Well, November was a complete blur.
I had never participated in National Novel Writing Month before, and I hadn’t planned on it this year either. But two days before it was set to start, I decided what the hell and made the commitment.
I had pumped out roughly 65K words of my latest novel, Chuck Steak, over a two month period and was mentally lagged. Or maybe lazy, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which is which.
NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect opportunity to not only try something new, but also hold myself responsible for finishing this book. 50K was enough to complete the first draft, but forcing myself to write wasn’t as easy as I had initially thought.
I’m a burst writer. When I’m feeling it, I write, and it’s not unusual for me to bang out 3-4K words in an hour or two for several days straight. I like to work with a steady stream of consciousness so everything I’m laying down is interconnected. When I’m not feeling it, there’s a blinking, yellow light on my forehead. This indicates “recharge” mode.
I don’t fret over not writing anything for a few days. There’s plenty of other things to do when you’re a writer, like edit stories, edit novels, edit queries, submit queries to both editors and agents, keep track of submissions, follow leads, keep up-to-date on the industry, read helpful tweets, read helpful blog posts and articles, read for enjoyment, read to learn, and so on and so forth.
Everything I mentioned is proof that if you are to succeed as a writer, you need to concoct your own plan of attack and stick to it. If your plan keeps failing, go back to the drawing board, keep reading, keep learning, and come back with another. Which is why I ultimately decided to give NaNoWriMo a shot. It’s a month filled with hard work, dedication, sweat, many profanities and nachos, but most importantly—it’s a predesigned plan. You write 1,666 words per day, and at the end of the month, you’ve got yourself 50K.
As a burst writer stuck recharging, NaNoWriMo gave me the swift kick in the ass I needed. It wasn’t easy, which is probably why I had never attempted the feat before. But it was definitely worth it. Perhaps I had preconceived notions about writing a different way—that speed could and possibly would ruin any sort of creativity I was brewing. But this was far from the truth. I feel as though I cranked out some of my strongest writing of the year during November.
Moving along, for those interested, I’m going to talk about my project a wee bit. First, here’s the summary I’ve started:
During a shady call, the world’s most badass cop, Chuck Steak, is told he has exactly one week to finally wed longtime girlfriend Mia or else a bomb lodged in her liver will explode.
With no clue as to who’s pulling the strings, Chuck is forced to put down the machineguns and rely on more than witty one-liners in order to convince Mia’s objecting family that a self-centered loose cannon has her best intentions at heart. More importantly, he must convince her that this isn’t merely another public stunt—that after all of these years, it’s finally time to abandon his legacy in favor of the family she’s always dreamed of.
I first wrote Chuck Steak back in 2009 and posted chapters on Autonomy and The Next Big Writer, both online writing workshops. Reviews were very polarizing. Either people completely loved or hated it. This wasn’t the problem. At the end of the day, I didn’t love it. I knew I hadn’t done the idea justice, and that was the worst realization to come to terms with. That I had, essentially, just written 80K words of garbage.
I shelved Chuck and promised I’d eventually rework his story. But then other ideas kept popping up, and it seemed counterproductive to try and force a specific idea when so many others were coming with ease. Chances were, I’d wind up with yet another bag of not-nearly-good-enough words.
My dad always asked about Chuck Steak and when I planned on getting it published. He loved the idea, and he loved the first rendition, which has always meant a lot to me. But as a writer, I know if I’m to truly be happy, if I’m to take pride in something, I must write that which I love, and then, after sharing it with the world, hope others love it, too.
Long story short, I gave up on Chuck Steak. Over the course of 5-6 years, I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong, therefore I couldn’t right the ship. And that was the key. I needed to understand the genre I was writing in, which was satire. I needed to learn and grow as a satirist, which meant studying others who had mastered the craft.
To be honest, I sort of just stumbled upon a revelation. At the beginning of the year, I felt the desire to branch out and read famous authors I had overlooked in the past. Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle happened to catch my eye, so I gave it a go. What a great book. Hilarious exaggerations, yet it had this unsettling realness to it. I also read Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse 5, both riveting tales which rattled all the right emotions.
Satire seemed to be making a comeback in other mediums I enjoyed as well, like video games and indie movies. I was pumped, to say the least. But after indulging in these ambitious projects, I always felt let down. Still, I didn’t understand why.
And then I watched a trailer for a movie being funded on Kickstarter. It looked amazing—I might have even referred to it as, “The best thing ever.” But upon viewing the full movie, I found myself bored and severely disappointed within the first five minutes.
A few days later, it hit me—I was failing because I had been relying too heavily on the absurd. I was constructing skeletons with gags for bones and stretching any semblance of characters and plot every which way to form skin. When in reality I needed to craft my bones out of good, sturdy characters and an engaging, thrilling plot. Then let the gags form naturally. And there needn’t be too many. This is what turns me off of most satires—the hollowness—the way they rely on a progressive mountain of jokes which constantly one up the previous in order to deliver a bat-shit crazy finale similar to a firework display. More, more, more does not always equal good, good, good.
So I went back to the drawing board and drafted a handful of morally unique characters with completely different outlooks on life, and I pitted them in dire situations which revealed their true selves, and I shattered relationships in order to see what would sprout up from the ruins, and I was able to derive so many splendidly awkward situations.
Another aspect I really wanted to focus on was mystery. Who is this new villain threatening the love of Chuck’s life? He or she needed to be an actual character rather than a device to drive the plot forward. And he or she needed to understand the typical clichés you’d find in a similar story in order to shatter reader expectations and put a new twist on the Who Dun It? genre. I relied heavily on my favorite murder/mystery book of all time, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, to guide my train of thought. To turn everybody into a culprit. And after crafting rich characters, I found myself not wanting him or her to be the villain—I found myself going back and forth with the evidence, and I believe, in line with another of my favorites, the movie Scream, I’ve created an explosive twist ending.
I’m really excited to get this puppy done, but the plan from here is to take an entire month off of novel writing. I can’t promise myself that I won’t pump out a few short stories here and there, because you know, they’re just so damn addictive. But I’m cramming Chuck Steak into a time capsule, and it won’t open until January 1st, 2016.
I’ve dedicated January as my National Novel Editing Month where I’ll crank out a polished manuscript before February 1st. I hope to query soon after.
But during the month of December, I’ll be reading and taking notes on Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve heard is an essential tool for aspiring authors. I have no doubt, as I’ve been reading a lot of King lately. During this month, I also hope to finish Mr. Mercedes, which, oddly enough, reminds me a lot of Chuck Steak.
And, like always, I’ll probably send out multiple short story submissions. I was almost 99% certain two of my stories which had been kicked up to different editors were going to find homes in pro-paying markets, but the writing gods have been treating me rather cruelly these last few weeks. No worries though, for when Chuck Steak recovers from his most recent stint in the hospital, I’m going to unleash him upon the industry, and he’s going to kick an incredible amount of ass.
He might even chew bubblegum.