in NaNoWriMo. My novel made it to 3,000 words when I decided to scrap it and go a completely new route. The new novel hit 6,000 words before I gave up. But I'm not sad. I'm not beating myself up. Why? Because this experience taught me something very important about my writing: direction.

I have known that I want to an author since third grade when I wrote down a dream I had the night before. I will always remember that moment and the joy I felt seeing my thoughts written down on paper. After that, I was always writing, always thinking, and always thinking about writing.

In high school, my "thing to do" was write stories about my friends. I would think of my closest friends and use their personalities to create a story that involved us doing crazy things -- owning our own island and fending off a masked gunman, for one. My friends always looked forward to reading the next chapter to see "what I did to them". Couples who broke up in real life might be killed in the story (or at least the bad boy who broke my friends heart was anyway). It was crazy stuff, more fit for soap opera than a novel. But I loved it.

My point in mentioning this is that, looking back, I have realized a lot about my desires and writing processes, and some errors I've made along the way. In recent years, when I sat down to write, I would create elaborate outlines, making sure everything fit with everything else. I didn't want to rewrite the first chapter because I went a different way with the tenth chapter. I wanted it perfect. I wanted a strong plot, stunning imagery, and tension levels unsafe for anyone with a heart condition. I wanted a final draft the first time around. Yeah, yeah, I'm not sure what I was thinking there. But instead of excitement, what I got, instead, was bored. So bored, I couldn't finish it.

That's when I started thinking about the past and how I used to write. Those stories about my friends were so carefree, so fun, and I didn't care what anyone thought of them. I wrote from the hip, I guess you could say. Not once did I plan ahead, prepare, plot, or outline. I didn't even know who the gunman was until I wrote his name during the big reveal at the end. I like that, because I want to be surprised too. Think of it this way: I will often read a book and then watch a movie based on it, but I won't read the book after I watched the movie. In both cases, once I've read/watched the first, I already know what is going to happen, so reading/watching the second will contain no surprises. The distinction for me is time. Watching a movie is quick. Reading a book is not. And writing a book takes exponentially much more time. If I'm spending all that time writing the story, I want to get something out of it. I want to be surprised at the end, too!

This all means that I've simply found my method of creating raw material. My first draft will be completely raw, unplanned, and uninhibited. It's the only way to get the story out of me. My subsequent, and necessary, drafts will polish the story until it shines. I like this plan.

The second major thing I realized is that I need interest. Not just for the reader, but for me. I have to be really interested in the story or I can't write it. Makes sense in hindsight, but this wasn't always so clear to me. I've always heard the advice "Write what you know", but I think listening to this gave me more problems than benefits. This left me writing fluff that I'm barely interested in. I'm not a genius. I don't have any interesting hobbies. I don't have a niche of expertise to draw from. I just want to write. The problem is that the two types of books I like most need quite a bit of specialized knowledge: historical romance and mystery. For a while, I tried to research the time period of historical romance that I like the most, but I found that I prefer to read these stories more than write them.

This leaves me with mystery. While mystery encompasses a broad range of novels, somewhere, law is involved and I don't know the law (at least not beyond what you see on CSI). I'm a perfectionist. I don't want to put something in my book thinking it's true, while the cops reading it are laughing at me for being stupid. I'm not sure why, but researching law seems very daunting to me (Surprising, considering I once contemplated going to law school). Regardless, I've decided it is a very necessary thing to do for myself.

I'm feeling very excited about my new direction. I feel like I've found the missing edge pieces preventing me from completing the puzzle. Now, I'm going full force into a mystery novel, that while I have a basic idea of the subject, I have no idea how it will end. This is very exciting!